ORDER OF SERVICE
The commemorative stone is in memory of the crew and civilians
killed when the Lancaster Bomber Mark III LM616 KO-J
crashed into West End Farm, Great Offley on 18th July 1944
Welcome and Opening Address: Councillor David Barnard
Prayers: Rev Terrance Bell, St Mary Magdalene Church, Offley
Stone Unveiling: Flight Lieutenant N Bing 115 Squadron
Exhortation read by Capt. L Parker RE
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
All Respond: WE WILL REMEMBER THEM
Last Post: Played by Bugler Mr Robert Crick
Two Minute Silence
Reveille: Played by Bugler Mr Robert Crick
Laying of wreaths: Cllr David Barnard – Flt Lt Neil Bing – Parish Councillor Mrs Janice Neal
Laying of additional wreaths and personal tributes
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Blessing: Rev Terrance Bell
God grant to the living grace, to the departed rest, to the Church, the Queen, the Commonwealth and all mankind, unity,
peace and concord, and to us and all God’s servants, life everlasting.
And the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be upon you and remain with you always. Amen
This Plaque is in
memory of the crew
killed when the
Lancaster Bomber III LM616 KO-J
West End Farm
on 18th July 1944
Their names will
live forever more
Designed and supplied by
Flight Crew – Lancaster Bomber III LM616 KO-J
P/O Sydney LETTS Age 31
Sgt Donald CLARK F/Eng. Age 20
Sgt Keith SMITH Nav Age 21
P/O William KENNEDY RCAF Air/Bmr Age 28
F/O Thomas RICHARDSON W/Op Age 23
Sgt Isaac MORRIS Air/Gnr Age 21
Sgt Earl WHITE RCAF Air/Gnr Age 21
Civilians – West End Farm
Mrs Alice Handley Age 67
Ms Mary Handley Age 36
Pte Elsie Handley Age 28
the Lancaster Bomber Mark III LM616 KO-J crashed into West End Farm, Great Offley on 18th July 1944
At 04:20 hours Pilot Officer Albert Letts took off from the runway at RAF Witchford. This was the seventh time Letts and his crew had taken off from Witchford on an operation since arriving at the Fenland airfield in June 1944. Pilot Officer Letts aircraft was Lancaster Bomber KO-J LM616 which had also arrived new at Witchford in June and was now on its 10th operation, an operation that neither aircraft nor crew would return from.
Pilot Officer Letts aircraft was one of 25 Lancaster’s that 115 squadron were contributing to an operation to bomb enemy positions concealed in woods at Emieville. The last of the Witchford Lancaster’s left the runway at 04:40 hours. The total bomb load of the 25 Lancaster’s was 275 x 1000lb’s and 100 x 500lb’s. On arrival over the target area the crews dropped these bombs from heights ranging from 8,000 -10,000 feet onto the wooded area. Many fires were seen until smoke and dust obscured any further visual observations. With all the bombs dropped, the Lancaster’s turned for home and the safety of their respective airfields. It is not known if Pilot Officer Letts suffered any damage or mechanical failure over the target area or on the return journey, but the next time the aircraft was seen was circling over the village of Great Offley Hertfordshire, on what was a very misty morning.
Eyewitnesses at the time thought that one engine was on fire and the pilot was looking for somewhere to put the aircraft down.
The Lancaster had arrived from the direction of Hitchin just after 07:00 hours going west towards Great Offley, a village that stands on much higher ground.
At West End Farm, Great Offley, George Handley and his two sons were in the cow shed carrying out the early morning milking. George’s wife Alice and their two daughters Mary and Elsie were in the house when a terrible chain of events started to unfold.
At 07:10 hours it is probable that Pilot Officer Letts decided to try and crash land the aircraft unsure of what the terrain was like below the mist. At a spot called Eagles Nest the aircraft clipped some trees taking several branches with it, continuing, the Lancaster cut two furrows across a field, and swept up two large water tanks before careering into the farmhouse at West End Farm.
The house, although extremely well built, was destroyed and the fuel tanks of the Lancaster ruptured and exploded creating a terrible inferno from which no-one could escape. Villagers and the National Fire Service came to help but could do no more than prevent the fire spreading to other farm buildings. More help arrived with fire appliances from Luton and Letchworth to help bring the fire under control.
George Handley and his two sons had escaped the disaster as the cow shed was not damaged in the crash. George, unable to cope with the loss of his wife and daughters, took his own life in 1949.
George’s youngest daughter, Elsie, was a Private in the ATS had only arrived home the previous evening for a few hours leave from a gun site where she was stationed.
Pilot Officer Letts and crew all perished in the crash and the ensuing fireball.