Bury St Edmunds: Tragic rugby club members honoured 40 years on

A picture believed to have been taken in the 1960s showing some of the members of Bury Rugby Club wh

A picture believed to have been taken in the 1960s showing some of the members of Bury Rugby Club who died in the plane crash in 1974. In the top row, fourth from the left, is Brian Arthur who died. In the bottom row, second from the left, is Bryan Ellis and, fifth from the left is Pete Withers, who also died. - Credit: Contributed

Forty years ago this year, 18 members of Bury St Edmunds Rugby Club died in a plane crash.

Andy Spetch (left) and Austin Cornish are organsing a memorial bike ride to mark 40 years since the

Andy Spetch (left) and Austin Cornish are organsing a memorial bike ride to mark 40 years since the plane crash which killed 18 members of Bury Rugby Club. Andy and Austin are pictured at Bury Rugby Club. - Credit: Archant

The players, staff and colleagues at the club had visited France in good spirits – to watch the England versus France Five Nations match and take part in a friendly against a local side – having just won the Suffolk Knockout Cup.

But after their friendly scheduled for the day of the crash – March 3, 1974 – was postponed, 18 of the 21-strong party opted to take an earlier flight on the ill-fated Turkish Airlines DC-10 as a two-day strike at Heathrow had halted any British flights.

The three other players, John Cousins, vice chairman Ron Freeman and Albert Spriggins, decided to stay on and visit an agricultural show in Paris.

In total 346 people perished in the tragedy.

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As a mark of respect, and to also raise funds for the club and St Nicholas Hospice Care, a 40th anniversary memorial cycle ride is taking place from the crash site at Ermenonville, near Compiegne, to Bury Rugby Club from May 7 to 11.

The ride – which will cover about 352 miles – has been organised by Andy Spetch, who is a committee member, groundsman and coach at the club, and Austin Cornish, who was only three-years-old when his father Laurie Cornish, who was club vice president, died in the crash aged 39.

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Mr Cornish, whose company Bury Developments sponsors the club, said the impact the tragedy had on the town was “massive”.

“I was born in Bury and it’s always been home. I think when the crash happened the whole club pulled together hugely.”

The community also showed their strength of feeling; a service at St Edmundsbury Cathedral and St Mary’s Church was attended by more than 2,500 mourners and an Air Disaster Fund set up by town mayor Robert Elliot raised almost £10,000 in just four days and eventually totalling £128,000.

The town united in raising money with collections made among farmers and merchants in Bury Corn Exchange and market while auctioneers Lacy Scott & Sons asked local farmers to donate livestock for a special gift sale.

Street collections were organised by the Round Table in Bury, Newmarket and Stowmarket while Ipswich Town Football Club donated raffle prizes to boost the funds.

Mr Spetch, who used to play for Bury Rugby Club, said: “It’s still talked about and there’s still guys who come back who knew the people who died, but the club has moved on an awful lot and we are now successful again.

“We are organising this ride as much as anything as a mark of respect, but also to raise money for the club and the hospice.”

Mr Cornish, who is also a former player at the club, added: “The club was very supportive of me and my family when the crash happened. It’s a good rugby club with a good family feeling to it. I have got three children and hopefully they will go down there and play as well.”

So far about 60 people have signed up to the ride, and about 60 to 90 are expected to actually take part.

Each rider will need to contribute to the costs and raise some money.

To get involved as a cyclist or volunteer email Mr Spetch at spetch16@btinternet.com or visit the club website at www.bserufc.co.uk

n People who played in the 60s are invited along to the club on January 11 to view photographs of that decade before the match.

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