Remembrance in Wales  
 Often overlooked by history are the thousands of Commonwealth airmen that lost their lives in training accidents, killed before they had reached the many battles of World War Two. Like the bomber campaign itself, aircrew training was indiscriminate in its victims. Old and young, experienced and inexperienced became casualties of the massive training structure that was created to provide a steady flow of aircrew to operational squadrons.

Operational Training Units (OTUs) and Heavy Conversion Units (HCUs) were the final stages of training for the airmen in the pipeline for Bomber Command. Training could be very hazardous as fledgling crews flew together in aircraft that were cast offs from operational squadrons and in some cases very worse for wear from battle damage. Mechanical failures were common, when coupled with crews that were inexperienced the consequences were often deadly.

 Wellington Painting by V.Suchy

 Such was the case on the night of November 20, 1944 as Vickers Wellington MF509 from the 22nd OTU at Wellesbourne Mountford made its way over Wales on a night cross country exercise and developed problems with its starboard. The aircraft began to lose height due to icing and struck Gareg Goch in the Black Mountains, all six aircrew aboard were killed.

The crew of Wellington MF509

 

The airmen lost on that fateful night were:

 

Sgt. Charles Hamel – Pilot Age: 21

Sgt. Jules Villeneuve – Navigator Age: 22

F/O William Allison – Bomb Aimer Age: 28

Sgt. Arthur Groulx – Air Gunner Age: 22

Sgt. Gerald Du Sablon – Air Gunner Age: 20

Sgt. Joseph Burke – Wireless Operator Age: 20

 

 All crew members were airmen of the Royal Canadian Air Force and are buried at Chester (Blacon) Cemetary, Cheshire, United Kingdom. All were also posthumously commissioned as officers in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

 

 The loss of Wellington MF509 was hardly atypical for the time and may well have faded into the obscurity of history if not for the efforts of one man and his family.

 

 In the village of Ynyswen located in the valley of Swansea in South Wales, Eric Price and some friends heard aircraft engines and witnessed a fiery glow in the mountains. The following day the townspeople were discussing the report that an aircraft had crashed in the mountains, the report was later confirmed by the authorities.

 Three days after the crash, Eric Price decided to explore the crash site. He and his dog traveled the up sheep’s path which ran along the mountain range until reaching the location of the wreck. While exploring the remains of the Wellington, Eric spotted something that seemed out of place amongst the heaps of twisted metal and burnt fabric. After picking up a small piece of the Wellington’s wing, he noticed a rectangular piece of white card. Upon further inspection, the object was revealed to be a photograph that had somehow been spared from the crash and subsequent fire. The photograph was of a solitary airman, there was no name or any other identification found on the photograph.

Not wanting to leave the photograph to the elements, Eric Price put it in his pocket. Not certain who the airman in the photograph was or whom he should return it to, Eric has kept in safe keeping for the past 61 years.

Photo of Unknown Airman Found at the Crash Site

  It is quite fitting that during the month of Remembrance in this the Year of the Veteran that we were contacted by Eric Price’s granddaughter. She is seeking to return the photograph to the airman’s next of kin. Sadly we have no way of determining the name of the individual nor the names of the men in the crew photo unless we can make contact with their next of kin.

The crash site is still visible in Wales and there is much wreckage at the site, a small memorial has been erected at the site.

The geodesic structure of the Wellington is still visible 61 years later.

(photo courtesy of Damien Thomas)

 Eric Price and his family would like to identify the airman in the photo found at the crash scene as well as the individuals in the crew photo. It is their hope to one day return the photograph to its rightful heir, in the meantime it remains in very good hands.

Authour's Footnotes:

Special thanks to Caroline Davies, granddaughter of Eric Price for bringing this story to our attention and supplying the images of the airmen and crash site. Also special thanks to Czech artist Vlastimil Suchy for allowing us to use his artwork on this page.

If anyone has any information on the men that were killed in this accident we are anxious to hear from you! Please contact the webmaster at matt@bombercrew.com.