Broken Wings

Eagles With Broken Wings by Sue Woolley

A moving service took place in the open air at Maughold Churchyard on Sunday afternoon, when a bronze plaque was unveiled to commemorate four young American airmen who died in the parish in the early years of World War Two.

The sister and nieces and nephews of one of the airmen travelled from the USA to be present - for, although 55 years have passed sine the crash in which the airmen died, the memory has not been forgotten.

It was in the early afternoon of October 8, 1941 that a flight of 15 Hurricanes of 133 Eagle Squadron took off from their airfield at Fowlemere. Their destination was Eglinton in Northern Ireland, with refuelling stops at Sealand and Andreas, Isle of Man. The Hurricanes left Sealand at varying times between 3:30pm and 4:40pm for the flight to the Island.

By 5:50pm only nine had landed safely at Andreas. Two had turned back to Sealand in worsening weather conditions. This left four Hurricanes unaccounted for.

New soon began to come through of a number of aircraft crashes in the north of the Island - two on coastal farmland, and two further inland, in the foothills of the island's high ground.

Flt Lt Andrew MamedoffWorse news was to follow as word came through that there were no survivors. Flt. Lt Andrew Mamedoff, recently married crashed at Ballaskeig, Maughold; Pilot officer Roy Stout crashed at Snaefell Mines; Pilot Officer Hugh McCall at North Laxey Mines; Pilot Officer William White's aircraft crashed at Ballafayle - he had baled out over the sea and his body was recovered six weeks later on the beach below Ballafayle.

All four were buried at Brookwood Military Cemetery in London.

Sunday's memorial service took place in fine but blustery conditions and began with a few words of welcome from Marinda Fargher, chairman of Maughold Commissioners.

There followed a reflection on the lives of the four pilots by Steve Poole, of the Manx Aviation Preservation Society, who arranged for the ceremony to take place. Prayers were led by the vicar, the Reverend David Green, and Ramsey Town Band Played.

Harriet Stifel, of Los Angeles, sister of Pilot Officer McCall was present, along with younger members of the family. They heard fellow American, Wilson V. (Bill) Edwards, president of the Eagle Squadron Association read a poem written by Pilot officer McCall's mother on the death of her son.

Two minutes' silence was observed and as people lifted their heads, a Wessex helicopter came into view and flew over, US flag and the Union jack fluttering in the wind - a perfectly timed moment of great poignancy for those watching from below.

Among those on board was Jeff Borg, a US Air Force exchange officer on a three year tour of duty at RAF Valley, who brought with him the American flag. The Last Post was sounded, wreaths were laid, and the national anthems of Britain, the USA and the Isle of Man were sung.

Afterwards, in the warmth of the church hall, Sir Charles Kerruish, Captain of the Parish of Maughold, shared memories of that fateful day when local farmers, himself included, and internees working on farms, took part in the search for survivors.

Photograph by Steve PooleHe paid tribute to the young airmen, and he said he hoped the plaque would serve as a reminder to present and future generations of the debt owed to those who sacrificed their lives so others could enjoy freedom from tyranny.

He gave special thanks to Steve Poole and the Manx Aviation Preservation Society, Maughold Commissioners, the Coastguard, and the vicar and wardens at Maughold 'for enabling us to look back over half a century, to give thanks to those who made this sacrifice in the name of freedom and peace.'

The above newspaper article appeared in the Manx Independent, 18th October 1996.

By kind permission of Isle of Man Newspapers Limited.