Memorial to remember them
A memorial was unveiled on Saturday 26 January to commemorate the crew of an American bomber which crashed in Crowborough during the Second World War. Tester & Jones was very proud to have been asked to supply the granite memorial, which marks the 75th anniversary of the tragedy.
The Crowborough Branch of The Royal British Legion organised the campaign for the memorial and money was raised for it, which was generously donated by the people of Crowborough. The memorial has been placed outside The Bricklayers Arms on Whitehill Road in Crowborough.
The event began with a welcome by Branch president, Iain Mein, and included a brief history of the tragedy by John A Bailey. The Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex, Colonel Anthony Lamb MBE DL VR unveiled the memorial and the event was also attended by Lieutenant Colonel James Gingras (Assistant US Air Force Attaché), representing the US Embassy. Crowborough Mayor, Cllr Greg Rose, also spoke at the ceremony and the dedication was led by Branch Chaplain, Reverend Alan Weaver.
The B-26B Marauder Bomber named ‘Hell’s Belle’ came down on what was then farmland behind The Bricklayers Arms on 26 January 1944.
The aircraft formed part of the US Army Air Force’s 386th Bomb Group, which was based at Great Dunmow in Essex and was returning from an aborted mission to destroy one of the launch sites of the German Luftwaffe’s flying bombs in France.
A total of 144 aircraft had taken off in formation and were enroute to France when the weather took a turn for the worse. The previous day, 150 aircraft had attempted the same sortie but had all turned back due to bad weather. On 26 January, ice began to form on the planes and visibility was near zero. The mission was aborted and all planes were ordered back to base.
The B-26 known as No 41-31623 YA:T ‘Hell’s Belle’ piloted by Lt Homer R McClure had taken on too much ice and at 9.58am crashed to the ground at Springhead Farm in Crowborough – now part of the housing estate behind The Bricklayers Arms.
There were no survivors. Lt McClure came from Oklahoma and was flying his 30th combat mission. He never met his twins – a boy and a girl – who were born after he had left for England.
The other men on the bomber that day came from across the US and were:
1st Lt Jeff L Pearson – Co-Pilot 2nd Lt Charles Carrigan – Bombardier T/Sgt Albert V Strauss – Radioman S/Sgt Arthur C Depew – Engineer S/Sgt Charles M Morris – Tail Gunner
At the time, local Crowborough vicar, Rev Gordon M Sheldon, wrote to Colonel Joe Kelly expressing sympathy from the community for the lost crew and noted the town’s ‘profound admiration for the pilot who so skilfully avoided hitting any of the dwellings in the vicinity’.
Although in existence for less than three years, the men of the 386th attained the most outstanding record of all B-26 Groups in the European Theatre of Operations in terms of number of successful sorties flown, tonnage of bombs dispatched and enemy aircraft destroyed, while maintaining the highest bombing accuracy score.
More than 3000 men saw service with the 386th from when it was formed on 1 December 1942 in Florida, between them flying 409 missions. In total, 193 of those who served in the 386th were killed.
“We were very proud to be involved in creating this special memorial to remember the crew of the Hell’s Belle,” said Stephen Tester. “It was even more poignant for us as a family, as my Father lived – and still lives – in that area at the time and remembers the bomber coming down.”
The ceremony was concluded with the playing of both our national anthem and the US one too.