On the evening of February 19/20, 1944, 823 aircraft from Bomber Command, including 15 aircraft from 158 Squadron, were detailed to bomb Leipzig. This was to be a night of terrible losses as a total of 78 aircraft and crews failed to return (9.5%). For one young but very experienced 158 Squadron crew, disaster struck shortly after take off.
1.PILOT: P/O Peter Milton Jennings, RAFVR, had enlisted in the RAF at Uxbridge and trained in the UK. He was posted to 158 Squadron at Lissett on July 4, 1943 and commissioned from the rank of Sergeant on August 31, 1943. He was considered an experienced pilot having flown 23 operations with 158 Squadron.
2.NAVIGATOR: P/O Norman Caffery, RAFVR, was born in the Chester-le-Street, District of County Durham and had enlisted at Edinburgh. He was posted to 158 Squadron at Lissett on July 4, 1943, and had flown all of his operations with P/O Jennings as pilot. He was 21 years old.
3.BOMB AIMER: F/Sgt. Harold Elfed Jones, RAFVR, was from Penmaenmawr, Caernarvonshire, and enlisted at Padgate. He was posted to 158 Squadron at Lissett on July 4, 1943, and had flown all of his operations with P/O Jennings as pilot. He was 21 years old.
4.WIRELESS OPERATOR: F/Sgt. George Frank Gillings, RAFVR, was from Carshalton, Surrey, and enlisted at Euston. He was posted to 158 Squadron at Lissett on July 4, 1943, and had flown all of his operations with P/O Jennings as pilot. He was 21 years old.
5.MID UPPER GUNNER: Sgt. Samual Price "Jack" Morris, RAFVR, was born at Oswestry, Montgomeryshire and enlisted at Padgate. He was trained in Canada under the BCATP. He was posted to No. 24 OTU for initial operational training and later at No. 1663 HCU for conversion to the Halifax. He was posted to 158 Squadron on July 14, 1943. He flew with several pilots as a ‘spare bod’ before becoming a permanent member of P/O Jennings crew for the last 13 operations. He was 21 years old.
6.REAR GUNNER: P/O Gerald Robert Fitzsimmons, RCAF, was from Gadsby, Alberta, Canada and enlisted in Edmonton on June 10, 1941. He was trained in Canada and was posted overseas on January 25, 1943. He was posted to 158 Squadron at Lissett on July 4, 1943. He filled in on two operations with other crew and flew all 23 operations with P/O Jennings. He was 22 years old.
7.FLIGHT ENGINEER: P/O Charles Joseph Seymour, RAFVR, was from Rolvenden, Kent, and enlisted at Cardington. He was trained at No. 4 School of Technical training at St. Athan, and was posted to 158 Squadron at Lissett on July 4, 1943. He flew all 23 operations with P/O Jennings.
Halifax III, Serial No. HX351 “NP-S” took off from Lissett at 00:06 hrs on February 20, 1944, on an operation to bomb Leipzig. Nine minutes later at 00:15hrs, the aircraft fully loaded with fuel and bombs, crashed into ‘Dixon’s Field’, just off a minor road connecting the villages of Atwick and Bewholme, about six miles south of Lissett. The crew died instantly. The accident was investigated but the cause was inconclusive. There was some suggestion that there was a structural failure in the tail section.
As with the usual protocol, the British airmen who were killed in Britain while on active service, were returned to their home parish for burial. In the case of Allied airmen killed at or near Lissett, they were taken to Stonefall Cemetery at Harrogate in North Yorkshire for burial. Approximately 600 Canadian airmen from various RAF and RCAF squadrons are buried there.
P/O Peter Jennings - Little Milton (St. James) Churchyard in Oxforshire P/O Norma Caffrey - Kimblesworth (S.S. Philip and James) Churchyard, Durham F/Sgt Harold Jones - Penmaenmawr (Dwygyfylchi) Cemetery, Caernarvonshire F/Sgt George Gillings – Wandsworth (Streatham) Cemetery, London Sgt. Samuel Morris - Llanfechain (St. Garmon) Churchyard, Montgomeryshire P/O Gerald Fitzsimmons - Harrogate (Stonefall) Cemetery, Yorkshire P/O Charles Seymore - Rolvenden (St. Mary) Churchyard, Kent
In December 1992, Norman Caffery, brother of the Navigator of HX351 placed a black marble plaque in the field at the site of the crash in memory of the crew that had died there. In 1993, 12 year-old Georgina Wood had been walking her dogs in a field and had discovered the overgrown plaque with the names of the seven airmen who had died at the site. For many years Georgina maintained the area around the plaque and was named a ‘Junior Associate Member’ of the 158 Squadron Association for her dedication to maintaining the plaque. At some point the memorial was moved to the edge of the field by someone who felt it might be damaged in the farming operations. Terry Morris, brother of MUG Samuel Morris, intervened and had the memorial stone moved back to the original location. Terry has also installed a small metal box at the gate to the field in which is kept a written account and pictures of the crew. Each year friends of Terry Morris travel from Shropshire to Atwick to clean and maintain the area surrounding the memorial plaque.