Searching for answers to Second World War aircraft crashes in the Annapolis Valley
[CANADA] Lu sur digbycourier.ca
In October 1943, a RAF Hudson aircraft was ordered to escort the Princess Helene, the Digby-Saint John ferry, across the Bay. On its return trip, this aircraft crashed somewhere in the western portion of Annapolis.
Russell Keddy, of Kings County, is hoping that someone remembers something about this crash. Shortly after the accident, the four people on board were declared missing. No further mention is made of this plane crash until a trapper found debris in the spring of 1944.
Keddy is part of a group who are dedicated to pinpointing impact sites of about 30 RAF planes that crashed here when the base was being used as an RAF training base during the Second World War.
While search crews of the day would have investigated the sites to determine the causes of the crashes, over time the exact locations have been forgotten. Keddy, along with Master Warrant Officer Robert O’Brien, Major Al Ballie, and Major Chris Larsen are working to find them again.
They research the military records, talk to eye witnesses, and search the general area of the crashes on foot combing the site with a metal detector. So far they have pinpointed six of the crash sites, but a few remain clouded in mystery, like the early Hudson.
“It’s a weird one,” he said. “There isn’t much known about it, it probably went down somewhere between Hampton and Parkers Cove.”
Construction of the RAF base in Greenwood first started in 1940 and by the spring of 1942, 400 men and 28 officers began to arrive from England. These combat veterans were brought here to prepare newbie crews for the wartime skies of Europe.
In the years between 1942 and 1945, 70 lives were lost in tragic plane crashes that took place during training exercises held in the region between Annapolis Royal and Waterville, and over the waters of the Bay of Fundy.
Keddy says they have been able access detailed records concerning most of the crashes, including the military’s crash reports, lists of personal effects and personnel records.
But often the exact site where the plane was lost has been forgotten. They hope to eventually mark each of the sites with small memorials and perhaps in time, erect a coastal monument for the dozen planes that went down in the Bay of Fundy.
A few years ago, the brother of one of the airmen killed here contacted Keddy, hoping to learn more about his brother’s death. He had traveled from his home in Australia to research the records of his brother’s death.
Charlie Wheeler was about three years old when his older half-brother Teddy Collins was unexpectedly killed during a training exercise in Greenwood. Like so many, for decades Collins’ family wondered what went wrong during those training exercises.
According to the military records, the trouble started on Aug. 22, 1944 when the 24-year-old pilot, Teddy Collins, and his 19 year-old navigator, Bill Slaughter, couldn’t locate the base during a nighttime navigation exercise.
These Australian trainees were conducting a nighttime navigation in a deHailland Mosquito, when they were called in due to incoming cloud cover. Collins radioed the base that he couldn’t see the airfield and asked to have the searchlights turned on.
For some reason the plane caught on fire shortly after the last transmission and plummeted to the ground, exploding on impact near Johnson’s Pond. The day after the crash, the site was secured and investigated, but the cause of the fire was not clear.
Years later when Wheeler came to see the site where his brother had died, he was given a general location about 12 miles from the base. He contacted Keddy, who had been researching the local military history, hoping for more information. It wasn’t until Keddy teamed up with Major Chris Larsen a few years ago, that they were able to find answers.
Coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the crash, Wheeler was finally able to visit the site where his brother lost his life. Keddy also tracked down relatives of navigator Bill Slaughter, and family friends made the trip from Australia.
On Aug. 22, Charlie Wheeler along with a small group of the researchers, military and other family members visited the site where the two airmen died. They held a small remembrance and laid wreaths in memory of Collins and Slaughter.
Keddy said that for so many years the families could only wonder about the final hours. Being able to see the burial site and paying respect with a small service helped to lay many of the unanswered questions to rest.