His­to­ri­ans hunt for fam­ily of bomber pilot

The Peterborough Evening Telegraph - - YOUR TELEGRAPH - By Stephen Briggs stephen.briggs@pe­ter­bor­oughto­day.co.uk Twit­ter: @PTstephenB

A team of his­to­ri­ans is ap­peal­ing for help to solve a decades old mys­tery sur­round­ing a Peter­bor­ough wartime pilot.

On March 22 1944, what was sup­posed to be a straight­for­ward night-time flight for a Welling­ton bomber crew from Num­ber 105 Op­er­a­tions Train­ing Unit (O.T.U) ended in disas­ter at Birm­ing­ham. The air­craft crash landed, killing ev­ery­one on board in­clud­ing Flight Lieu­tenant Bernard James Balchin from Peter­bor­ough.

The 27-year-old was on­board with 34-year-old Pilot Of­fi­cer David Hud­dle­ston and Sergeant Bramwell Mor­gan (23) both from Birm­ing­ham.

Now Richard Purse­house and Lee Dent of Can­nock­based The Chase Project mil­i­tary re­search group, are try­ing to find out more about the life of Flt Lt Balchin and his fam­ily. The his­to­ri­ans have al­ready re­searched de­tails of the two Birm­ing­ham air­men, and are look­ing to com­plete the story. Mr Purse­house said they had dis­cov­ered Flt Lt Balchin’s body was taken to Peter­bor­ough fol­low­ing the crash, and he was buried in East­field Ceme­tery. He was the son of George and Lily Balchin, and husband to Gla­dys Balchin.

Mr Purse­house said: “We re­ally want to hear from any rel­a­tives of Flt Lt Balchin.

“As the cen­te­nary of the cre­ation of the Royal Air Force in April 1918 gets closer, such sto­ries as the Welling­ton bomber crash at Dig­beth re­mind us of the sac­ri­fices made to de­fend this is­land.”

The crash it­self hap­pened just be­fore mid­night, as the plane was fly­ing from RAF Bram­cote to RAF Cas­tle Bromwich to be trans­formed into a trans­port ve­hi­cle. A faulty fuel sys­tem caused both en­gines to cut out.

It was lucky there were no civil­ian ca­su­al­ties on the ground - four Birm­ing­ham City Trans­port girls, who worked in the Birm­ing­ham and Mid­land ‘Red’ Om­nibus Dig­beth de­pot, had taken up the of­fer of a cup of tea and slice of cake barely 10 min­utes be­fore the Welling­ton crashed through the roof, slic­ing in half the bus they had been sit­ting in.

One wit­ness who worked as ground crew at nearby RAF Cas­tle Bromwich and was fa­mil­iar with the lay­out ar­rived at the scene, saw the leak­ing fuel and the fires that had al­ready started. He grabbed a hose from one of the fire crew which had ar­rived within min­utes and en­tered the plane wreck­age to switch off the fuel pipe. In the dark­ness and acrid smoke he found one of the crew but he was dead, his body in­cin­er­ated. An­other crew­man was pulled from the wreck­age by a po­lice sergeant but he died shortly after­wards. The third and fi­nal crew mem­ber was thrown clear of the wreck­age and was found dead.

Any­one who can help The Chase Project team with in­for­ma­tion about the pilot’s fam­ily,or the crash, should email richard­purse­house2112@gmail.com

‘We re­ally want to hear from any rel­a­tives’ Richard Purse­house

Welling­ton bomber crews

A Welling­gton bomber air­man

The grave of James Balchin (top) and David Hud­dle­stone.

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