In Australia the 25th April is ANZAC Day – it is a time to remember those who died, fought and supported those who fought in wars and conflicts. It is not a time to celebrate war but to remember the contributions of many who found themselves going into war or conflict to defend their country.
Last year I wrote about and recorded the diary of my father –in-law Emanuel Weir who was a Flight Officer in WW2.
This year I am writing about Don Vidler a Flight Officer/Pilot in WW2 who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross – DFC – and who was not only my second cousin but someone who I grew up seeing regularly and with fond memories of these family times. My Nanna was originally a Vidler before she married my Pop and became a ‘Moss’. Don was my mum’s cousin and we would get together – both our families lived in the Sutherland Shire. He was a favourite with my Nanna!
My memory of him is of a kind, genuine, caring and honorable man with a keen sense of humour and mischief.
This is a favourite photo of mine of Don – it is how I remember him with a broad and ready smile.
I took it at the Anzac Day Sydney march in 1981 as part of my Essay on Anzac Day for my HSC Art major work.
This is a little of his story.
Donald Earl Vidler was born in Ballina in 1919. His father died in an accident when Don was 3 years old and Don left school at 13years after gaining his QC Certificate to work to help and support his mother who owned a store in Ballina. This was the time before Widow’s pensions and Social Security and Don worked hard to help his mother including some time cutting sugar cane by hand – a hard and physically demanding job.
Don joined the Airforce in 1942 and like my husband’s father was posted to, and trained in, Canada as a pilot under the Empire Training Scheme. On completion of his training he was posted to England as a Spitfire Pilot. However his time as a Spitfire Pilot ended abruptly when he was transferred to Bomber Command. Apparently Don and his friend Harry Powell decided to do some air-to-gunnery practice and when turning to attack, Don fired his guns too soon resulting in him shooting the tail off the towing aircraft. By all accounts he and his friend Harry thought it was hilarious but the authorities did not, and he was transferred to Bomber Command.
On a wet and cold night at around midnight on the 8th September 1944 Lancaster LM270D2 of the 626 Squadron RAF, Wickenby of which Don was the pilot was returning to base at Wickenby after a training exercise. He was faced with the possible head on collision with another Lancaster from a neighbouring air base who was also on a holding pattern. Don took evasive action to avoid the collision turning his nose down whilst the other aircraft turned its nose up, narrowly missing a cottage and crashing into a field at 200mph. The undercarriage was torn off, the airplane was on fire and its ammunition was exploding.
An account by John Crompton was to be published in the Lincolnshire Life in November 2000 including:
“Gordon Horner (Navigator) was able to open the cockpit escape hatch and to extricate Don Vidler (Pilot), who was unable to move from his seat. Horner pushed Keith Guy (Bomb Aimer) and Vidler through the hatch. He then managed to free John Fincher (Wireless Telegrapher), whose foot was trapped under his table. Horner and Fincher then escaped.
Don Vidler assembled the four crew members, and they at oce began looking for the other three crew members. David Hooker (Mid Upper Gunner) was found by Horner, unconscious under the starboard wing, and Tom Griffiths (Rear Gunner) was found extensively injured, outside his rear turret. Vidler and Horner attempted to re-enter the aircraft to find the seventh man, but he, Eric Madge (110749) had, in fact, been killed.”
Don had employed evasive action which resulted in a loss of control and the crash of his aircraft. The Flight Engineer was killed and the Rear Gunner broke both his legs in the crash. First to the scene were two teenagers from a nearby farm, and under extreme personal danger, assisted in the evacuation and first aid of the injured crew. One of teenagers, Charles Wright, a Boy Scout, received a Silver Medal – the highest Scout Award presented to him in Lincoln Cathedral, the other Ralph Scott, letters of Commendation from the Commanding Officer of the Squadron, and other sources for his bravery.
The list of injuries is recorded below.
Destruction of training aircraft which crashed on return from a cross country exercise.
626/D2 LM270 Crash site – Wickenby
Pilot. P/O D.E. Vidler Fractured ribs.
Nav. F/S G.J. Horner Fractured nose.
W.T. F/S J.F. Fincher Lacerated face.
B.A. F/S K.B. Guy Contused nose and both legs.
M.U.G. F/S Hooker Internal injuries.
R.G. F/S Griffiths Compound fractures.
Don went on to fly Lancaster bombers over Europe with his crew.
The recollection of the particular mission is recorded by John Fincher – one of Don’s crew in the Eulogy that he gave for Don at his funeral.
“One of our most memorable trips was on the 17th December 1944; we were part of a large force of Lancasters attacking Ulm. Over the target we were attacked by two JU88’s; only Don’s exceptional strength and flying ability saved us. No doubt his strength came in part from his work cutting cane – a hard and difficult task. Don hurled that Lancaster around in very evasive corkscrews. But even then the JU88’s inflicted very heavy loss to our aircraft – rudders, elevators and tailplane were severely damaged and parts shot away. Bullets and cannon shells tore holes through the fuselage and around the rear gunner. The aircraft was extremely difficult to control and Don and Keith struggled to keep it airborne. Don’s strength was such that in an effort to control the aircraft, he bent the rudder bar with his feet. One of our Flight Commanders remarked that without Don’s strength and determination we would never have returned.
We landed on a special emergency drome at Woodbridge and rather than have the Squadron send an aircraft to pick us up. Don decided that we would return by train.”
The citation for Don’s award of the Distinguished Flying Cross – DFC – says:
“Flying Officer VIDLER has completed a number of successful sorties attacking such heavily defended targets as HANOVER and COLGNE.
His tremendous keenness and fine fighting spirit have been outstanding and have set a magnificent example to his crew.
In December, 1944, during a mission to ULM his aircraft was attacked by an enemy fighter whilst over the target area, but nevertheless he succeeded in dropping his bombs before taking evasive action. His aircraft was severely damaged and most of the control surfaces of the tail were shot away, but by superb airmanship he maintained control of the aircraft and brought it safely back.
At all times, Flying Officer VIDLER has displayed exceptional skill, coolness and devotion to duty.”
A Telegram was sent to Don’s mother in Ballina – she must of been very proud of her son:
“Congratulations are extended to you by the Minster for Air and Air Board on the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross to your son Flying Officer D E Vidler in recognitions of his gallant service stop advice of this award has just been received from the Air Ministry.”
As his friend and fellow crew mate John Fincher said in his Eulogy: “When I say that Don Vidler was a very special and remarkable person please remember that Don on leaving school, with only a Primary School education, flew Spitfires and Lancasters over England and much of Europe – a remarkable achievement.”
Photos of the 626 Squadron and crew.
Here is an extract from a letter he wrote to John Fincher in 1947, written by Jack Yeats an English Engineer who shared a hut at Wickenby airbase with Don and John Fincher.
“I know I am something of a sentimentalist, I’m glad of that, if I weren’t I wouldn’t want to see a lot of old friends, hear a lot of old voices that I haven’t seen and heard for a long time. One of these days I’m going to Wickenby and walk past the old huts – the mess and see and old runways again. I suppose it’s all there yet – even if no lanes are left.
Sometimes at night I can’t sleep and I go over some of the things that Wickenby and old 626 stood for, the nostalgia it brings at times is overpowering. Clay Bridge Corner – the little winding road up to the Camp, the tense busy atmosphere in the locker room – the undercurrent of excitement – faces of friends; outside – the quietness of the sky. The moon – at times an unwelcome guest – how mysterious the stars seemed flying at night, the uncertainty of everything – even the next second; remember John the view of Happy Valley, the wonderful, terrible sight of thousands of searchlights grotesquely leaning sideways and the pin points of flak from a myriad studded pin cushion. The thrill of interrogation that made it all seem worthwhile.
I remember the old mess, the conversations over the pool table, round the fire, over the bus, the little cinema. Above all the friendships that existed, the laughs, the worried and everything else that made up the life at 626 and 12 Squadrons at Wickenby, friendships and comradeship were the two things that made things bearable. How unreal it all seems now, did it really happen John?”
A photo of Don I took in 1981 Anzac Day march in Sydney with two of his friends from the Airforce. Don marched every year.
I think these words are poignant and give a depth to why ANZAC day is important. It is an understanding that I gained from caring for my father-in-law, that the friendships were important alongside the service. To remember those who fought, to honour those who died and an opportunity for those who still remain amongst us to be able to catch up remembering friendships and comradeship brought forth out of adversity, and honour those bonds.
Hi Lynette, I was married to Larry Ryan, who was Don’s nephew (Doug and Norma’s son).My sister lived next door at no:75 until last year, and was there for Don and Jean until his death and her moving out.I married Larry in 1972 and moved to Qld in 1973,we divorced in 1977, but have spoken just recently. My sister lived in no:75 from 1969 till Dec2012.I am assuming that there is every chance that we have met. The photos of Don are great,my husband came across your web site researching the Lanc that he flew in the war. He and my husband often talked together about it. Diane Shirley
We may well have met! Thankyou for writing this – it really is a small world mad smaller by the internet.
Don & Jean were such a lovely couple – loved them to bits. It would be great to have some more reminiscences of Don’s time flying.
Great work on the Don Vidler story. I came across your website from another direction – In my collection of Bomber Command related items, I had this copy of certificate showing a Silver Cross being awarded to a Scout in Lincoln Cathedral.
By checking various files with the date etc I narrowed my search down to one possible Lancaster – LM270 626 Sqn Wickenby. Banged in a general Google search and up came your wonderful site. Not sure how to put an attachement with this email, could you advise.
‘In service and in friendship, one to another,
We are pledged to keep alive the memories!’
I wrote an account of how Don Vidler and his crew crashed at Apley, Lincolnshire, in September, 1944, were helped by two scouts to exit the damaged aeroplane and what happened subsequently to the crew. I was, until his death, in communication with John Fincher from that crew. I would be glad to send my account to anyone interested. John Crompton.
Further to my comment of August 27, 2014, I have updated my account of the crash of LM270 and now present it here:
LANCASTER LM270: CRASHED AT APLEY: 09 09 1944
To mark the Millennium, the villagers of Apley and Stainfield, between Wragby and Bardney, Lincolnshire, UK, approximately 10 miles (16 km) east of Lincoln, decided to compile and publish a book of articles by those inhabitants who cared to write one. Most of those who wrote recorded their past and present lives in the county and the result was a volume called The Millennium Manuscript, published in January 2000.
I, however, recalled that one morning in 1988 I had noticed, though the window of my study in my house in Apley, a group of elderly men conversing in the road. I went out to ask whether they needed directions. They assured me, in Australian accents, they knew exactly where they were, because they were the crew of an Avro Lancaster bomber which had crashed nearby during World War II.
They were back in England for a reunion, and had no time to tell me more. But they did indicate roughly where the aeroplane had finished up, in the ditch running parallel with the Apley-Goltho road, north of the junction with the Apley-Kingthorpe road, only two hundred yards away. They also told me that one member of the crew had been killed, and that they had just been to Apley Manor, where they had been amused to observe that the instrument was exactly where it had been 44 years before when they had telephoned their base after the crash.
In 1999, aware that Lincolnshire was a vast network of aerodromes during World War II, I wanted to learn more about the participation of this tiny village in the aerial campaign, and I was mindful of the death of a brave airman who had died 300 yards from my house.
I did a little library research, but all I learned was that hardly a week passed during the war years without at least one aeroplane crashing in Lincolnshire, a few of the downed machines being German. During the interviewing and typing involved in the preparation of this Millennium Manuscript, I learned of several crashes within a mile of Apley, including two Lancasters which collided over the village, one falling onto and setting fire to farm buildings near Apley Manor and the other ending up near Grange Farm, New Apley, exploding its ten ton bomb.
Several local people gave me their recollections of the particular event, notably Mr Jack and Mrs Elsie Draper, but the most productive lead was given me by Alison Stott, daughter of John and Joyce Stott of Grange Farm, Apley: She told me that her uncle, Ralph Stott, had been involved in the episode and recommended that I contact him. This I was able to do, leading to two interviews with him at his home in Cherry Willingham, near Lincoln.
From Ralph Stott I not only received a detailed account of the crash and sight of various documents but the name and address of a member of the crew, Rev John Fincher, in Australia. Correspondence with, and copies of documents and telephone calls from, John Fincher provided the further details which enabled me to compile an article intended for The Millennium Manuscript. A copy of this, sent to John Fincher, was further copied and forwarded to other crew members, Gordon Horner and David Hooker. David Hooker’s son, also David Hooker, then e-mailed me further information about his father. This was used to amend the original article and the result was what was published in The Millennium Manuscript in January 2000.
It then occurred to me that it might be appropriate to offer a version of the article to Lincolnshire Life, so I produced a version, called ‘We Will Remember Them,’ starting from the assumption that readers might not know the location of Apley. The Editor of the magazine accepted the piece and scheduled it for the November 2000 number.
Between acceptance and publication, however, two further events occurred which required the article to be updated: Ralph Stott died, and ‘The City of Lincoln,’ the last airworthy Lancaster, made a second over-flight of the village as part of Wragby Show 2000. I therefore amended the article and it was published in November, 2000.
John Fincher had kept in touch, meanwhile: he sent me If Love Were All…The Story Of A Second World War Bomber Crew (Stephen Payne, Kambah, ACT: 1995), and papers concerning Rudi Balzer , a German soldier who saved Arthur Lee, a British airman, from the Gestapo, when Lee’s bomber was shot down. After the Lincolnshire Life publication John Fincher sent more copy documents, for instance Mission Reports on subsequent Lancasters flown by Don Vidler, when Fincher and Hooker were also aboard.
What follows is the November 2000 Lincolnshire Life article, amended in the light of papers subsequently received, and updated in August 2014:
The village of Apley is so small that even long time Lincoln people have not heard of it, though it is only 10 miles away as the heron flies. But, like every other hamlet, it has its history plainly or invisibly written into its features. There is, for example, the old pond in Mr Draper’s copse on Chapel Hill where the bricks which probably built the house outside which I met the Lancaster crew were dug out (OS Landranger Sheet 121: Map Reference 109743). But the event I want to write about left no mark on the landscape, though it should be recorded among the millions of other items which keep alive our heritage and awareness of our debt to past generations.
Through my study window I could at the time of writing the article in 2000 the place 250 yards away where a man died 56 years before and where six others survived, and drew Apley into contact with Australia. They were the crew of Avro Lancaster LM270D2 and every time I gazed over towards Goltho, or walked to Wragby and passed the spot the stricken aeroplane came to rest, I thought of those men. Whether you ever visit Apley or not, I ask you to think of those men, while, and after, I tell you about them.
On September 9, 1944, Lancaster LM270 of 626 Squadron, RAF Wickenby, was returning from a training flight to the south. Around midnight, in heavy rain, as it was making its approach, the pilot had to take evasive action to avoid a head-on collision. While the other aircraft nosed up, LM270 turned down, narrowly missed the cottage of Mr and Mrs Draper (113758), smashed into the field to the south of it at 200 mph, bounced over the telephone wires and the Apley-Goltho road, ploughed across the field to the west of it and came to rest across the ditch (at 113755) which runs under the Apley-Kingthorpe road, about 200 yards from the bridge. The undercarriage was torn off, the aeroplane was on fire, and its ammunition was exploding.
Gordon Horner (Navigator) was able to open the cockpit escape hatch and to extricate Don Vidler (Pilot), who was unable to move from his seat. Horner pushed Keith Guy (Bomb Aimer) and Vidler through the hatch. He then managed to free John Fincher (Wireless-Telegrapher), whose foot was trapped under his table. Horner and Fincher then escaped.
Don Vidler assembled the four of them on the port side of the aircraft, and they at once began looking for the other three crew members. David Hooker (Mid-Upper Gunner) was found by Horner, unconscious under the starboard wing, and Tom Griffiths (Rear Gunner) was found, extensively injured, outside his rear turret.
Vidler and Horner attempted to re-enter the aircraft to find the seventh man, but he, Eric Madge (Engineer), had, in fact, been killed.
Gordon Horner made his way to the Apley-Goltho road and to the Drapers, who had been awakened by the crash. Jack Draper got out his car and drove Horner to the District Nurse in Goltho, as she had a telephone. The two men waited there for the ambulance from Wickenby. Meanwhile Fincher and Guy went to Apley Manor (110749), also to telephone their base. Fincher passed out on entering and awoke some hours later in the ambulance, suffering from shock, which caused some panic among the attendants.
Meanwhile, Ralph Stott, aged 17, was keeping Charles Wright, the City School’s senior scout, company in the latter’s tent at Grange Farm, New Apley (115750). The two young men were not asleep and had heard the Lancaster coming down. They therefore made their way the quarter-mile or so to the wreck, where they found three men (Vidler, Griffiths and Hooker) lying near one of the wings. Knowing there would be a crew of seven, they climbed into the aircraft to search for the others but were driven back by the flames. They then carried the injured men into the ditch, to shield them from a possible explosion, covered them with coats and stayed with them, talking to them and giving them chocolate and cigarettes from their flying jacket pockets, until the ambulances arrived, at least an hour and a half later, led to the site in his car by Jack Draper, who then helped to get the men into the vehicles.
The injury report reads as follows:
Pilot Officer D.E. Vidler: Fractured ribs. Taken to Lincoln Military Hospital.
Flight-Sergeant G.J. Horner: Fractured nose. Taken to Lincoln Military Hospital.
Flight-Sergeant J.F. Fincher: Lacerated face. Detained Sick Quarters, RAF Wickenby.
Flight-Sergeant K.R. Guy: Contused nose and both legs.
Sergeant E. Madge: Killed.
Flight-Sergeant D. Hooker: Internal injuries. Detained Sick Quarters, RAF Wickenby.
Flight-Sergeant C.T. Griffiths: Compound fractures. Taken to Lincoln Military Hospital.
The dead man was taken from the wreck and is buried in Plymouth, in his home county. He was the only Englishman amongst an otherwise Australian crew. The aeroplane was later collected on a 60 foot trailer, called a ‘Queen Mary.’
Ralph Stott received letters of commendation from the Wickenby Station Commander and the Air Vice Marshall, Bomber Command, Bawtry.
Charles Wright was awarded the highest scout award, the Silver Medal, which was presented to him in Lincoln Cathedral, after which he was carried shoulder-high through Broadgate, Lincoln, by the Scouts. Sadly he died in 1976 at the young age of 48, leaving a widow, three sons, a daughter and eight grandchildren.
Some of the crew of LM270 were airborne again within weeks, though Tom Griffiths never fully recovered.
The Medical Board Summaries of John Fincher and David Hooker indicate that on September 18, 1944, they were given 10 days survivor’s leave. Years later John Fincher realised that in addition to the injuries he received he was still suffering severe whiplash, which was not recognised till the 1960s.
Hooker also suffered lifelong effects from the crash, injuries to his right leg and knee necessitating a number of operations in the 1950s.
Fincher was officially sent for leave to the Victoria Club, London W1, but he actually spent the time with Don Vidler, Keith Guy and David Hooker at the location specified on Hooker’s Summary: 14 The Meads, Luton.
John Fincher also told me that he flew with Canadian Flying Officer Stroh’s crew until his own crew was reformed, which happened very soon, for a Mission Report of November 6, 1944, not only lists him, Guy, Horner and Hooker as crew members, with Don Vidler as captain, but notes that their Lancaster was damaged during the raid on Gelsenkirchen: ‘Port outer engine hit by heavy flak and caught fire.’
On December 17, 1944, Pilot Officer Vidler, with Flight-Sergeant Fincher again the wireless operator aboard his Lancaster, earned the Distinguished Flying Cross during a bombing raid on Ulm:
‘…where notwithstanding fierce enemy fighter attack with subsequent heavy damage to his aircraft he pressed home a successful attack on a designated target.’
John Fincher’s recollection is that Don Vidler kept the aircraft flying by sheer physical strength, determination and superb airmanship. The Mission Report is as follows:
‘1939 hours, 11 000 feet. Target area. The rear gunner sighted a JU88 approaching from dead astern at 250 yards range. He instructed the pilot to corkscrew Starboard and at the same time opened fire with a burst of 200 rounds. The fighter returned fire with a short burst striking our bomber on the underside of the fuselage, and broke on the Port quarter up and was lost to view. The rear gunner then sighted another JU88 approaching on the Starboard quarter fine slightly up at 250 yards range. The pilot was still corkscrewing from the first attack so the rear gunner did not order any combat manoeuvre, but immediately opened fire with a burst of 200 rounds. Again the enemy opened fire, striking our bomber on the Port rudder and shooting the Starboard elevator and trimmers away, then broke away on the Port quarter up and was lost to view. The rear gunner stated that during both attacks he observed his trace ricochet from the enemy aircraft and claims them damaged. Due to control damage the aircraft landed at Woodbridge.’
As if this crew had not had enough, on January 2, 1945, on the outward and homeward legs of an air attack on Nuremberg, Vidler’s Lancaster again found itself in close proximity to German fighters and the rear gunner, Griffiths’s replacement, F/Sgt Billinge, and Hooker engaged the enemy. On this occasion their aircraft suffered no damage. On another occasion Hooker’s firing on a JU88 which was attacking another Lancaster undoubtedly saved it from being shot down. F/O Stroh and his crew were not so fortunate: they were killed during a raid on Munich on January 8, 1945.
The survivors of LM270’s Apley crash survived the war and returned to Australia. John Fincher became an Anglican priest. Keith Guy became a doctor. Gordon Horner became a public servant in the Department of the Navy, serving in London and Washington. David Hooker became a carpenter in 1946 and retired in Brisbane, after working for the Queensland Public Works Department for over 30 years and being responsible for the building of many schools.
Don Vidler, an Outback boy, had lost his father when he was three, left school at 13 and passed his pilot’s examinations by determined self-education. He became a Spitfire pilot, then transferred to Lancasters. After the war he pursued a career in transport, retiring from a post with Australian Railways.
He died in 1998 and his funeral was taken by the Rev. John Fincher. This crew was lucky: Flying Officer Stroh and his crew were killed in a raid on Munich on January 8, 1945.
In 1981, John Fincher wrote to The Lincolnshire Echo to ask if anyone could say where the crash had occurred, and Ralph Stott was contacted. Fincher that year attended the service at Wickenby, when the Memorial to the 1080 who had died flying from that aerodrome was erected, and Fincher and Stott met. In 1988 the Rev and Mrs Fincher came and brought Mr and Mrs Vidler, and at Wickenby the four Australians met Charles Wright’s mother, his sisters Betty and Audrey and their husbands, and Ralph Stott.
In 1992, in 1994, when there was a 50th anniversary celebration, and in 1996 Ralph Stott visited Australia and was entertained by the Finchers and Vidlers. Sadly, Ralph Stott died in 2000. We should remember his courage and initiative on the night of September 9, 1944.
On Sunday September 5, 1999, a few days short of the 55th anniversary of the crash, and while I was writing my original account of it, I heard the roar of the four propeller engines of a low-flying aircraft approaching from the west. I recognised the noise of the sole remaining British airworthy Lancaster, the City of Lincoln, and rushed outside to see it. It swept over the garden at 200 feet and flew on to pass exactly over the crash site of LM270. It then banked right over Grange Farm, over the spot where Charles Wright and Ralph Stott had been camping, completed its turn and came back again over the precise point where the stricken aircraft had come to rest, leaving the area just to the east of the Drapers’ cottage.
A call to Coningsby Control Tower next day confirmed that this appearance had been requested for the 1999 Wragby Show. For the same reason the City of Lincoln repeated its lone flypast in 2000. But in my mind its over-flights will always be commemorating Don Vidler and his crew.
AUGUST, 2014 JOHN CROMPTON
Note:. To the best of my knowledge the above is the fullest available account of the crash of LM270. It is derived from an interview with, and documents loaned by, Mr Ralph Stott; letters, documents and telephone calls from the Rev. John Fincher; letters and e-mails from Mr David Hooker, son of Flight-Sergeant David Hooker; and letters from Mrs Audrey Hobden, youngest sister of Charles Wright. My warmest thanks and acknowledgements to them all.
Thank you so much John for posting this. My Mum will be really interested as Don was her cousin. He was such a lovely man. Sorry it has taken me a while to comment back but I have been caring for some family recently. When I get organised again I would like to contact you 🙂
Thank you again,
I have just found all this information on your website. My Dad was Tom Griffiths(rear gunner) and on a recent visit to Australia my cousin advised me to apply for my Dads medals which I now have. All the information above has given me a greater insight to the crash. My Dad lived and had a successful career in the UK with my Mum until his death at the age of 61 in 1983.Thank you for answering many questions that I would not have had the answers to had I not come across this website. Shirley Dermott
Thank you for taking the time to record and share this. I am the grandson of David Hooker, and my kids will be able to read and remember this as a result of your efforts. Pop never spoke of his time during the war, and it gives me great pride to read over these memories.
Dear Brett, I am delighted to hear from you, and, of course, I thought of your grand-dad and the crew of LM270 on ANZAC Day. I am very pleased that my account of the crash is available to interested parties, like Shirley Dermott. I was glad to hear about Tom Griffiths, though sad he died so young, just before I moved to Lincolnshire and began living in the house which overlooked the crash site. I have moved from there now, but only a few miles, and I never forget the location and my communications with John Fincher. All the crew are dead now, then. But their service will not be forgotten. All good wishes, John.
Hi John, Thanks again for adding more of the history & for replying to to others via this blog. Glad to bring things together for families & friends of of Don & his crews service.
Hello Brett – so glad I wrote this post! It seems Don’s war service & that of his crews has been much appreciated! It is lovely to get feedback from families connected to Don. I will pass these comments onto my Mum who is Don’s cousin & she can then pass it onto his niece who still keeps in contact with Mum.
Hi Lyn. I am niece of Diane Shirley and the daughter of Deidre and Barry who lived next door to Don and Jean (Uncle Don and Aunty Jean) at Dolans Bay. Love the story and the photos so great to see one of Uncle Don’s famous recollection stories in print and to remember all of his mates most of whom I met. They are always fondly remembered. To John – your story is an added bonus – the reunion trip in 1988 was a major event and highlight in U.Don and A.Jean’s life.
Dear Relatives and Friends of Don Vidler
Further to my writing accounts of the crash of Lancaster LM270, piloted by Pilot Officer Don Vidler, at Apley, Lincolnshire, UK, in September, 1944, and to previous correspondence, an update.
There is now a Bomber Command Memorial and Information Centre in Lincoln, and with it comes the Bomber Command International Research Centre, the office of which is at the University of Lincoln. I offered this Research Centre an account of the crash of Lancaster LM270 and this was keenly welcomed. So I updated and produced the fullest account I could and let the Centre have the letters, documents and photographs that I had received from John Fincher. The Centre has digitally scanned the whole dossier, which will be availalble, free, on its website shortly. This will be especially pleasing, because it will not only carry my account but all the other material I have. Meanwhile, if anyone would like my updated, slightly expanded, final version of the account, please let me know, and I will be happy to send it by email attachment. A decade after the death of John Fincher I still feel deeply moved and privileged to have known him and to have been able to collect and record the information which will be available on the website. I am ever conscious of the extraordinary courage of those men, especially Don Vidler, and I am delighted that he and his crew will be commemorated in that digital archive. John Crompton.
I will be visiting Wickenby Monday and Tuesday of next week. Will be good to read these recollections on the flight over from Australia.
Good to know you are coming over and visiting Wickenby. You might also consider visiting (a) the new Bomber Command Memorial Centre, Canwick Hill, Lincoln; and (b) the Bomber Command International Digital Records Centre, Riseholme Park, Riseholme, a few miles north of Lincoln. This is where the Centre is building up its huge digital archive of Bomber Command documents and memorabilia. It is where the record of the crash of Lancaster LM270, Don Vidler’s crew, is held, complete with photos and documents supplied by John Fincher. The Centre is open every day, Monday to Friday. You can look it up on the internet – I suspect you have a mobile phone or tablet that you will have with you. The folks there would, I’m sure, be glad to welcome you and show you what they are doing. Best wishes, John Crompton.
John, a few years have past, but that trip to the site where LM270 crashed is still vibrant in my memory. I stopped by the farmhouse close to the crash site and had the pleasure of speaking with the owner. He recalled the wreckage from his childhood, and that others had visited over the years. He invited me in and shared stories that he’d heard from his father about the event. I hope to visit the site again one day soon. It’s a long trek from Brisbane, Australia, but a trip that’s well worth it. I’ve also been supporting the Bomber Gateway Trust, and I look forward to that wonderful monument being opened. It would be great to meet you one day on my trips to England.
Dear Brett. The ongoing correspondence about Don Vidler and LM270 from 2013 has arrived, with your latest message about your visit to the crash site, and your talk with a local man This was probably Mr Draper, who lived within a hundred yards or so of the crash site. He died some years go; It was possibly Mr Harry Bruntlett, who lived in nearby Goltho, who, I know, saw the crashed aeroplane collected by the recovery team. I myself, as my article confirmed, lived not much further away from the site than Mr Draper, and I could look out of my study window and see it, while talking on the phone to John Fincher, who died in 2004. All the documents about the crash sent to me by John Fincher have been lodged with the Bomber Command Digital Record Centre and should be available online, together with my account of the crash, derived from Ralph Stott and John Fincher. I have now moved from my cottage in Apley and am living on the edge of Lincoln. My wife and I have grown too old to maintain the old property and keep up the garden. Since moving, we did some inputting of material at the Digital Record Centre, getting documents into the archive to be available online. That is a mammoth task, since vast amounts of material have been donated to the Centre, including uniforms and items of equipment. Of course, I never forget those crew men of LM270, including your dad, and think of them often, especially when there is an anniversary or news about Australia, as there is at present in regard to those terrible bush-fires, which even threaten Sydney, where my oldest friend and his wife live. I hope you are keeping well and that you may be able to visit Apley, and the Bomber Command Memorial Centre on the hill above Lincoln. All good wishes, John.
Hi Lyn, I just printed out your blog entries so I can take them and read them to Alan Davies who is currently in hospital. Alan called on Don and Jean when he was on one of his many rugby trips. Alan (my namesake) was my Dad’s best friend. My Dad was Don Jenkins. At some point Dad became the replacement flight engineer for Eric Madge. My Mum has a photograph of them all at a re-union. I will scan and share. Thanks, Alan Jenkins.
Hi Alan – thank you for that 🙂 I’m pleased Don & his crew’s story is still being told & others can add to it. Thanks again, Lyn
I am intrigued all these years after the War and after writing an account of the crash of Don Vidler’s LM 270 at Apley, Lincolnshire, UK, in September 1944, to learn the name of the man who replaced Eric Madge, who was killed in the crash. I should also remark that the man on the right of the photo from ANZAC day 1981, of Don Vidler (on the left) is one of the scouts who helped to get crew members out of the Lancaster, Ralph Stott. Yesterday was Australia Day, of course, so a day for remembering Don Vidler and his crew. The Bomber Command Memorial Centre here in Lincoln held an Open Day a few days ago, and it will be formally opened later in the spring. A number of the diminishing cohort of Bomber Command veterans attended the Open Day. The Centre has state-of-the-art display technology to present not only the plethora of records held but videos to try and capture something of the experiences those amazing young men underwent. It will be well worth a visit by anyone visiting this country and able to get to Lincoln. If anyone would like to receive my account of the crash and the accompanying photos, I would be delighted to email the material. John Crompton.
Hi John, I’ll do my best to contribute to the story. My email address is email@example.com. I have photographs 🙂
Dear Alan. Any material you send can be passed on to the Digital Archive and added to the LM270 records. Best wishes, John.
Hi John, I am glad the story of Don & his crew is still being told & added to. I have 2 sons living in the UK at the moment so will pass on the details of the new memorial centre in Lincoln. Their grandfather (my father in law) flew in the war as well – he was at Moreton on Marsh. My son’s have visited the Wellington Museum there a few years ago when they were just visiting the UK. Thanks again, Lyn
Dear Lyn. Your lads should keep an eye on the Bomber Command Memorial Centre website, soon found by putting that in the search-box, to find out when it is officially opened, in April, I think. So, folks can visit after that date. All good wishes, John.
Hi John, my 2 sons in London applied & received tickets for the opening of the IBCC. Their grandfather, my father-in-law, also flew in Bomber Command & was based at Moreton-on-Marsh late in the war. They all helped care for their grandfather in his later years & were very close to him.
They are looking for to the day & are currently making travel plans etc to get there.
If you could please email me the account of Don’s crash & photos I can pass it onto them. Thanks again
Further to my message earlier today, about the file of documents I have and could pass on. Since your sons are coming to the opening of the IBCC, I could arrange for them to pick up the file at that event. I expect a friend is going to be on duty there that day and she could hold the file available and pass it on. Please let me have contact details for your sons and I will get in touch to further this possibility, if you and they would like the documents. Best wishes, John.
Hi John we would love the documents especially my Mum who was Don’s cousin.
If you can contact me through this link then we can exchange details privately rather than on this website.
Not keen on adding emails or phone numbers
Sorry clicked reply by accident – link is here so it keeps all our details private 🙂
Thanks again John
Hello I’ve been reading my Dad’s RAF flight log and can see that in August and September 1944 my Dad flew with Don Vidler over 20 times! Vidler was the F/O and my Dad was the Wireless Operator/Air Gunner. They flew Wellingtons over the Middle East, sometimes flying three sorties a day. I was fascinated to read about Don Vidler he sounds an amazing character, I’m sure he and my Dad would have got on well!
Best wishes, Gillian MacNulty
Dear Gillian. In 2000 I researched and wrote on article about Don Vidler and his crew, who crashed their Lancaster in September 1944, less than 200 metres from where I was living at that time. Lyn posted the article on her website later on. You provide two surnames, if I’m reading your posting aright, so I can’t tell which crew-member was your dad, if he was aboard at the time of the crash. The crew on that day was 6 Australians: Vidler, Horner, Fincher, Guy, Hooker, Griffiths. The one Englishman, Madge, was killed. If you’d like a copy of the article I’ll gladly email it to you. Best wishes, John Crompton.
Oh Hi John, no my dad wasn’t on that flight with Don. It’s just Don’s name kept coming up in my Dads flight log book, they flew sorties around the Middle East together in September 1944.
I can send a pic of the log book entries if you’re interested?
Dear Gilli. Thank you for your speedy reply. It adds a touch of mystery to the history, because the crash at Apley, Lincolnshire, also happened in September 1944, and, as you say, without your dad being aboard. The aeroplane was a Lancaster, too, not a Wellington, so Don Vidler must have been checked out on both, which is the more interesting because he was originally trained as a fighter, not a bomber, pilot. Versatile! Various questions arise, such as had Vidler come recently from the Middle East to the UK? This may have been the case, because the crash occurred when the crew was returning from a training-flight, not a bombing operation. That rather suggests they might have been preparing to fly Lancasters rather than Wellingtons. Anyway, I would like very much to have a pic of the log book entries, please. My admiration for Don is great. I also have photos of him and could email copies, if you’d like them. Best, John.
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to get in touch, I’ve just scanned the pages in! There is the possibility it’s not the same Don Vidler? But google hasn’t thrown up any alternatives!
Sorry I haven’t had an opportunity to reply – interesting information. I haven’t got Don’t logbook but spoke with his niece a few months ago. I would love any information you have as he & my Mum were cousins & good friends. I know she would love to read anything. I am currently working on the family history but haven’t got to the Vidler’s just yet!
My email is email@example.com if you want to get in touch, I’ve just scanned the pages in! There is the possibility it’s not the same Don Vidler? But google hasn’t thrown up any alternatives!