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Student helps hidden history of WW2 bomber take flight

Published on 28/03/19

An aviation enthusiast at Jane Austen College has pieced together the history of a World War 2 bomber aircraft and the bravery of its French crew after buying a handful of scrap wreckage online.

Year 10 student Jared Gambling bought the bag of scrap metal from Halifax bomber LL587 for £14 on eBay after becoming fascinated by the WW2 aircraft in a visit to the Yorkshire Air Museum, on the site of the wartime airfield RAF Elvington.

Jared knew that Halifax bombers were flown out of RAF Elvington by pilots of the Free French air force during the war, but couldn’t get any more information about LL587 despite contacting aviation museums across Britain – until his search came to the attention of Colonel Morand, the Air Attache at the French Embassy in London.

With the help of Col Morand and Monsieur Paul Bogaert, the President of the French Heavy Bomber Veterans Association, Jared was able to put together an account of what happened on the fateful night of the plane’s final flight on January 23, 1945.

Halifax bomber LL587 with its final crew

“The Halifax was returning to Elvington from a raid on Gelsenkirchen [a town in western Germany] with one engine not working. The inner left engine then caught fire, so the LL587, now with only two working engines and an engine on fire, was in serious difficulty.

“The pilot Lt Petus, realising the plane was becoming uncontrollable, ordered the crew to parachute. He and the engineer Sgt Tribert stayed behind to try to maintain control for enough time to give the other crew members time to leave safely.

“Five crew members parachuted, four landed safely… the radio operator, whose parachute did not open, landed on a snow bank which cushioned his fall, but still badly injured his spine and spent many months in hospital recovering.

“The pilot and engineer did not have time to parachute themselves and died when LL587 crashed at Grafton Underwood, near Peterborough.”

Jared mounted the wreckage in a custom-made display case alongside a photo of the plane and its crew, and presented it along with his 44-page detailed history of the aircraft to Air Marshal Richard Knighton, Deputy Chief of Defence Staff, at RAF Elvington‘s annual Air Forces Memorial Day.

In honour of the French airmen who so bravely sacrificed their lives for their crew, Jared used Google Translate to produce a French version of the history to be sent to the surviving veterans of the Free French squadrons, the youngest of whom is now in his nineties.

Jared’s framed display is now on permanent show at the French Aero-Club in Paris where it was presented by Mr Bogaert and RAF Wing Commander Yves Gagnon to Madame Catherine Maunoury, President of the French Aero-Club, in a ceremony attended by dignitaries including the head of France's nuclear armed forces General Paul Fouilland and representatives from veterans’ associations, the RAF, the French Air Force, and the British embassy in Paris. 

Wing Commander Gagnon thanked Jared, writing: “I really enjoyed your project, and learned a thing or two!

“Your words were lovely and made my job [at the presentation] easy. They were enjoyed by Mme Maunoury and everyone else.”