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80th Anniversary Exhibition of fatal war-time air collision

by | Feb 21, 2024

The 22nd February 2024 marks the 80th anniversary of a fatal air collision between two B17 Flying Fortress aircraft, over what is now part of Stanwick Lakes.

There will be a free exhibition in the Visitor Centre at Stanwick Lakes from Friday 23rd February until Sunday 3rd March. The exhibition will display the artefacts and the historic stories of the time and the collision. We invite the general public to attend and to learn about the longer-term heritage project to fundraise for a permanent memorial on site.

More information:

In early 1942, the first USAF flying units were being stationed in the UK. The Eighth Air Force of the USAFF took over or built more than 200 airfields across Britain, including many local to this area; Grafton Underwood, Chelveston and Polebrook in Northamptonshire, and Molesworth and Alconbury in Cambridgshire. Many US airfields survive today as enduring legacies and heritage sites that tell of a long-lasting relationship between British communities and the USAF, maintaining a deep connection to the USAF.

This tragic event is an important part of not just local heritage and history but the heritage of the USAF and our military connections in Britain today.

John Abbott, a volunteer at Stanwick Lakes, wrote about the collision in 2012, which you can read in a previous blog post made even more poignant now because of the upcoming anniversary. In remembrance of the loss of life, and the self-sacrifice and bravery of the USAF airmen stationed in the area during World War II.

John and Andy Dyks have led the research into the incident, uncovering details of the crash and the airmen, as well as uncovering memories and recollections from local people of the collision. Thanks go to the dedicated Stanwick Lakes volunteers who have worked compassionately on the facts and context around the history of the B17 incident, to curate and bring the exhibition to life.

A private ceremony of remembrance was held at the Visitor Centre, attended by 501st Combat Support Wing Commander Colonel Landon Phillips and local dignitaries from surrounding towns and villages, including Deputy Lieutenant of Northamptonshire Air Vice Marshall White, and Vice Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire Brigadier Tim Seal.

Col. Landon Phillips expressed his thoughts on the event: “It’s truly humbling to be here today to pay a very special tribute to those 17 American Airmen who tragically lost their lives 80 years ago. I’m honoured to stand alongside our UK partners in remembrance and grateful for those who have been kind enough to host us. Your commitment to cherishing the memory of our fallen wingmen is a testament to our two countries’ long-standing special relationship and reinforces the bond between our great nations.”

Attendees gathered for a short private service, the reading of a poem originally written by a local young girl, present as the time of the incident. The Honor Guard were given the order to post colours, followed by Taps to accompany the laying of a memorial wreath and a salute.

The Mayor of Irthlingborough, Cllr Ethan Hopkinson, added: “It is an honour to remember the brave men of the 303rd and 384th Bombardment Groups of the United States Air Force who so tragically lost their lives on 22nd February 1944. On behalf of the people of Irthlingborough, I express our heartfelt gratitude to the men who lost their lives that day, and all our American friends, who sacrificed so much, arm in arm with our own countrymen, during World War 2 in pursuit of the freedom we enjoy today. In gracious, glorious, and eternal memory.”

The ceremony was a private service, but marks the start of the accompanying exhibit opening to the public. Rockingham Forest Trust, that manages Stanwick Lakes, is committed to preserving the memory of these heroes for generations to come begins the journey to establish fundraising efforts with the aim of commissioning a permanent memorial on site, to commemorate the events that unfolded in 1944 and the legacy.

Nadia Norman, Heritage Coordinator at Stanwick Lakes, said:

“The B-17 collision in 1944 is such a significant event in local history and it was important to us that we were able to remember and commemorate the airmen on the 80th anniversary of the crash. A permanent memorial here at Stanwick Lakes will help tell the story of self-sacrifice and bravery of our Allied forces, and will be a lasting legacy that shows that communities had and still have a special relationship with US air bases in our local area.”

As we move forward with fundraising efforts, your support will be instrumental in honouring the memory of these courageous individuals and ensuring that their legacy endures for future generations.

More information on the local history of the time, the exhibition (one it has finished) and fundraising efforts will be updated here to our blog in due course.

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