By Mattie Lennon
On the night of 16th April, 1941, “…hour after hour of fire-bombs rained down on London.” (Belfast had been bombed the previous night). Next night a Handley Page Hampden S/N AD730 was detailed to bomb an aiming point at Berlin and was one of seven from No. 50 squadron which took off from its base at Lindholme in Yorkshire.
It was crewed by:
- P/O J. K. Hill, Captain 83253
- Sgt. J. T. Lamb, Navigator 744628
- Sgt. S. Wright, Wireless Operator/Air Gunner 751744
- Sgt. F. H. Erdwin, Air Gunner 553897
It would appear that this crew did not reach Berlin; the the pilot, J.K. Hill was not in a position to identify his target, due to haze over Germany and opted for a secondary one, as he was not in contact with the other planes. The bad weather encountered over the North Sea was already crossing over the Continent, with no improvement over Britain or to the West.
At 02.17 hours, Sgt. S. Wright (Wireless Operator) made contact and was given a second class fix and bearing from Bircham Common. This placed the aircraft approximately five miles SW of RAF Watton.
For some unknown reason the Hampton Bomber continued flying West — possibly due to a compass malfunction. The bomber crossed the Welsh mountains, which would seem to indicate that it was flying at 4000 feet. Its first movements over Ireland were reported by the look-out posts on the East Coast at 04.05 hours while tracking inland between Dalkey and Bray. The plane was reported flying west towards Kildare. It then changed course, which brought it to an East-Northeast position.
At 04.24 hours, Gardai at Hollywood, County Wicklow, reported an aircraft in the area to Air Defence. According to the Department of Defence, local people reported hearing a plane also. (The crew of the Hampton SD730 who had survived that April night in the German sky were to die only hours later on a lonelly hillside in Kyleberg in neutral Ireland.) Investigators reached the conclusion that the plane crashed ten minutes later, killing the crew instantly.
The instrument panel clocks found in the wreckage recorded the time of the crash as 04.34 hours. The bodies of the victims lay in Blackhill (Kylebeg) until Saturday 19th, when they were found by turf-workers.
It must be remembered that the nearest telephone was in Blessington, nearly six miles away, so it was late in the evening when the Security Forces arrived on the scene. A military guard from the Curragh and an ambulance made their way up the “Hill Road.” L.D.F. and Gardai stood on duty. Comdt. Harrington G (2) Branch Curragh Command was also present. Air Corps officers under Comdt. Murphy were standing by.
In his report to the Department of Defence (25/04/41) Comdt. Mackey was lavish in his praise of the work of Superintendent Quinn, Supt. Reynolds and Sgt. Bohan, Blessington. On Monday 21st April, 1941, the Coroner for West Wicklow instructed that no inquest would be held. His report to Comdt. Mackey stated: “The crew received frightful injuries and death was instantaneous in each case.”
The funerals took place on Tuesday 22nd at St. Mary’s Church, Blessington. The coffins, wrapped in the British flag, were carried to the church by soldiers escorted by a guard of honor and preceded by the No. 3 Army Band. It was attended by the British Representative, Sir John Maffey, with Lady Maffey and their daughter, Mrs. Max Aitken. Also present was Mr. Leywood of the British Legation, who had arrived in Blessington on Sunday 20th and visited the scene of the crash.
Irish Army officers attending included Major P. Maher, representing the Minister of Defence, and Comdt. E. Rooney, representing the Chief of Staff.
The service was conducted by Rev. W.R. Crooks and the four bodies were buried in the one grave. The Irish Times of 23rd April, 1941, said, “During the funeral all shops in Blessington were closed and blinds drawn on windows.”
The temporary wooden crosses on the graves of the crew members of AD730 St. Mary’s Church, Blessington, County Wicklow, Ireland
The last resting place of the crew members of AD730 St. Mary’s Church, Blessington, County Wicklow, Ireland
In his report to the Chief of Staff, Department of Defence, (25/04/41) Comdt. D.J. Murphy, Air Corps Headquarters, wrote:
“Cause of crash: not known. The aircraft appeared to fly straight into the side of the hill. Parts were scattered over a wide area. The area where the Hampton crashed is about 1600 feet above O.D., rising sharply from around 620 feet.”
Ironically, the motto of the 50th Squadron was “Sic fidem servamus” (Thus we keep Faith). For those young airmen there was no glory of D-Day. No honour of being shot down over enemy territory. Kylebeg was their Armageddon.
For them the war was lost — and won — on Blackhill.
Memorial in St. Mary’s Church, Blessington, County Wicklow, Ireland
Colin Hill (brother of pilot) visits the Memorial at the crash site at the time of its dedication April 1991.
(c) Mattie Lennon
Mattie Lennon was born in 1946 at Kylebeg, Lacken, Blessington. He spent the first 25 years of his life on a small farm, but moved to Dublin in 1971 to work at construction. Joining CIE in 1974 he worked as Conductor, Driver and Inspector until his retirement in January 2011. In 2005 he produced a DVD, Sunrise on the Wicklow Hills.
In 2006 Mattie edited ‘There’s Love and There’s Sex and There’s the 46A’ a collection of transport workers’ writings. In 2010 Mattie wrote ‘And All his Songs Were Sad’, a play based on the life and works of the late Sean McCarthy. It was staged by the Pantagleize Theatre Company in Fort Worth, Texas in October 2010.
Mattie Lennon has compiled and presented radio programmes for RTE, Radio Dublin KICK FM, Liffey Sound and WFU Radio in the Bronx. He recently edited a further collection of “Bus” writings, ‘It Happens Between Stops’. He now lives in Lucan, Co. Dublin.
Click here to go to Mattie Lennon’s website at http://mattielennon.com