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, 19 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.
An Avro Lancaster Mk1 being loaded with bombs in preparation for a raid.
Three Lancasters from 207 Squadron.
This photograph was taken around 1943, and the aircraft
coded EM-F would probably have been the one that replaced serial number R5694. © IWM
An aerial view of Langar Airfield from April 1945. By the
time this photograph was taken 207 Squadron had moved
to RAF Spilsby, and the airfield was occupied by the USAAF
Troop Carrier Group. © IWM
207 Squadron mechanics working on one of the Lancaster's four Merlin engines. One of the most interesting finds from our field survey was a brass plate from an engine coolant tank.
Richard Pincott of The Field Detectives investigating a possible find on 'Plane Field' during the crash site survey.
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. Read the fascinating 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 in 1942: The Crew of R5694 EM-F.
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.
The culmination of the project to locate R5694 EM-F and tell the story of her brave, young crew was a Commemoration Day and Memorial Service held on Saturday, August 7th, 2021.
Click to download a copy of the report.
Commemoration Day for the Crew of R5694 EM-F
A full day of events was held on August 7th, 2021, to commemorate the lives of the eight young men who were killed when Lancaster bomber, R5694 EM-F, crashed near the village of Goadby Marwood on November 25th, 1942.
The day commenced with an opportunity for relatives of the airmen to meet each other and swap tales of cousins, uncles, brother, grandfather, and father whose lives were so tragically cut short.
The morning events began with a journey to St. Mary’s Church in Bottesford to visit the graves of the five crew members buried there and continued with a visit to the 207 Squadron Memorial at Langar Airfield.
Following lunch, a Memorial Service was held at the crash site on the banks of the small stream that meanders its way between the village of Goadby Marwood and the neighbouring village of Eaton. A bronze memorial plaque was unveiled by Gordon Spence, Chairman of the Hose & Harby Branch of The Royal British Legion, and the congregation had an opportunity to lay flowers and wreaths. The service was attended by representatives from 207 Squadron, The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Hose & Harby Royal British Legion, Granby & Barnstone Royal British Legion, 1279 (Melton Mowbray) Squadron Air Training Corps, and Friends of RAF Spilsby, as well as local residents and many of the amateur historians who contributed to the project.
The day ended with afternoon tea served at Eaton village hall after which the congregation was treated to a wonderful flypast by a Spitfire from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight - a fitting finale to a memorable day.
The Goadby Marwood History Group would particularly like to thank the following for helping to make the day such a success:
Wing Commander Scott Williams, Officer Commanding 207 Squadron
Flight Lieutenant Andy Preece, Battle of Britain Memorial Flight
Warrant Officer Richard ‘Pebs’ Peberdy, RAF Halton
The Officers, Staff Team & Cadets of 1279 (Melton Mowbray) Squadron ATC
Rev Canon John Barr
Hose & Harby and Granby & Barnstone Royal British Legion Standard Bearers
Gordon Spence, Chairman Hose & Harby Royal Bristish Legion
Bugler, Mick Veasey
Richard Pincott, The Field Detectives
The family of Harry Payne
St. Mary the Virgin Church, Bottesford
Eaton Parish Council
Commemoration Day Gallery
For a larger view and description click the centre of the main image.
Photos courtesy of Jill Brooks, Steve Manning and Ian Perry.