MEMORIAL TO THE CREW OF
LANCASTER KB 879

E-Mail Correspondence
With
Sandon Memorial Organizer
Donald Mitchell

 
Dear Sir
This is a `long shot` but I wonder if you could help us trace any relatives of William Gavin Campbell, Flight Lieutenant (Pilot)  who was killed in a Lancaster bomber that crashed in our village on 30 April 1945. The records show that he was from Strathclair, Manitoba and was aged 26 years. He was one of six R.C.A.F. men that died, the youngest being 16 years!

I have drawn a blank with finding any Campbell family in the local phone books, although an old map shows a Campbell homestead close to Strathclair.

We are trying to contact any relatives to let them know that our local British Legion is erecting a memorial to the men in our village of Sandon in Staffordshire, England. There is to be a dedication and a flypast by the Memorial Flight of a Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane.

I see that there is a journal by Katherine Campbell locally, do you know if she was related?

Would really like to hear from you
Best regards
Don Mitchell (Chairman Parish Council)
Sandon House 
Sandon 
Stafford
England
01889 508492 tel
01889 508590 fax 

I forwarded Mr. Mitchell's letter to my cousins: Liz Roberts, Marg Hodgson, and Alex Campbell -- children of Donald Campbell (deceased), brother of William. Liz and I then replied separately to Mr. Mitchell's first e-mail. My reply is shown below:
 

 
Dear Mr. Mitchell
A "long shot" but your aim is true. William Gavin Campbell is my mother's brother... my mother, Louise (Campbell) Hillman still lives in Strathclair at Carlton Lodge. My wife and I, although we now reside in Brandon, Manitoba where we own a restaurant, still own the "Campbell house" which is located 1 1/2 miles south of Strathclair. We lived in that house for almost 30 years while I taught high school in Strathclair. The "new" house was built by John and Katherine Campbell in 1920 on the site of the original homestead and it was there they raised three children: Donald (deceased), Louise, and William (my namesake). The journals by Katherine Campbell which you mention where keyed into a word processor by myself -- from stacks of old notebooks. The journals are replete with references to young Billie, his school days, farmwork, the tearful goodbyes as he left for overseas... and the unbelievable shock and grief when she received news of his death so close to the end of the war. 

Your news of a Sandon memorial and flypast is gratifying and exciting news to all of us. My wife, Sue-On, and I have visited Uncle Bill's gravesite at Chester on two occasions during our musical tours of England (we did three performing tours of workingmens clubs and recording sessions in England's North East back in the late '70s). This recognition will certainly be bittersweet news to my mother -- the family members took news of his death extremely hard back in 1945 -- and we are all tremendously pleased that you folks are doing so much to keep his memory alive. 

If you require more information I would be more than willing to assist. My mother has a large hardcover book published by Brandon's Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum which gives information on William (pilot) and his Lancaster crew. If you feel that there may be something in there of value to you, please let me know and I will e-mail the information. We have scores of photos of William and the family which we could scan and sent to you as e-mail attachments. My mother was contacted last year by a gentleman in England, requesting information for a book on fallen airmen -- perhaps you know something about that project. We sent the information and photo but heard no more from him. Please keep us advised as to the success of your project. Have you set a date for the dedication and flypast?

Sincerely,
William G. Hillman
41 Kensington Crescent
Brandon, Manitoba
R7A 6M4
Canada
1.204.728.4673
e-mail: hillmans@westman.wave.ca
BILL & SUE-ON HILLMAN ECLECTIC STUDIO Website
 http://www.hillmanweb.com/


 
 
Dear Mr Hillman and Mrs Campbell-Roberts

Thank you both so much for your lovely letters. After trying for so long to make contact with any relatives of William I must admit that your timely and full response has come as a very pleasant surprise.

The memorial dedication and flypast are set for the 28th August 1999, which is a Saturday, at 11am. Is there a possibility that either of you, your mother Mr Hillman, your brother Elizabeth, or any member of your family could attend. I realise that it is quite short notice, has logistical problems etc, but the people of our village send you a very warm invitation and would help out at this end as much as possible. We all would dearly like to meet you.

So far we have relatives from, I think, about four of the men killed, including the sister of the 16 year old Edward Wright. The Mayor of Stafford is attending, together with the Commanding Officer from 16MU RAF Stafford, (they sent the fire crews out to the crashed plane and this is where I obtained photos from), the Air Attaché from your Canadian High Commission, members of the British Legion, an RAF guard of honour plus local people with memories of the crash and local and national newspapers with TV coverage...The service at the site will be given by Canon John Greaves our super vicar of Sandon and Burston. We have arranged a lunch afterwards. Whatever happens we will take some photos and hopefully a video which we will gladly send.

A few notes as to what led up to this event:
When we moved into Sandon House (wife Kathy, daughters Sarah and Kate and son James) some 21years ago, I found whilst clearing out the stables a tube with a bright orange box kite inside which thank goodness I kept through curiosity. Some years later the previous occupant of the house called by who explained that it was from the Lancaster that had crashed in the village. He was Doctor Bocking one of the first on the scene and did his best to help the men, but sadly to no avail.

I spoke to people in the village and most were surprised that very little was known of these chaps who had laid down their lives for us so close to the end of the war. 

I approached RAF Stafford who were very helpful and supplied me with copies of photographs of the crashed plane. These had never been seen by any non Air Force people before. I quietly went to the field, and from still existing features located the exact place of the crash. Of course nothing can be seen now but for the grassy field, but it was a moving experience. 

After many stop/start efforts at getting information together, I handed my file over to our local branch of the British Legion whose members (mostly retired now!) had the time and contacts to take the search forward.

In our local church there are many memorials to local people lost in wars and conflicts, but none to these chaps who actually died in our midst. We have decided that the memorial stone and inscription will be erected close to the crash site, on the roadside of the hedge, so that it can be seen by all who pass. The site will be kept mown and tidy by village volunteers.

Would it be possible please if it is not too much trouble to send the information and copies of photographs that you have. We would treasure anything you send and will collate it with all the other information that we have to make a lasting book of history. I am sorry that have not been contacted since giving some information to a `gentleman` from England before, but we know nothing of this.

Yours Sincerely
Donald Mitchell

I had almost finished the task of obtaining airline tickets for my mother and myself when I received the pleasant surprise of an overseas phone call from Don Mitchell. I thanked him profusely for all the work he had done and reported that chances were good that my mother and I would be able to attend the ceremonies. Sadly, my wife Sue-On and members of the Campbell family, found it impossible to make the trip. A few days later, I confirmed in an e-mail to him that we would indeed be making the trip -- arriving at Manchester on August 23 and leaving August 30.
 

 
Dear Bill,

F A N T A S T I C   N E W S ..so pleased that you are both able to come, and we are all looking forward to meeting you.

We will of course meet you at Manchester airport and arrange your accommodation. Final arrangements of timing etc we can talk about closer to the time.

Please feel free to use any of our communications for an Internet site, local media, or where you think anyone interested in our project may see it. Do you have any contact with the Veterans Organisation as our local Royal British Legion had their letter to them returned `unknown`. We are still trying to make contact with any family of 

Flt Sgt J H Kay (R142448)
Flt Sgt S Berryman (R186388)
and 
WO T D Lawley (R214612).

Over the next few days I will collect together local info for you and send it by snailmail as I do not yet have a scanner. Maybe this is the excuse for me to go and purchase one!  I am only just getting to find my way around this computer and the Internet so a scanner will be another learning curve..

Son James and I are off to Silverstone tomorrow for the annual Coys Historic Sports Car Festival... E-Types - Cobras - Lister Jags - 250 GTO`s etc all being used as they were intended... heady stuff eh.

Please give our best regards to your mother and thank you both.

Sincerely
Don

CLICK HERE TO SEE A MAP OF THE SANDON AREA
 

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