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Young People Attend Flying Fortress Crash Memorial

Thursday 4 July 2013, 17:51
By Tony Goddard

The Royal British Legion, Wincanton Branch, and some students from King Arthur's Community School commemorate the Flying Fortress crew

69 years ago, in the early hours of 25th June, an American Flying Fortress left the USAAF base at Bassingbourn near Cambridge on a bombing mission to Toulouse in the south of France.

The name given the aircraft by its crew was "Old Faithful", code letters LL-G of the 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy Bombers), 423rd Squadron, and it was flying in probably the most vulnerable position of the whole squadron, the lower forward position.

The squadron attack was two prong, with part of the squadron making a diversionary attack on a German airfield but the remainder dropping much needed weapons to the French Resistance.

"Old Faithful was hit by enemy flak as it dropped its bombs on their target and one engine caught fire and stopped. The crew managed to extinguish the fire and at first the squadron thought the damaged plane had turned towards neutral Spain which was not too far off. This was normal procedure in emergencies. The only problem with this would be that the aircraft would be impounded by the Spanish and the crew interned for the remainder of the war.

Taking a life or death decision the pilot, 2nd Lt. Peter Mikonis decided to attempt to fly the 900 nautical miles back to England, flying very low over the Atlantic and swinging towards Lyme Bay upon reaching landfall. As the aircraft reached the coast another engine went out and now, flying through the Blackmore Vale at very low altitude on just two engines, the pilot decided to head for RAF Zeals, which was shown on U.S. maps as an emergency diversion point.

Unknown to him was the fact that Zeals is on high ground and he was losing height all the time. To the horror of the crew, a town was in the direct line of the approaching aircraft and it must have been obvious they were going to crash into it - that town was Wincanton.

The aircraft was in a very fragile state, being peppered with shrapnel from the flak and barely flying in one piece, they jettisoned everything that would move but could not lift the plane above the town, so in a moment of extreme bravery the pilot banked the aircraft to swerve away but this caused an explosion and Old Faithful blew up.

The wreckage came down mainly upon Snag Farm, Stoke Trister. The crash scene was one of total devastation and all the crew were instantly killed.

Ever since that day in 1944, townspeople of Wincanton remember the crew and their sacrifice with the greatest of respect and gratitude, and erected a memorial to the brave American flyers on Bayford Hill, overlooking Snag Farm.

Each year since then on the anniversary their sacrifice is remembered, and this year the younger generation of Wincanton, students of King Arthur's Community School, continued that tradition and took part in the commemoration along with members of Wincanton Royal British Legion. A service led by the Rev. Canon Alan Watson took place at the memorial on Bayford Hill and wreaths were placed by the students and the Royal British Legion. Legion chairman Tony Goddard, in thanking the young people for attending, said he hoped that they would continue to observe this day and remember for generations to come the sacrifices made on our behalf.

Next year being the 70th anniversary, it is hoped to have a major commemoration as the crash is still within living memory of many in Wincanton.


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