The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville

Autumn 2015

Aircrew Memorial, Corringham, Lincolnshire

There is an interesting connection between Waterlooville and the small village of Corringham in Lincolnshire. In 2009 the Parish Church Council began raising money to place a memorial in the village church of St Lawrence to commemorate the crew of a Halifax bomber which crashed close to the church one foggy night in 1943 killing all six crew members. Five of them were Australians but the flight engineer was 20 year old Sgt Robert Bottle of Waterlooville. An appeal was made in the Portsmouth Evening News for any relatives of Sgt Bottle to make contact but without success.

The crash occurred on 16 December 1943 when thick fog suddenly developed all over Lincolnshire and the rest of East Anglia, causing chaos to all aircraft flying that night. For instance 100 Squadron sent 17 Lancasters to bomb Berlin that night. All survived the raid but four of the bombers crashed whilst trying to land at their base near Grimsby. A man from my Cambridgeshire village, Sgt Horace Whybrow, was one of those killed. Nearly 400 men lost their lives that night and 30 aircraft crashed trying to land in the fog at airfields in Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire and Suffolk. One crashed at Wyton aerodrome where my father was working as a Link Training instructor.

Sgt Bottle was not on operations that night. He was based at R.A.F. Blyton, not far from Corringham which was 1662 H.C.U. (Heavy Conversion Unit). This was where where crews did their final training on Lancaster and Halifax bombers before starting their operational tour with Bomber Command. Many accidents occurred during training and 1662 H.C.U. lost 26 aircraft in crashes in less than two years. On the night in question Sgt Bottle was one of the crew of a Halifax bomber DT 669 which was taking part in a night navigation exercise.

The Court of Inquiry found that the port engine had been feathered having overheated due to loss of coolant but this did not cause the crash. It seems probable that the pilot (Sgt Vautier) became disorientated in the fog and flew too low whilst trying to find the runway. As a result his starboard wing hit some trees near the church and crashed killing all those on board. The full crew was

Flt-Sgt Gerault Vautier (pilot) RAAF

Flt Sgt Robert Bottle (Flt engineer) RAFVR

Flt Sgt John Findley (navigator) RAAF

Flt Sgt Edward Hoskings (bomb aimer) RAAF

Flt Sgt Noel Toy (wireless operator) RAAF

Flt Sgt Eric Strawbridge (air gunner) RAAF

All five Australians are buried in Cambridge City Cemetery but Sgt Bottle is buried at Hulbert Road cemetery here in Waterlooville. The memorial in St Lawrence church was dedicated two years ago, a fitting tribute to the brave men killed that night.

John Symonds