Kirkwood Crew: Lost 16/17 December 1943

Above: A lovely informal shot of RAF aircrew. James Kirkwood (left) with unknown RAF friends, possibly crew members. Courtesy of Jim Kirkwood.

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 occurred near RAF Gransden Lodge, in farmland next to Hayley Wood. The aircraft is believed to have hit some of the Hayley Wood trees before ploughing into the ground on the edge of the wood and catching fire. Tragically, there seems to have been nobody close by to rescue any survivors trapped in the aircraft.

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

The crew must have been trying to locate nearby RAF Gransden Lodge, home of 405 Squadron, but 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 crew were:

  • 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, the navigator, was an only son. His parents were devastated by his death. 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.

Courtesy of Jim Kirkwood.

The card (see below) that accompanied the wreath for Ted Hubbard would have arrived at his home with his Union Jack-draped coffin. Similar cards would have accompanied the coffins of the other crewmembers.

Courtesy of Kenneth Bowe and Stanley Holding.

Below, the funeral notice for John Killen. John Killen was much loved by his family and friends judging by the large number of floral tributes. Note that one of these is recorded as being from ‘RAF Station’.

Courtesy of Alan Blay and Norah Kilner (nee Winstanley).