Finders International helps trace relatives of tragic bomber crew

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A memorial service for the crew of a Lancaster bomber tragically shot down weeks before the end of World War Two took place this week, thanks in part to efforts by Finders International to trace the living relatives of those who died.

The service took place on 4 March, marking the 75th anniversary of when the Lancaster ME422 was shot down over Grimsby. Some 50 to 60 friends, family members and RAF and RAAF representatives gathered for the service which took place in Great Limber wood, as reported in the Grimsby Telegraph.

Attendees included relatives of the pilot, Flying Officer Jack Ryan, who travelled from Australia to honour his memory and others of the No 44 Squadron. Another relative is Brian Birch, related to the plane’s wireless operator, Sergeant Harry Birch, and who lives only a few miles from the crash site which is marked by a shrine and a plaque.

Appeal to find crew

The plane was returning from a successful raid on Germany on 4 March when it was hit. After an appeal to find the relatives of the crew, Finders International took on the quest and found Harry Birch’s niece and nephew.

As none of the crew had ever married or had children, efforts to trace their relatives concentrated on siblings and their descendants.

Brian Birch told the Grimsby Telegraph he was delighted to have been contacted by Finders International, and to have been able to attend the ceremony.

Births and marriage records

Families of the rest of the crew were traced through internet, social media, and births and marriage records. They travelled from Liverpool, Kent, Cheshire, Hampshire and the West Midlands. RAF and RAAF representatives also came along to the service led by the vicar of Brocklesby, the Reverend Lee Gabel.

Former Flight Lieutenant Terry Marsden helped set up the memorial service. The site is part of the Brocklesby Estate, owned by the Earl of Yarborough and normally closed to the public in winter.

Barry Phillips, one of the organisers, said all but one descendant had been able to attend. Those who came included 89-year-old Bert Jarman, whose brother was killed in the crash. The youngest was a three-year-old related to Sergeant William Rogan who was her great uncle.

Crew in full

The crew in full were: Flying Officer John Ryan, Sergeant Thomas Jarman, Flight Sergeant Richard Russell, Flight Sergeant Hubert Terry, Sergeant Harry Birch, Sergeant Herbert Payne, Sergeant William Rogan. The plane had been diverted to RAF Kirmington hoping to avoid Luftwaffe intruder aircraft—tactics later in the war saw German aircraft targeting planes on their return journey—when it was hit at 1am.

The idea for the 75th anniversary tribute came from one of the nephews of the pilot, Gary Mahon from Australia. He found the name of the bomb aimer, FI/Sergeant Hubert Terry, on The Moseleians Association, a website for former pupils of a group of Birmingham schools. The Association were tracing relatives of the other crew members.

Finders International’s CEO and founder Danny Curran said: “When we get the chance to help in such rewarding work, we jump at the chance. I’m delighted we were able to find Sergeant Harry Birch’s niece and nephew, so they could attend this deeply moving event.”

Read the full story on the Grimsby Herald.

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