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A B17 Waist Gunners Daughter Returns

June 17, 2011 05:30pm

Just past 9 o`clock on a Saturday morning on 26th August 1944 a formation of USAAF B17 bombers were flying over North Hertfordshire. Two of them appeared to get very close, nothing unusual in the congested skies of those days, but then they touched as they were over the village of Weston. The top turret gunner of the aeroplane below recalled looking up and seeing the barrels of his 0.50 calibre guns being cut off by the propellers of the aeroplane above... he rightly considered it was time to bale out! However, his B17 exploded in a massive fireball breaking into four main sections, he was trapped in the frontal section and badly burned but he lived to tell his story.

Only three other crewmembers from the aeroplane that exploded survived, all either blown out or jumping out from large free falling sections. Wreckage from this B17 was spread over two miles. The other B17 which was called Ding Dong Daddy after a popular song of the day lost a complete wing and fell away in a flat spin fully ablaze. Centrifugal forces were immense and one can imagine the terror of the young USAAF airmen trapped inside, spinning round and round in a violent blur. Ding Dong Daddy continued to fall thousands of feet, just before she impacted the tail section broke away carrying away with it the terrified young tail gunner. Just after impact one of her 100lb GP bombs exploded.

Wartime crash photo showing Ding Dong Daddy`s tail section in 1944.Wartime crash photo showing Ding Dong Daddy`s tail section in 1944

Over the last 35 years I have investigated the crash site and researched the incident in some depth. A few years ago some distant relatives of a crew man contacted me and I gave them a guided tour of the scene. Then in 2010 a young girl in USA was doing a genealogical project for school on her Great Grand Father... who was none other than Staff Sergeant Martin Kilbride the waist gunner on Ding Dong Daddy... Her research flagged my name up, and to cut a long story short she put me in contact with her grandmother Mary who was Martin Kilbride’s daughter. Up to this point the entire family only knew he had been killed somewhere in Europe... things were about to change! I sent Mary all my research and she passed it to the family all over USA.

I have found many artefacts at the crash site of Ding Dong Daddy, and then in 1986 pursuant to the Protection of Military Remains Act I have had several licences to continue my metal detecting searches of the crash site. I have found radio receivers, sections of parachute fabric, fragments of airframe, cockpit instruments, even parts of the control columns and even two sections of a battered Lieutenants cap badge.

Part of Ding Dong Daddy`s throttle quadrantsPart of Ding Dong Daddy`s throttle quadrants

Mary and I emailed frequently and eventually she decided to come over to the UK and see the site where her Father was killed. She arrived with her cousin Connie in early May 2011. After they settled I took her to “Bomber Wood” as we call it. Here she met some eye-witnesses to the crash and was shown artefacts from her father aeroplane. On the woodland floor even today after some 67 years small fragments of twisted metal are still visible. As we walked through the briar draped green spangled woodland we came to a clearing... the crater from Ding Dong Daddy`s bomb that exploded.

Mary looks at the bomb crater where her Father was killed 67 years before Mary looks at the bomb crater where her Father was killed 67 years before

Plotting finds over 30 years has revealed the shape of the B17 bomber and therefore I was able to take Mary as accurately as possible to the spot where her Father`s body had been. This was a very poignant moment and I left Mary alone to gather her thoughts... after all not many people fly thousands of miles to be shown exactly where their Father was killed in 1944. I think Mary was so very brave at this point and I’m proud to have been associated with her through metal detecting and research.

Staff Sergeant Martin Lawrence Kilbride

Staff Sergeant Martin Lawrence Kilbride

Mary has now returned to the USA and I have received some heartfelt thank you messages from her and her extended family. Over the last decade it has been Minelab metal detectors that have been used exclusively for this research and the artefact recovery rate has vastly improved from the early days. It was Minelab detectors that found the cap badge sections and Minelab again that found the cockpit instruments at some depth! Mary's family thank me, but I thank the very hobby of detecting and those who provide the highest standard of equipment for me to pursue it. Personally for me this is the best ever example of experiencing and revealing true “Treasure”.

Julian Evan-Hart

Comments

A very touching and moving story Julian.

Many thanks for sharing.

Gary
Posted By: garybrun on June 18, 2011 04:11am
Thanks Julian for such an emotive story with a more or less happy ending. It must be quite a privilege to live in such an historic setting where even the modern history is so fascinating.

I enjoyed that report. Thank you.
Posted By: C. Nyal de Kaye on June 21, 2011 03:43pm
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