Danes pay tribute to courage of wartime airmen

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THEIR aircraft was shot down off the Danish coast en route to a bombing raid but more than seventy years later the ultimate sacrifice paid by some of the crew will finally be remembered.

Three of the seven crew lost their life, while four managed to bale out of the aircraft only to be later captured by the Germans and held in prisoner of war camps.

The community in Denmark where the bomber was shot down had already welcomed family members of some of the surviving airmen, and now it has helped ensure a memorial stone is placed near the scene of the incident.

Kathleen Phillips, 66, of Robin Hood’s Bay, whose father John Copley, known as Jack, was a flight engineer with Bomber Command on board the Stirling aircraft when it came down on September 29 1941, will travel to Denmark later this month for a memorial service.

Her father was one of the four who survived but she wants to pay her respects to those who were not so fortunate.

“It will be a very special moment for us all,” she said.

“It means that after 71 years those three lads are going to get a headstone.”

Mrs Phillips’s father spoke little about his time in the Second World War and while her mother told her some information, she did not know many details.

Together with Rob Thomas, from Derby, the nephew of Alex Donaldson, a radio operator on the plane, Mrs Phillips began researching what had happened and they managed to find the location of where the plane had gone down at Lillebaelt, near Jutland.

Since retiring in 2002 she has collected information about her father’s wartime experiences and his time as a prisoner of war.

It was en route to a raid at Stettin in Germany that Mr Copley’s Stirling bomber was shot down off the Danish coast.

Mr Copley, from South Hiendley, between Wakefield and Barnsley, was injured. He spent the first night in a barn, but his pain was so severe he had to seek help from a nearby farm. He was later captured and imprisoned in Stalag Luft 3.

Mrs Phillips said: “Of course they were interrogated and after they had interrogated them all they took them off to a staff canteen and they actually had their supper that night with the man that had shot them down.”

At the end of the war Mr Copley, who died in 1987, was moved from one prisoner of war camp to another on the notorious Long March.

Towards the end of the journey they were made to stand all day in searing heat.

Later they were route marched towards the camp and then forced to run for their lives. Mr Copley suffered a bayonet wound to his thigh.

“My mother said when he came home he was at death’s door,” Mrs Phillips said.

After the war he went on to run a garage and a petrol station.

She and Mr Thomas have managed to find details of the crew members who were killed on that fateful night – Sgt Edward Donald Tovey; Sgt Eric James Rogers and Sgt Charles Waghorn Fulbeck, whom she believes came from the North East of England, were part of 7 Squadron.

The pair have traced some relatives but are keen to find any other members of the men’s families to invite them to the memorial service which will take place on September 29 – exactly 71 years after the tragedy – on the coast near Haderslev. Anyone who can help can email her at k.phillips46@btinternet.com

Mr Copley, a miner, had already been recognised for his bravery prior to the crash. In a rare award to a junior airman, he was awarded the Distinguished 
Flying Medal (DFM) for shooting down an enemy fighter from the rear turret of a Wellington bomber.

He had joined the RAF in 1935 and flew on 38 Squadron’s first wartime bombing mission on December 3, 1939, when he claimed the squadron’s first success by downing a fighter during a daylight raid against German warships in Heligoland.