This extraordinarily beautiful landscape in mid-Wales was the scene of a terrible tragedy on 10 April 1944. A Lancaster from the Pathfinder Navigation Training Unit at Warboys broke up in the air some 200 miles west of Warboys and crashed, killing all of the crew.
The cause of the failure of the aircraft structure is not known at present, although it may be given on an accident report if one can be traced. Training units generally used older aircraft which may have been subject to considerable strains and stresses. The most famous example of this in the context of this site was the loss of Ernest Deverill’s Lancaster, Y-York, with a trainee crew. The aircraft had returned in a terrible condition from the iconic Augsburg raid of April 1942, but was patched up and reused in a training unit before crashing eighteen months later. See Ernest Deverill – Y-York after Augsburg and Taylor Crew & Y-York
The loss of the NTU Lancaster in Wales was witnessed from a Royal Observer Corps post.
Alan Davies, then seventeen years old, of Troed y Rhiw Fach Farm, was one of two observers on duty that day at the Royal Observer Corps post at Neuaddau Farm. The observer post stood high above what would become the crash site. When the two observers saw the disaster unfolding, Alan jumped on his bike and cycled as fast as he could down to the plain, being one of the first to arrive at the scene. Debris was scattered over a wide area. All the crew had been killed. Alan saw the rear gunner still in his turret and another member of the crew up to his shoulders in the bog.
The dead were:
Pilot F/L John Lambert Sloper, DFC + Bar
Pilot W/Cdr John Dale Green
Engineer Sgt Stanley Joseph Warrenger
Navigator Warrant Officer 2 Albert Paul Malzan, RCAF
Bomb Aimer F/S Gordon James Bayne Shields, RCAF
W/Op Sgt Henry Johnstone
Air Gunner Sgt William Walter Farmer
Air Gunner Sgt John Harold Cleminson-Passey
The pilot, John Lambert Sloper, had just rejoined 156 Squadron, probably for a second tour after a period of serving in a training unit. It has not yet been ascertained whether the crew he was flying with (leaving aside the second pilot, Wing Commander Green) were his previous crew. As was customary for new crews, all were undertaking the two weeks pre-operational training course at the PFF Navigation Training Unit.
Sloper was a highly experienced pilot. He had won the DFC, and tragically the notification that he had also won the bar to the DFC came through only the day after his death (see ORB below). Both awards were non-immediate, being given for very distinguished service. They are recorded in the London Gazette on 19 October 1943 and 21 April 1944. Both entries in the London Gazette record him as belonging to 156 Squadron.
Wing Commander John Dale Green, the second pilot, was a pre-war officer who had been in the RAF since at least 1937. Although he was a Wing Commander, the usual rank for a CO of a unit, he was not the commanding officer of the PFF Navigation Training Unit. This was Wing Commander Dixie Dean (not to be confused with the RAF pilot Dixie Deans who was so highly revered as the Man of Confidence for British PoWs in Germany).
The crash site of Sloper’s Lancaster was about four miles from Llanwrtyd Wells, a tiny town on the Irfon river, and as soon as the disaster became known, many from the town turned out to help. One of these was David Davies, who owned one of the first motorised lorries in this very rural district. Helped by his son, Gordon, he transported the bodies of the crew to the New Hall in Victoria Road, Llanwrtyd Wells, where temporary coffins were provided by Mr Evans, the local undertaker, who lived further up Victoria Road.
Later, the bodies were escorted by the RAF back to their family for burial. The ORB for the Navigation Training Unit records the destination of each man.
A memorial tablet was many years later placed in St Cadmarch Church, Llangammarch Wells, which commemorates not only this crew but also other RAF aircrew lost in the area.
With many thanks to Tony Egan, who did the groundwork and organised our visit on a gloriously sunny day on 19 September 2019, to Heather, and to Jim Davies and Alan Davies for their personal accounts. Jim is the grandson of David Davies, who brought the crew’s bodies to Llanwrtyd Wells, whilst Alan is a very sprightly 93 year old who still remembers that terrible day when, looking out from his observation post, he saw the Lancaster breaking up. All photographs: Jennie Mack Gray