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Mystery Stradishall WAAF

by billknight1

Contributed by 
People in story: 
John Cooper, Hector Frew, Frank Hudson
Location of story: 
Stradishall, Suffolk
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
23 May 2005

Flight Sergeant John Cooper Stradishall April 1944

I began my research early in 2001. John Cooper was my mothers’ brother. I had always wanted to uncover the circumstances surrounding his death in an air crash at Stradishall, Suffolk on the night of 20th April 1944.
At this stage, I only had John’s service no., I searched the Internet and found a website on Bomber Command where I discovered a substantial amount of useful information.
My first step was to access the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s website and there I was able to discover that John was a flight engineer.
I then contacted RAF Innsworth in Gloucester who sent me a copy of John Cooper’s service history. This told me which units and squadrons he had served with and I was therefore able to locate the bases he had been posted to.
My next step was to contact the Air Historical Branch at RAF Bentley Priory, Stanmore, Middlesex, who were able to provide me with details of his death and the names of the other crewmembers involved in the crash, and that there were two survivors.
I decided to visit the Public Records Office at Kew in London. There I was able to trace the Station Records. All except my uncle were New Zealanders including the two survivors who were Hector Frew and Frank Hudson.
Then one day in February 2002, I heard of a BBC website called — “We’ll Meet Again”, where a message could be placed in the hope of tracing Hector and Frank.
On 7th May 2002 I received a reply from the BBC saying that they had received a response to my message from Pelham Temple in Essex. He told me Errol Martyn, an author living in New Zealand, had written some books on New Zealand crews.
Errol was able to tell me Hectors and Franks “full” names, and their last known whereabouts.
I found a website for a paper called “The Northland Age” and sent a memo asking if they would publish an advert for me enquiring if anyone knew of the whereabouts of Hector and Frank.
Only four days later on 11th May 2002, I received a reply from one of Hectors relatives, Yvonne, who was able to tell me Hectors new address.
Yvonne convinced me that Hector would be more than willing to talk to me so I decided to write to Hector but Yvonne suggested I ring him and leave a message “to prepare him”. So I did but to my surprise I was “invited” to talk to Hector. Hector was a “pure joy to talk to” and the amount of detail he remembered after all these years, simply “amazed” me! He also told me that Frank was also still alive and that they had remained in contact ever since the air crash in 1944.
Since this point, Hector and Frank have very kindly forwarded me their books which contain their “in depth memories of their wartime exploits”.

The following text is Hectors’ account of the accident, which still contains a mystery.

The Mystery WAAF

The crew had completed twenty-two training flights flying Stirling bombers at 1657CU (Conversion Unit) based at Stradishall, Suffolk. On Friday night, 20th April 1944, Hector and the crew took off on their twenty-third and final training flight before they were due to join No.75 Squadron the following day. When they returned to land, two motors cut out on the port wing. The wing dropped and the plane crashed head on into the runway at 23.12 hours in front of the control tower. The plane burst into flames as the tail of the plane rose into the air to be whipped backwards with the force of the impact before falling back onto it’s belly.
All of the fuselage forward of the mid-upper turret was demolished and five crewmembers including John Cooper were all killed instantly.
Frank who was already partly out of his mid-upper turret was thrown smashing the ladder from the turret to the floor of the plane. He passed through the flames, jumped out and despite a suspected fractured forearm, broken teeth and an injured hip, he ran around the plane hoping to rescue any other survivors.
In the force of the impact and as the tail had flipped backwards, Hector and his turret had been thrown some distance away from the plane. Frank found Hector, still in his turret amongst flames where petrol had spilt. He pulled Hector out of his turret and as he did so, a WAAF returning on her pushbike with friends from a night out stopped to assist. Together they supported him by his shoulders and dragged him away from the flames into long grass before the plane blew up.
The WAAF then laid on top of Hector in the long grass to protect him from the exploding ammunition and petrol tanks. Hector had suffered a blow to his head, which had brought his scalp down over his eyes. He was bleeding profusely over his flying suit and the WAAF as he drifted in and out of consciousness.
The ambulance took them to the stations sick quarters and Hector was later transferred to the RAF hospital at Ely having suffered three crushed vertebrae in his lower spine in addition to the head wound.
Frank was treated for shock and given fourteen days sick leave. Meanwhile, Hector later saw the WAAF again. She told him she had cleaned her uniform herself but after that meeting, she was never seen again.
I am now trying to find her for Hector as he would dearly love to talk to her again. Hector tells me she had blonde hair and was well spoken but can’t remember her name.
I was interviewed by BBC Radio Solent and BBC Radio Suffolk and Hector and I were also interviewed by National Radio, Radio New Zealand, in the hope that they could also help to trace this WAAF.
If you were a WAAF based at Stradishall in 1944 or you think you might have information concerning the mystery WAAF, please leave a mesaage for me. Thank you. (Much more on this story can be found under "A Bomber Crews Story" under my original member name "billknight")

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