We arose to what looked like it was going to be yet another extremely hot day. However, we would not be stationary sitting out in the open and watching a magnificent Air Show but on the move in our coach heading further West towards the Bristol Chanel. It is there where we hoped to be able to locate a Memorial which was erected by the people of the village of Langtree to honour the crew of a Halifax Bomber who, on 27 August 1943, crashed and died near their village. This was also to be a family pilgrimage for one of the members in our group, Jim Stanger, as one of the crew, Flight Sergeant Peter Chadwick Bartle was Jim’s Mother’s first cousin. There had previously never been a member of the family able to visit the site nor the grave of Peter which is located in the Heanton Punchardon Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery 20 miles away to the north of the crash site. All aboard were killed and it was a mixed crew of RAF and RAAF personal. There was a second Australian aboard, Sergeant Hugh Patrick Henry but the other 5 members of the crew were English.
The day started early with me trying to contact people in the village who over a recent period had been in contact with Jim and were expecting us but we needed to finally settle on a time of arrival so that we could meet. My email was replied to with a text to inform me that we would be met at the Memorial by members of the Committee who had been responsible for the work associated with the erection and official opening of the Memorial in 2009. So, at 0800 we headed West towards Devon. Michael, our driver, had estimated that it would take us around 3 to 3 ˝ hours to reach Langtree. We drove on out of Wiltshire, across Somerset and finally reached into Devon. On the way we passed through some beautiful English countryside but a countryside in desperate need of rain. England is in the middle of an incredible hot spell and drought and there are water restrictions starting to be implied.
Due to an incredible poor sign posting situation that caused us to lose ½ hour recovering our correct route, we arrived into Langtree later than expected. Our instructions were to find the Village Hall but as we entered the village, ahead of us was a lady walking towards us so, I jumped out of the coach to ask her the direction to the Hall. It so happened to be Margaret Hill, wife of David Hill one of the Committee we were to meet and she it fact was looking for us. We welcomed her into our coach and continued to the Hall where we were met by David and retired Wing Commander Barry Neal, another member of the Committee. They were very pleased to see us and particularly Jim, a family member of one of the crew. David was 15 years old and remembered the crash all those years ago and could explain how the plane came across the village and crashed at Buda Farm about 400 yards from where we were at the Memorial. We conducted a small Service there and Jim was able to lay a Poppy on behalf of his family. A moving moment for all. Following the arrival of Ruth, Barry’s wife, we were shown through the hall where there was a big tapestry on one wall depicting the District and we were able to locate the crash site on the tapestry. At that stage, Barry, Ruth and Margaret said goodbye and we adjourned to the village pub with David as our guest for lunch. During lunch we were able to view many photographs taken at the time of the dedication of the Memorial. It was a big day with many high ranked members of the RAF in attendance and to cap it off they had a fly past of the Lancaster Bomber.
Following lunch we went out to Buda Farm to view the crash site where there had been planted a tree on the location. We met the farmer and he was able to explain to us the circumstances that led to the crash and the route taken by the plane. Farewells we given to David and the Farmer and we then headed north to locate the grave of Peter and the crew. Ut took us about 45 minutes to locate the site, on a hill overlooking the RAF Chivenor airfield. St Augustine’s beautiful old Church was there with the CWGC Cemetery within the grounds of the Church. Finding Peter’s grave we then conducted a graveside small Service and Jim read a prayer before the Last Post echoed over the cemetery. Jim’s family pilgrimage was now over, Peter had been found.
Our run back towards Salisbury then commenced, so back through Barnstable and across the Counties we headed under the control of Michael. A big day for him which we were thankful worked out well. On the way “home” we dropped in the property to leave a Wedding Congratulation card for Sam and Kevin Byrne who usually greet us into their home but were unable this year as they are away on their honeymoon. We then pushed on to visit a further crash site where in 1945 21 including 2 Australians were lost when their Dakota crashed through the trees on the ridge after leaving the airfield where Sam and Kevin live in the old tower, RAF Zeals. From the coach to the crash site is about one kilometre walk on a ridgeline leading up to the knoll and as one walks there on our left is a beautiful vista overlooking the wheat fields. We paid our respects at the Memorial and headed back to our coach. 2000 we arrived home from what was a most moving but splendid day. Tomorrow we leave Salisbury and head north to Wolverhampton.