The season of remembrance is here once more. Poppies are on sale and newsreaders have been wearing them, it seems, for weeks. And soon many will be gathering at church, cenotaph and graveyard services remembering those who served and did not come home.
But why remember? Isn’t forgetting sometimes better? Yes, it is, but it is also good to remember, to remember those who bought our freedoms with their lives.
On Remembrance Sunday at one o’clock Harrogate Brigantes will hold the 26th annual Remembrance Service at the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery at Stonefall.
There are over 1000 graves, most of them of young airmen, nearly all of them volunteers, who came from around the world to help us fight off Nazi Germany during the Second World War. They deserve to be remembered. We have a lot to thank them for.
This year the short service will tell the tragic story of one Lancaster crew, 6 Canadians and one Englishman, a young Jew from Hackney. Their plane, DS 837, crashed into the Howardian Hills at Yearsley on its return from a bombing raid on Berlin on 16 December 1943. The tail of the plane broke off on impact and the rear gunner survived but the rest were killed.
They were not the only ones to die that night. It has gone down in history as “the RAF’s Black Thursday.” The cloud was very low, so returning crews were using the Standard Beam Approach in which they followed signals sent from beacons in line with the main runway of their airfield.
They were relying on their altimeters to tell them where the ground was. But the altimeters then in use were sensitive to barometric pressure. The pressure had changed considerably since take-off and the returning crews had been given new settings, incorrect new settings, so their altimeters were not working properly.
And so, as the crew DS 837 passed over the Howardian Hills, they were lower than they thought. Just outside the village of Yearsley a wing clipped a haystack and the plane veered straight across the main street, taking off the roofs of farm buildings before crashing into a tree in the field beyond.
The villagers did what they could. One member of the crew was dragged alive from the wreckage and carried to the local pub where he sadly died. And the village still remembers. There is a plaque in the church and villagers have collected together papers and material to form a lasting record of the tragedy. They will not forget, nor should we.
In Stonefall cemetery the crew lies together. On the headstone of the one Englishman to die at Yearsley is a simple reminder of the pain of loss. “Gone but not forgotten by his mum and dad, brother Sam and fiancée Edna.” That, surely, is the true pity of war, and why we should never forget.
The service at Stonefall is open to all, starting at one o’clock on Sunday 12th November for the service led by Rotarian the Reverend David Hoskins.