DCSIMG

Pair’s mission to honour forgotten heroes

Eddie Harmer, left, and Peter Barge who are proposing a memorial to the two Australian crew killed in the crash at Horndean. Picture: Mick Young (123474-12)

Eddie Harmer, left, and Peter Barge who are proposing a memorial to the two Australian crew killed in the crash at Horndean. Picture: Mick Young (123474-12)

It was a dark, cold and wet winter night. Villagers, who hours earlier had been enjoying a dance at Horndean Parish Hall, were all now safely tucked up in their beds.

But their sleep was about to be broken.

Just before 2am, on February 5, 1945, two young volunteer Australian airmen from 464 Squadron were making their way back to their Thorney Island base.

Pilot Officer Edward (Ted) Wicky, 22, and 21-year-old navigator, Pilot Officer Oswald Mountford, had been on a bombing mission to Ruhr, an industrial region of Germany which was producing Hitler’s armouries.

For weeks they had been engaged in dogfights and had just been decorated for bravery having almost completed their second tour of operations.

PO Wicky’s best blue uniform was with a lady friend whom he had proudly asked to sew the blue and white striped ribbon of the Distinguished Flying Cross beneath his wings.

At around 1.45am the airmen were coming from the west and had been in radio contact with the flight controller, giving no indication they were in trouble.

At that time, 12-year-old Peter Barge was fast asleep in his bedroom at the police cottage in Horndean. His father was the village’s much respected policeman.

Suddenly a huge bang caused him to leap out of bed with fright. He landed with a crash on the floor. He jumped up and opened his curtains to see a huge fireball in the field just beyond his garden.

It was the de Havilland Mosquito carrying PO Wicky and PO Mountford.

Although no-one can be exactly sure whether it was a lack of fuel or the terrible weather that caused the accident, it would have been clear to them they were in trouble.

And in what is believed to have been a bid to avoid crashing in the village centre, they steered the plane, still full of ammunition, out towards the sea.

But in their desperate effort to control the aircraft they took the chimney and roof off Longhurt Cottage where children were sleeping just feet beneath.

Next it crashed straight through the roof of the parish hall, on the corner of Five Heads Road, where hours earlier villagers had been dancing. It eventually crash-landed into a bank of earth on the London Road, where the motorway bridge now stands.

Quickly the village police, firemen and anyone else who could be mustered, tried to put out the fire and stop the ammunition exploding and causing even greater damage.

But there was no chance of saving the officers.

It is a story few people living in Horndean are old enough to remember but one Mr Barge, now 79, will never forget.

He and the members of Horndean Children of the 1940s believe it is a story that should be told to a new generation and the bravery of the two young men, who died thousands of miles from home, honoured.

They would like to see a permanent memorial in Horndean’s main square alongside the one that honours men from the village and surrounding area who died in conflict.

Mr Barge, from Westbourne, said: ‘I remember it clearly. I looked out my bedroom window and there was a raging fire. Everybody started running towards it, then running away because there was a lot of ammunition which was exploding.

‘It was a miserable February night, it was atrocious weather and it probably led to the crash.

‘The next day I looked out to it from the garden but couldn’t get close because the RAF had put a guard round it. Shortly afterwards it was VE Day and everything tended to be forgotten. It wasn’t until the mid 1990s that we started talking about it again.’

As children Mr Barge and his childhood friend Eddie Harmer, who now lives in Cosham, would watch, mesmerised, as vicious dogfights took place in the night sky over Portsmouth and Southampton.

Mr Harmer, 77, said: ‘We would sit and watch the Battle of Britain dogfights and when a plane came down we’d run down to see what souvenirs we could get from it.’

The pair have written to everyone from the Australian government to former comrades of the men to get support for the memorial.

Gordon Nunn, a fellow Australian who served with the officers in 464 Squadron, wrote to say how pleased he was with the idea and gave an insight into PO Wicky’s state of mind and the pressure he was under at the time.

He said: ‘I knew Ted well and the day before he was killed I could see he was physically and mentally worn out.

‘He should have been pulled off operational flying there and then but these things happen in a war.’

Mr Barge and Mr Harper believe it is now time to recognise the sacrifice the men made.

They are in talks with Horndean Parish Council and East Hampshire District Council to get support for the memorial.

Although in principle they agree, they are in negotiations as to the size of it.

Mr Harmer said: ‘This is Horndean’s history. We want to commemorate two very brave young men.’

Following a recent meeting with Horndean Parish Council and planning officers from East Hampshire District Council, they have agreed, in principle, that a memorial would be acceptable, but there is a long way to go yet.

Councillor Sara Schillemore, who sits on the parish and district council, said there will have to be negotiations on the size of it.

Once that is agreed planning permission will have to be sought.

The memorial is set to cost in the region of £10,000 and at this stage Mr Harmer and Mr Barge are not looking for donations but pledges of support which can be sent to Mr Barge at 7 Whitley Close, Emsworth, PO10 8TT or email to pbarge591@btinternet.com

SQUADRON KNOWN AS ‘GESTAPO HUNTERS’

No. 464 Squadron RAAF was a Royal Australian Air Force bomber squadron during the Second World War, known as the Gestapo Hunters.

It was formed in 1942 in the UK with personnel from Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the Netherlands.

The squadron served in the light bomber role, undertaking operations over France and the Low Countries, from bases in England.

It also flew night fighter missions.

Later, following D-Day, the squadron moved to France where it was used to harass the Germans transports and infrastructure.

It further engaged in several low-level precision raids against Gestapo targets in France and Denmark.

The squadron was disbanded in September 1945.

 

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