WW2 memorial unveiled for 8 airmen killed in plane crash over Rudgwick

A memorial to eight airmen killed during the Second World War has been erected after 75 years at Rudgwick’s Rikkyo School.

Wednesday, 11th September 2019, 3:55 pm
Adam Tudor-Lane, convenor of event (left), with Gp Capt DE North DL RAF (Retd) in front of crew of FR396 SUS-191109-130610001

A memorial to eight airmen killed during the Second World War has been erected after 75 years at Rudgwick’s Rikkyo School.

On Saturday, August 31, at 1pm, a large crowd of more than 100 people, most with some connection to the events of 1944, gathered for a memorial service in front of the former stables building and was conducted by Rev Peter Deaves, Rudgwick’s curate.

Rikkyo School headmaster, Dr Toru Okano, hosted the service of remembrance and dedication of a bronze memorial pillar.

Some of the guests proceeding to the second crash site in Rudgwick SUS-191109-130550001

There were moving contributions from descendants of seven of the eight airmen who died, they came from all over the country to read tributes and poems.

The whole event, which also coincided with the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, was the brainchild of Adam Tudor-Lane, a great nephew of one of the airmen, Flt Sgt Ormandy.

Thirty-one-year-old Adam, who is an automotive journalist from Milton Keynes, first contacted Rudgwick Parish Council a year ago. He has spent the past two years fundraising to build a permanent memorial to the fallen as well as exhaustively researching to discover the true facts of a tragic accident that remained secret even to the families of the airmen killed.

Fortunately, there was little damage on the ground and only one very minor injury.

The memorial following the unveiling SUS-191109-130630001

At the event, Adam unveiled the memorial he had created to these eight brave and very young men, average age 23.5 years, all in the Royal Air Force Reserve, sited near the crash site of his great uncle’s plane which was one of two that came down on January 7, 1944.

The two RAF B-25 Mitchell Mark II bombers of Second Tactical Air Force which were returning to Dunsfold Aerodrome collided over where Rudgwick, Cranleigh and Alfold parishes meet, bringing both down and killing all eight servicemen on board.

Flying in FR396 from 180 Sqdn were: Flying Officer Ernest Fooks, pilot, from New Zealand, 32; Pilot Officer Leonard Taylor, navigator, Birmingham, 24; Flight Sergeant Charles Forsyth, wireless operator/gunner, Peacehaven, 23; Flight Sergeant George Ormandy (Adam’s great uncle), gunner, Beckenham, 20.

FR396 spiralled down, still with a full bomb load aboard, exploded, and buried itself just 200 yards north east of the house.

Adam Tudor-Lane (centre) with his parents and an image of his great uncle George Ormandy SUS-191109-130600001

Flying in FL682 from 98 Sqdn were: Warrant Officer Terence Riordan, pilot, Abergavenny, 22; Flight Sergeant Douglas Morris, navigator, Abergavenny, 23; Flight Sergeant Stanley Norton, wireless operator/gunner, Lincoln, 22; Flight Sergeant William Cross, gunner, Ribbleton, near Preston, 22, which already ablaze from the mid-air collision made a nearly level landing in an orchard south of the house.

Adam said: “I’ve had the help of Frank Phillipson from the Dunsfold Airfield History Society, along with Terry Batchelor who runs the Reg Day Memorial Museum, the Sussex Metal Detecting Club and farm owners, visited the National Archives, and had help from two guys who are the world experts when it comes to rebuilding Mitchells, along with stumbling across parts of both planes being recently sold on eBay.

“Over the last year or so, I have managed to contact the families of six of the other seven men.

“Douglas Morris has proved impossible partly because he was an only child.

“Ernest Fooks was difficult too as he is older, and the family are in New Zealand, yet his niece by chance holidaying in Europe was able to attend and contribute her story to the service.”

The sites of the two crashes are on high ground at Rikkyo School, then a private house and estate known as Pallinghurst in the ownership of Ernest MacAndrew and his family. Rikkyo School, a Japanese Christian school, was founded here in 1972.

West Sussex County Council operatives on duty in Chichester recorded the crashes within ten minutes recording the event occurring at 13.35 hours. This was way out of line with the normal humdrum reports on other days, but very matter of fact.

“15.18: 4 UXBs [unexploded bombs] found and dealt with by RAF. Three bombs not found. Four bodies from one plane found. Damage to stables, cottages and Pallinghurst House. Region notified at 15.25.” And at 16.15: “All bombs now detonated. Total bodies found five. Region notified 16.20.” Finally: “16.30 Nothing further to report. Incident closed.”

From this, it is clear the bodies from the exploded plane were not immediately recovered. Piecing together the story, so long kept under wraps, and only partly uncovered by local researchers, it is now clear the B-25 Mitchell Mk II bombers were returning in formation.

Two six-box groups, arriving simultaneously, got too close, despite clear January conditions, so that the outer planes touched wings and crashed out of control to the ground just three miles short of home.

One at least had not dropped its bombs.

The role of the Dunsfold squadrons in the first months of 1944 was to destroy the feared V1 unmanned flying bomb launch sites, that January day, two on the Cherbourg Peninsula in France.

In the event, it was captured after D-Day before it could be used. Reports at the time agreed this was an accident; no blame was attached to either pilot.

Stories have emerged over the years of children in Tisman’s Common and at Pallinghurst witnessing the falling planes, a memory seared on their brains forever.

Pilots Riordan and Fooks and their crews were unlucky to become casualties in West Sussex.

Now, their names will live for evermore in a corner of Horsham District. Walkers will find the memorial in the grounds of Rikkyo School visible from the public footpath. Following the memorial unveiling by Gp Capt Derek North RAF (Retd), Deputy Lieutenant for W Sussex, the service concluded down the hill at the exact site where the second plane came down.

Visitors later moved on to the Reg Day Museum at Dunsfold, specially opened for the occasion, and to the Three Compasses, Alfold, the pub used by the flyers at Dunsfold throughout the war.

Flt Sgt Morris was represented by the mayor of Abergavenny, councillor Tony Konieczny. councillor John Browne from Preston and councillor Richard Landeryou, represented HDC and Rudgwick Parish Council, with Roger Nash and Malcolm Francis, of Rudgwick Preservation Society. Official RAF representation was made by Wg Cdr Matt Roberts, Flt Lt Christopher Warr and WO Mike Maguire from RAF Odiham. Cranleigh Royal British Legion also attended.