East – Row 3 – 18 – Ford


1827160 Sgt J.W.FORD Att G RAF died 28th October 1944 aged 19 years. God took him home it was his will . But in our hearts he liveth still.

Military record

Details of the crew of the Stirling Mk111 are as follows:
183394 P/O A K R Steele
Remained in aircraft. Survived.

Flight Engineer
1595514 Sgt A E Baggaley
Bailed out. Survived. Died April 2016, Scarborough

Wireless Operator
1278819 Sgt D W Lee
Bailed out. Survived. Died 2003 South Africa

R.182706 Sgt N S Harbor RCAF
Remained in aircraft. Died. Buried Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey

Rear Air Gunner
1818101 Sgt E H Bailey
Bailed out. Died. Buried Burnley Cemetery

Mid Air Gunner 1827160 Sgt J W Ford
Bailed out. Died. Buried Lennel Kirkyard, Coldstream

Air Bomber 1823003 Sgt T N C Johnston
Remained in aircraft. Died. Buried St John’s Westgate and Elswick Cemetery,
Newcastle upon Tyne

The Pilot, Navigator and Bomb Aimer stayed in the plane, the other four crew
bailed out. I suspect that the Flight Engineer and Wireless Operator went
first, followed by the two Gunners. The latter two (Eric and John) were the
ones killed. The following is taken from the Accident Report

"Take off 14.05 for a high-level cross-country. Cruising at 17500 feet, the
crew experienced very severe icing, which forced the bomber lower and lower
until it broke free of the clouds at 3,000 feet. Still the aircraft would
not respond effectively and at 22.05 it crashed in a field at Home Farm near
Iwerne Minster, 5 miles NNW of Blandford Forum in Dorset and burst into
flames. The injured were rushed to Shaftesbury Hospital, where Sgt Bailey
died; he is buried in Burnley Cemetery. F/S Harbor RCAF was taken to
Brookwood Military Cemetery, while Sgt Johnston and Sgt Ford rest in
Newcastle-upon-Tyne (St John's Westgate) Cemetery and Lennel Old Churchyard

Donald Lee, the wireless operator wrote to the family of the Canadian
Navigator (Stan Harbor) in 1948. His account is as follows:

"Actually we were returning to England from a trip over France without any
real interference from the enemy but as we were crossing the English Channel
we unfortunately encountered some severe weather without warning. We climbed
as high as possible endeavouring to get above it but our luck was out. Try
as we did we just couldn’t get out of it and then again without warning we
experienced severe icing  7” thick on the mainplane and suddenly the
aircraft (a Stirling) lurched completely out of control into a spiral dive,
all the controls frozen up even though we were not previously aware of it.

At that time there didn’t appear the least hope of escaping for any of us
because we were far below the minimum safety height. In the one or two
seconds left four of us managed to bail out two of us having miraculous
escapes but the other two were killed instantly on impact with the ground.
Stanley  & the Bomb Aimer  together with the Pilot  crashed with the plane
which blew up instantly and I very much regret to say that both Stan  and
Tommy  died at the same instant without any suffering whatsoever. Ken, the
pilot was somehow thrown through the aircraft crashing at 400 miles an hour
and although he had quite a number of cuts etc. he soon recovered. As you
know we were in the same hospital together. I can honestly say that so far
as Ken & myself were concerned we survived by a chance of 1 in 10,000. The
other fellow was very fortunate in baling out first and also dropping into a
deep valley which gave him extra height.

I sincerely hope that what I’ve now told you won’t upset you a bit but I
guess it’s only natural for any mother to want the truth however terrible it
may be. So please don’t be upset. I can assure you that it was just one of
those very unlucky incidents and Ken did all he could in extremely short
time. It is a blessing though in that respect to know that the four who were
not so fortunate as us died instantly and experienced no suffering at all."

My search began about the crash started with trying to find out about what
exactly had happened. There were three versions of my uncle's death
circulating in the family, two of which were wildly inaccurate and the third
which my mother told (Eric's younger sister) which is pretty close to Donald
Lee's version. What my mother didn't know is that of the four that bailed
out, two survived and of the three that stayed in the plane only one
survived. My mother thought that the four that bailed were the four that
died, and was very bitter that her brother may have lived if he had stayed
in the aircraft. In fact he had stood a better chance of survival by bailing

I've shown Donald's account to two modern day RAF pilots. They agree that
the plane met extraordinary circumstances that would have tested the most
experienced pilots and icing is still a problem today if it occurs, although
the mechanisms for dealing with it are very different to those of WW2. The
thickness of the icing (7") in Donald's letter probably refers to the
spread, not the depth.

What started as research into my uncle's death became instead an
investigation into what happened to the rest of the crew and an
acknowledgement that they were a crew, not individuals. I've managed to
contact the daughter of Donald Lee, the nephew of Arthur Baggaley, the niece
of Stan Harbor and I'm hoping that the niece of Sgt Johnston (Tommy) will
respond to my approach via the Ancestry website. That just leaves Ken
Steele. I was so pleased to have found the pictures of the Ford graves on
your website, it adds more detail to the story of the crew. Eric is
commemorated in the Airmen's Chapel at Lincoln Cathedral which is also the
Chapel for 5 Group Bomber Command, of which RAF Winthorpe was part. The
other three fatalities are not recorded at Lincoln.

Finally, if you follow the link it will take you to the story of my uncle's
IWGC wooden cross which is now at the Newark Air Museum (previously RAF
Winthorpe which is where the crew served as part of 1661 HCU). My
grandparents kept it wrapped in their garage, having it regularly re-painted
and repaired. Following my grandmother's death in 1981 her younger son,
Chris, did the same. Chris died in January 2012 and it was in 2014 that
Eric's remaining relatives agreed that Newark would be a fitting home for
the cross. The cross was given to Newark about the time of the 70th
anniversary of the crash and was used as the focus of their Remembrance Day
Service later that year.

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