New memorial unveiled near Antwerp remembers Castle Bytham pilot who was shot down in Lancaster over Belgium

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Seventy-three years after a Lancaster bomber piloted by former Stamford School pupil Albert Victor Crawford was shot down over Belgium a memorial to those who lost their lives has been unveiled.

Flying Officer Crawford, known to friends and family as Victor, joined the RAF in 1941 and was soon posted to a cadet school in Arizona where he earned his wings. Victor, from Castle Bytham, chose to train as bomber, rather than fighter, pilot and joined 50 Squadron.

On June 15, 1943, Victor and his six crewmates took off from RAF Skellingthorpe, near Lincoln, in Lancaster ED810 and navigated towards Oberhausen – an industrial city in the Ruhr area in the west of Germany – where they took part in a bombing raid.

Tragically, as they returned home, the Lancaster was shot down over Belgium by a German fighter plane and crashed in a field in Ekeren, near Antwerp.

The entire crew of seven perished: pilot Flying Officer Crawford, 21; flight engineer Sergeant Leslie Toal, 29; navigator Sergeant Arthur Ernest Davey, 26; wireless operator Sergeant Joseph Brown McHendry, 25; air gunner Sergeant Charles Joseph Buckle, 22; bomb aimer Sergeant William George Reed, 20 and air gunner Sergeant Kenneth Ivor Bowerman, 20.

Last month, Victor Crawford’s 92-year-old brother, Alan, who still lives on the family farm in Castle Bytham, travelled with wife Doreen and son Russell to Ekeren to see a striking new monument to the airmen unveiled. A scale model of a Lancaster wing, it features seven fragments to honour the seven dead.

Alan said it was an emotional occasion, adding: “It’s a very long time ago now, but I can still remember Victor clearly. I can picture us playing around on the farm together.

“He was an accomplished sportsman and excelled at Stamford School. I am delighted that after all these years there is now a proper memorial for Victor and his crew.

“The ceremony, although conducted largely in Flemmish, was an emotional occasion and a fitting tribute.”

Koen Palinckx, district mayor of Ekeren, was the driving force behind making the memorial a reality after being contacted aviation expert Wim Govaerts who himself had been approached online by relatives of the British airmen. It was designed and built by local artist Stef Van Eyck.

Many dignitaries attended the unveiling ceremony including the British Ambassador to Belgium Alison Rose, Belgium’s Chief of Defence Gerard Van Caelenberge, Belgian Air Force Commander Major General Frederik Vansin and Mayor of Antwerp Bart De Wever.

The Royal Band of the Belgian Air Force performed.

There was a flypast by two Belgian F-16 fighter jets and three 1940s Stampe SV.4 biplanes.

The day after the unveiling, the Crawford family visited the military cemetery in Schoonselhof, near Antwerp, where the airmen are buried.