1940 RAF bomber crash remembered in Cwmafan

By Neil Prior
BBC News


The crew of a World War II RAF Bristol Blenheim bomber have been commemorated 72 years after their plane crashed over Cwmafan, Neath Port Talbot.

On 12 June 1940, as Dunkirk was under way, the three-man crew were on a routine training flight to Lundy Island when they got into difficulties in thick cloud over south Wales.

The Blenheim broke up in mid-air, killing the navigator and gunner, and injuring the pilot - who was arrested on landing on suspicion of being an invading German paratrooper.

Two of the team, pilot Sgt Victor Bain, who survived, and the navigator, Sgt William Wheeler, who was killed, were fathers to unborn children.

Their sons have witnessed the dedication of a memorial stone in their honour, on the site of the crash, which is now a new housing development.

Victor Bain's son, Colin, travelled to south Wales from his home in South Africa in the hope of learning more about the father he can barely remember.

He said: "I was born on 13 June 1940, the day after the Cwmafan crash.

"Whilst my father survived, and did at least make it home to see me, he died in another plane crash over France in 1946, on his way home to be demobbed.

"I was a small child when my father died, so it will be such a wonderful opportunity to meet the children of the other crew members, and share the stories of our fathers."

Two years of campaigning

The memorial is funded by Barrett Homes, who are currently building on the crash site.

It comes after two years of campaigning by local resident Steve Jones.

He said: "Of course the site can't remain derelict forever, and it's right that the land on which such a terrible incident took place should be put to good use to benefit families.

"But I felt very strongly that when the new development happened, it shouldn't come at the cost of the memories of the men who died there, and thankfully Barrett agreed."

"The flight crews who died in the Battle of Britain, and in other combat missions, are rightly honoured, but I've always thought it's unfair that men like the crew of the Blenheim which crashed over Cwmafan - who died in training - often get forgotten, even though they've made exactly the same sacrifice for their country."

The memorial service was at the site of the crash on what is now the new Ynys y Wern estate.

Events included performances from the choir of Cwmafan Primary School and the band of 334 Squadron (Neath) Air Training Corps, as well as a fly-past by a Sea King helicopter from RAF Chivenor in Devon.