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Tribute to airmen presented

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A HELENSBURGH airman who died when his plane was shot down during the Second World War is commemorated on war memorials in Hermitage Park and in northern France.

And in November 2009 a specially prepared photographic tribute to him and his crewmates who died was presented to the Mayor of the town where the monument is.

The burgh man was Sergeant Campbell Lowrie, who was born in 1912, the son of John Lowrie and his second wife, Jessie.

The tribute was presented by Norman Hood, who lives at Gipsey Bridge, Lincolnshire. He is the son of Flight Sergeant Raymond Thomas Hood, who was the sole survivor when the plane was shot down near Longvilliers on June 3 1944.

Campbell joined the crew of the Handley-Page Halifax Mark 3 heavy bomber MZ-604, W for Whisky, in November 1943 at RAF Rufforth in Yorkshire, and they were posted to 76 Squadron, part of RAF Bomber Command 4 Group, at nearby RAF Holme-on-Spalding Moor on March 14 1944. He was the tail gunner, or ‘Tail End Charlie'.

The other members of the crew were pilot Flight Sergeant Leonard James Richard Smith from Malaya, navigator Flight Sergeant Hood from Croydon, bomb aimer Flight Sergeant Harry Caswell from New South Wales, Australia, flight engineer Sergeant Alexander Ferguson from Birmingham, wireless operator Sergeant John Thompson from Asselby, Yorkshire, and mid-upper air gunner, Sergeant Owen Teasdale, from Bedlighton, Northumberland.

Norman has done a great deal of reseach into the crash, and the trip to Longvilliers was the result of some further investigation.

He said: "76 Squadron was reformed at RAF Linton-on-Ouse in the early summer of 2007. I discovered this in 2008 and immediately wrote to tell them about my interest in the squadron.

"I was invited to spend a day with them and was amazed to see they had painted up their Tucano aircraft in the same markings as fallen Halifax aircraft in World War Two, one of which was MZ604!

"As a result of this I went to France to meet the Mayor of Longvilliers to discuss the wish of 76 Squadron Tucanos crew doing a formation flypast over Longvilliers in June 2010 on the anniversary of the crash. They explained to me they can't really just turn up, so they were waiting expectantly for the results of my visit.

"I took my own constructed picture board to present to the Mayor which, when displayed in the town hall, will help visitors to understand the reasons for the nearby memorial. The visit and the picture board were my own ideas, as in order for 76 to visit France, they must first receive an official invitation. They then seek permission from higher authority.”

Norman also wrote to the Officer Commanding Battle of Britain Flight, which is based at nearby RAF Coningsby, to ask if they could fly the Lancaster over, on the memorial date or whenever possible. However service commitments meant that this was impossible.

But this year two Tucanos from 76 (R) Squadron with four aircrew, plus a ground party of eight, are going out from Friday to Monday May 6-9 to take part in the town's VE celebrations on Sunday May 8, with a flypast and ground ceremony.

It has recently been announced that the squadron will disband three days after returning to the U.K.

Norman's picture board — made with the help of David Fuller, a writer in the communications office of York University in Toronto, Canada — records, in English and French, that late on June 2 1944, as part of preparations for the Liberation of France the crew of MZ604 — ‘W for Whisky' — was tasked with bombing the Trappes railway yards where enemy troops and tanks were assembling.

On the way home, at 1am on June 3, the aircraft was involved in an aerial battle with the Luftwaffe over Longvilliers, and was shot down by Hauptman Han Autenreith flying a Messerschmitt Bf 110G night fighter, with only Flight Sergeant Hood surviving. It was just three days before D-Day.

Norman said: "This was to be the final air attack of the Transportation Plan prior to the invasion of Europe. Beginning in early March, almost 9,000 sorties were flown by Bomber Command in 69 air attacks, with the loss of 198 planes.

"My father told me that on the night of June 2-3, the Germans were waiting for them. Just after they dropped the bombs over the target at Trappes and turned round west for home, an enemy flak searchlight on a hill caught them near Longvilliers.

"Then, while the aircraft was floodlit, the nightfighter attacked them from underneath. It was all over in seconds.

"My father said that one minute he was standing in the nose putting out flames in the cockpit, then the next minute hurtling through the sky as the aircraft exploded. He landed heavily with burning wreckage falling on him."

The rest of the crew did not get out, and all of them died when the plane crashed near to Longvilliers.

longvilliers-memorial-wAll six were buried in a communal grave in Bretigny-Sur-Orge Cemetery, south of Paris, and on June 3 2006, to mark the 60th anniversary of the crash, a memorial (left) was unveiled in the Longvilliers field where the plane crashed.

On the Bretigny-Sur-Orge it is stated: "In Memory of Sergeant Campbell Lowrie 1056079, 76 Sqdn., Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, who died age 22 on 03 June 1944, Son of John and Jessie C.Lowrie, of Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire. Remembered with honour."

Norman tracked down descendants of Campbell, who live in Newton Mearns, Glasgow, and they were able to supply some more information — including the fact that he regularly travelled from Helensburgh to visit his Glasgow relatives.

Campbell was the youngest of three sons and two daughters of John Lowrie's second marriage, and there were one son and four daughters of the first marriage. The family home in Helensburgh until John Lowrie's death in 1938 was a very small ground floor flat at 46 John Street.

After leaving school Campbell followed his oldest stepbrother in joining a burgh firm of joiners, Jack and Sons. He volunteered to serve in World War Two, and it is believed he lied about his age.

Campbell's name is on the Cenotaph in Hermitage Park, and on the other side of the war memorial is the name of an older brother, Kenneth Campbell Lowrie, who died in 1917 at the age of 17 during the First World War.

Kenneth, who was in the Royal Scots Fusiliers, lied to get into the army and was reported as being 19 when he died in Palestine. Another brother, Alexander, served in the Royal Navy during World War Two as a ship's cook. He moved to England and the family never heard of him again.

  • The full story of that fateful night can be found here.

 

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 16 February 2011 19:25 )  

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