The Search for Lancaster bomber Mk1 R5694 EM-F
It was the fascinating story told by Gordon Spence, Chairman of the local branch of The Royal British Legion, that prompted members of the Goadby Marwood History Group to begin a large-scale project to locate the exact crash site of the Lancaster bomber that came down midway between Goadby and the neighbouring village of Eaton in 1942.
As a young boy growing up during the Second World War, Gordon lived with his grandparents, Charlie and Harriet Spence, in a small wooden bungalow on the corner of Green Lane and Eastwell Road. He clearly recalls the night of November 25th, 1942, when the huge Lancaster bomber flew directly over the bungalow before crashing in the fields off Green Lane.
The Avro Lancaster was the RAF’s best heavy bomber and was the major aircraft used by Bomber Command to take the war right into the heart of Nazi Germany. The aircraft was fully equipped for night flying and usually flew with a crew of seven men. This included the pilot, flight engineer, radio operator, navigator, bomb aimer and gunners. It was the gunners, seated in the rear and mid-upper turrets, who suffered the most as they were forced to sit through long flights in cold isolation, breathing through oxygen masks and having very little contact with the rest of the crew.
The majority of the aircraft built during the war years were manufactured by Avro at their factory at Chadderton near Oldham, Lancashire. They were then assembled and test flown from Woodford Aerodrome in Cheshire. Others were built by Metropolitan-Vickers and Armstrong Whitworth whilst a number were also produced at the Austin Motor Company works at Longbridge in Birmingham. In total, nearly 7,500 Lancaster bombers were built but today, only two remain in airworthy condition, one in Canada, the other in the UK. The Lancaster first saw action in March 1942, and 207 Squadron was one of the first operational units to fly the new planes.
Originally a training unit, on the outbreak of war 207 Squadron was absorbed into an Operational Training Unit before being reformed within Bomber Command’s No. 5 Group in November 1940, for the purpose of introducing the Avro Manchester bomber into operational service. Initially based at RAF Waddington, 207 Squadron flew its first operational sorties in February 1941. Later, the squadron moved to RAF Bottesford, where in early 1942, the Manchesters were replaced by the much-improved Avro Lancaster. By the summer of 1942, the runway at Bottesford was in urgent need of repairs and the squadron briefly relocated to RAF Syerston before moving to RAF Langar on September 21st, 1942.
In total, 207 Squadron flew on 540 operations, by both day and night, with the loss of 154 crews killed or missing, and with at least another nine aircraft lost on non-operational flights. The squadron suffered the fourth highest overall percentage losses in Bomber Command and the highest percentage losses in No. 5 Group.
One of those lost was the aircraft that young Gordon Spence heard thundering over his grandparents’ bungalow on that dismal November evening in 1942. The aircraft, serial number R5694, code EM-F, piloted by New Zealander, Raymund Hannan, was returning from an aborted raid on Bad Zwischenahn Airfield in Germany.
The crew on that fateful day consisted of eight young men, all of whom lost their lives when the aircraft crashed and burst into flames:
F/Lt Raymond Joseph Hannan, D.F.C. – Pilot, 25 years old.
F/Sgt John Kennerleigh ‘Ken’ Barnett Lee – Navigator, 29 years old.
Sgt Peter John Thompson – Flight Engineer, 21 years old.
Sgt Bryant Leonard McKenzie Jenkin – Wireless Operator and Air Gunner, 24 years old.
Sgt John ‘Jack’ Bernard Burton – Bomb Aimer, 21 years old.
Sgt Ernest Raymond Donald ‘Roy’ Piper – Air Gunner, 19 years old.
Sgt John ‘Jack’ Sanders – Rear Air Gunner, 20 years old.
Sgt Albert Roberts – Wireless Operator and Air Gunner, 21 years old.
In the early spring of 2020, The Goadby Marwood History Group approached Richard Pincott of The Field Detectives, who had researched the De Havilland Mosquito that crashed near Goadby in 1946, with the idea of locating R5694 EM-F and telling the story of her gallant crew. Richard jumped at the opportunity, and so began a huge research project involving a physical survey to locate the exact crash site, as well as hundreds of hours of family history research to identify the crew and tell their stories, and, where possible, to contact living relatives.
The first day of the physical survey dawned bright and breezy, perfect weather for the team of detectorists to start a systematic search of the grid area that had been laid out where we suspected the aircraft had come down. It was a large area, and all finds, whether related to the aircraft or not, would need to be collected and bagged, so Richard had scheduled up to four days for the survey. The crop in the field had been harvested, the straw cut short and the ground lightly tilled, giving ideal conditions for detecting.
Typically, the detectorists would expect to find numerous miscellaneous artifacts under these conditions – not so on this occasion. After two hours all we had found was an old horseshoe and a couple of rusty nails! A 15th/16th Century pewter button and a 17th Century token raised spirits slightly, but we were beginning to think that perhaps we had the wrong field. Then Steve, who was working in the grids at the bottom of the field close to the stream, started to find a few small fragments of aluminium which he thought might be from the aircraft. As the first day drew to a close, Richard announced that the following day we would focus our attentions on the stream banks.
The weather on the second day was just as pleasant and the team set to work on an area of overgrown, scrubby hawthorn on the east bank of the stream. As soon as they were switched on the metal detectors started sending out signals. By mid-afternoon we had several bags full of artifacts so Richard decided we had definitely found the crash location, and he called a halt. He quite rightly pointed out that our aim was simply to establish where the aircraft had crashed, and not to disturb the ground unnecessarily. We were all very cognisant of the fact that seven young men had died a terrible death where we were digging, with another dying the following day, and it was felt that to continue to dig unnecessarily would have been disrespectful.
Click to download a copy of the report.
The Goadby Marwood History Group is very grateful to Richard Pincott and his Field Detectives for their hard work and dedication in helping us to tell the story of R5694 and her crew of brave young men. The Field Detectives’ report The Search for the Crash Site of Avro Lancaster Mk1 R5694 EM-F gives an in-depth account of the survey and attendant historical research, and provides an insight into the possible circumstances surrounding the crash.
Whilst the physical survey work is a fascinating process, it is the human stories that make the project worthwhile. Over the next few months, we plan to tell the stories of each of the eight brave young men who lost their lives when R5694 EM-F crashed on the banks of that small stream.
The culmination of this project will be a Commemoration Day to be held on Saturday, August 7th, 2021, which we hope will be attended by as many relatives of the crew as possible, as well as residents, past and present, of Goadby Marwood, Eaton and Eastwell villages.
Further details of our plans for the Commemoration Day will be posted on our Events Page shortly.
If you would like to learn more about the history of 207 Squadron during the Second World War we recommend the excellent book On the Wings of Morning by Vince Holyoak, reproduced in full on the Bottesford Living History website.
Lancaster R5694 EM-F Memorial Fund
Goadby Marwood History Group is raising funds to honour the sacrifice made by the crew of R5694 EM-F with a permanent memorial that will be located on a public footpath near the banks of the small stream where the aircraft crashed almost 80 years ago. If you would like to contribute please follow the link below.