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Church to honour airman killed in blazing plane that crash landed in village

PUBLISHED: 07:30 04 November 2020 | UPDATED: 16:08 04 November 2020

Doug Vince aged 16 as part of the Home Guard. Picture: DOUG VINCE

Doug Vince aged 16 as part of the Home Guard. Picture: DOUG VINCE

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A veteran has shared the tragic story of how his fellow airman died when their bomber plane was shot down in flames over Suffolk in World War Two.

Kersey Church  was a beacon for pilots during the second world war. Picture: RACHEL WELLSKersey Church was a beacon for pilots during the second world war. Picture: RACHEL WELLS

Doug Vince, who now lives in Chattisham and is 98, served as a flight engineer during the war on board a Stirling heavy bomber.

He was heading back to Britain after his second bombing raid in 1944 when the plane was shot at and severely damaged.

A fire raged on board and Mr Vince fought to try and save his friend Mick McGovern who was trapped in the rear gunner seat of the aircraft.

Extraordinarily, the pilot glimpsed the lights of Kersey Church beneath them, a beacon which was lit up by powerful search lights, and aimed for the nearest landing strip.

The Stirling bomber landed at Shepherds Grove airfield and Doug Vince was badly burned.  Picture: CONTRIBUTEDThe Stirling bomber landed at Shepherds Grove airfield and Doug Vince was badly burned. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

While the rest of the crew miraculously survived the landing, Mr McGovern died in the fire and Mr Vince suffered severe burns to his hand.

“You had to be brave to fly in a Stirling,” he said.

“As a flight engineer, you were there for six hours on a flight, sitting behind the wireless operator seat.

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“We were shot at as we were coming into land, in the funnel as we called it.

“I didn’t see the Kersey Church beacon myself.

“We landed on fire. I grabbed a fire extinguisher to put out the fire, but it was red hot and burned my hand.”

Kersey Church, where Mr Vince is a member, is set to open an art exhibition to celebrate the building’s wartime history as a guiding light for returning pilots.

The installation originally planned to suspend 89 ceramic and copper doves to mark each of those on the church’s role of honour from the ceiling, lit up by search lights.

However, after hearing the Suffolk veteran’s incredible story, a 90th dove has been created in silver and ceramic to honour Mr McGovern.

Mr Vince added: “This art exhibition brings it all back.

“It is important to remember the brave men who died - but I must say I don’t wish to remember everything myself.”

The church’s Rev Jackson Crompton-Battersby described the church beacon as the ‘white cliffs of Dover for Suffolk’.

The exhibition will last one month to mark Remembrance Sunday and the official opening will be broadcast live on the church’s website on Sunday, November 8, from 10.45am.


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