The Pathfinders & the World they Knew

16/17 December 1943: Kirkwood Crew

The crew of James Kirkwood, 97 Squadron, all died in the early hours of 17 December 1943 in a crash due to fog and petrol shortage. The accident site was in farmland next to Hayley Wood, and there was no one nearby for any possible rescue attempt.

The Kirkwood crew had probably been trying to locate the nearby RAF station of Gransden Lodge, home of 405 Squadron. This was a close to impossible feat by midnight on 16/17 December due to the dense fog, the low cloud cover, and the limited wartime navigational equipment and landing aids. The aircraft is believed to hit some of the Hayley Wood trees before ploughing into the ground on the edge of the wood and catching fire.

L-R: Ted Hubbard, Bob Stewart, Reg (thought to be Ronald Cleeve), Len Madeley. Courtesy of Kenneth Bowe and Stanley Holding.

James Kirkwood, right, with RAF friends. Courtesy of Jim Kirkwood (son).

Pilot: P/O James Kirkwood
Buried in Kilwinning Cemetery
Flight Engineer: F/S Edward George Hubbard, “Ted”
Buried in Croxton (St Paul’s) Cemetery
Navigator: Sgt Robert Charles Stewart, “Bob”
Buried in Braemar (St Andrews) Graveyard
Bomb Aimer: F/O George Alexander Wigley
Buried in Carshalton (All Saints) Churchyard
W/Op: Sgt Ronald George Cleeve, possibly known as “Reg”
Buried in Wyke Regis New Burial Ground
Mid-Upper Gunner: Sgt Leonard Madeley, “Len”
Buried in Manchester Southern Cemetery
Rear Gunner: Sgt John Killen
Buried in Hollinfare Cemetery

Bob Stewart’s parents were heartbroken. One of their neighbours in a kind attempt to console them, wrote this poem for them and their “Bobby”. It may well have been read out during his funeral service.

Bob’s mother sent the poem to Margaret, the wife of James Kirkwood, who kept it throughout her life with the extremely poignant letter which enclosed it. With many thanks to Jim Kirkwood (son).


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