The Story of a Bomber in Proville

By Mary Archer MBE

We begin with an email from a society member:-

I write to correct part of the information in the article of the late Gladys Jones on page 26 of the November 2014 Quinton Oracle, where she mentions Mary James.

She says that Mary died in childbirth not wanting to live without her husband who had been killed in a plane crash. In fact Mary was in hospital for sometime beforehand, her daughter was born on 7th July 1942 and she died on 3rd September 1942. Her Royal Air Force husband, Cecil William Hughes (known as Tom) was very much alive at this time.

He was in fact killed on 30th May 1943. The Short Sterling bomber crashed at Proville just managing to avoid the houses. Two of the crew managed to get out but the remaining five men stayed with the plane to save the village. A memorial event has been held on 30th May ever since.

How do I know this? I am their daughter, Mary Archer.”

The information that follows is from extracts from the records held by Mary and her late husband John; I hope I do justice to this tremendous act of bravery, an act that fittingly follows on from the unveiling of the memorial and the ultimate sacrifice given by those men and women, so we may all live in peace and freedom.

May 29th 1943: At their English base, seven men take their place on board the Short Sterling EF349. Instructions are issued to bomb the German industrial city of Wuppertal in the Ruhr, on a night-time raid.

The mission involves several hundreds of aircraft. Twice as dangerous; since the anti-aircraft defence is effective; the night fighters hunt the flights down and seldom miss their targets.

The EF 349 bomber belongs to the 90th RAF Squadron. A young English pilot in his twenties, Robert Letters, is the flight commander. Kenneth Estcourt, a 29 year-old New Zealander is responsible for releasing the bombs. 20 year-old Frank Wells is the radio operator. 23 year old Cecil Hughes is the flight engineer. (photo below)

Ronald Raven, the 24 year old central gunner observes the sky. Two other men complete the crew.

Sunday, May 30th 1943 at 2am:-

An incredible noise suddenly awakes the people of Proville. Some catch a glimpse of a burning aircraft heading for the ground. A tremendous explosion followed. A German night fighter had hit the bomber which was never to return to its base. From that moment onward, 5 allied soldiers belong to history and especially that of Proville. Two of the seven airmen manage to survive, one of them lands near Proville, the other on near Cambrai. Very quickly the Germans capture them. As far as people are concerned the pilot has a last minute decision to make and managed to avoid crashing on the first houses of the village.

Since this tragic accident, the local population always honour its heroes. In 1948 the town’s local authorities decided to erect a monument, in remembrance of those men in order that the memory of their acts should live on through history. A ceremony on 30th May of every year, recalls the sacrifice of those airmen who are buried at the Cambrai cemetery.

Mary Archer and her late husband John were invited on a significant anniversary date to attend. On the next page is a photo of the memorial which marks the spot where the wreckage was found.

Below is a photo of Cecil William Hughes (Tom)

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