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Wincanton marks the 75th anniversary of the crash of Old Faithful

Thursday 27 June 2019, 16:03
By Tony Goddard

Wincanton's Mayor, Councillor Susan Shelbourn-Barrow, laying a wreath at the War Memorial

A large number of townspeople turned out in Wincanton on 23rd June to mark the 75th anniversary of the crash of the American Flying Fortress bomber, Old Faithful, near the town.

It was on 25th June 1944 that a lone American B17 Flying Fortress was struggling back from a bombing raid on Toulouse in France. The aircraft, badly damaged by German anti-aircraft fire over the target, had successfully flown 900 nautical miles on only three of its four engines, making landfall over Lyme Bay.

Things got worse when one of its remaining engines began to malfunction. Following the Blackmore Vale it was losing altitude and the pilot frantically searched for a diversion airfield. Fate took a hand because he chose RAF Zeals, which is on high ground, and the aircraft was rapidly approaching the centre of Wincanton town.

Eye witnesses could actually see the crew throwing heavy equipment including radios and machine guns out of the aircraft in a vain attempt to lighten the load. The B17 was perilously close to Wincanton when the pilot, 2nd Lt. Peter Mikonis, banked the aircraft away. A horrendous explosion occurred and the stricken plane blew up over Snag Farm on the edge of Wincanton, near Bayford.

The colour party procession during the Old Faithful memorial service

The town of Wincanton has marked the anniversary of the sacrifices made that June day every year since a memorial was erected in 1954. This year being the 75th anniversary was no exception and a poignant ceremony was held at the Wincanton War Memorial. The army provided a colour party and military guests of honour were Col. Lucy Giles and Col. Colin Thomas. The service was conducted by the Revd. Alison Handcock and the Mayor of Wincanton, Cllr Susan Shelbourn-Barrow, laid a wreath along with district councillor Colin Winder.

Tony Goddard, President of Wincanton Royal British Legion, commented how pleased he was to see so many young people present, and that King Arthur’s School students laid a wreath and were aware of the history of the event as they had learnt about it in a recent local history lesson. Wincanton is fortunate to have such splendid young people, Tony said, as also present was a strong contingent of Wincanton Fire Service cadets. It was Wincanton firefighters who rushed to the scene on the day of the crash. The American flag was carried by one of the cadets from the Wincanton platoon, Army Cadet Force along with a strong contingent from the cadets on parade.

Wincanton Silver Band played the hymns and trumpeter from the Band, Zac Smith, played Last Post and Reveille. The moving ceremony concluded with the singing of the British National Anthem followed by the American National Anthem by Ameilia Warren.

During the event, inside the Memorial Hall sun lounge, there was a display of photographs of Old Faithful and her crew, as well as artefacts from the crash including the tip of one of the plane's propellers and other fragments of metal from the wreckage. Outside, there were some classic American vehicles including a US Army jeep.

Thanks to Steve Lee for the photos.

Public attendance of the Old Faithful 75th anniversary memorial service

The colour party with flags lowered

The Old Faithful 75th anniversary memorial service

Group photo of memorial service participants

A display of artifacts and photos at the Old Faithful 75th anniversary memorial service

American vehicles on display at the Old Faithful 75th anniversary memorial service


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