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Air Cdre (retd) Charles Clarke OBE visited the crash site of his WW2 Lancaster Bomber in Germany

Air Commodore (retired) Charles Clarke OBE visited the crash site of his Lancaster Bomber yesterday (October 14th, 2018), 74 years after he was shot down on a night raid over southern Germany.

Air Commodore (Cdre) Charles Clarke (94 years young) of 619 Squadron paid an emotional, but jovial, visit to the crash site of his Lancaster Bomber 74 years after it was shot down. On the night of 25th February, 1944 Charles, aged just 20 years old, was high above the German skies on a bombing raid near Stuttgart when his Lancaster Bomber was shot down by a German night fighter.

Air Commodore (retired) Charles Clarke OBE at the memorial.

Several months ago Air Cdre Charles Clarke received a piece of metal in the post that was from his aircraft with an invitation to visit the memorial that the local German people have built. Charles, accompanied by friends Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Phil Westwood (Royal Engineers), Monika Parker from Zagan, Poland and Squadron Leader Tim Barlow paid their respects to these brave men.


In 1944 Air Cdre Charles was lucky enough to bail out over the Black Forest. Local German enthusiast Gunther John (pronounced yon) and Ingo Hauck recently discovered the site where the Lancaster plunged into the forest. This was Charles’ first visit to the site where three fellow crew members perished. The remote location made access to the site difficult. This led to a special moment when assistance was given to Charles by the local fire department. The father of the fireman pictured with Charles had also seen the aircraft fall from the sky 74 years ago. At the event his grandchildren aged 13 and 8 years both attended the ceremony.

Air Commodore (retired) Charles Clarke OBE at the impact site.

A series of hollows mark out the impact point of the engines, wings and cockpit.  On reaching the site, Air Cdre Charles said,

“What a fine dividing line it was between my fate and that of my crewmates”

Air Commodore (retired) Charles Clarke OBE

Squadron Leader Barlow laying flowers at the place of impact. 

Charles was a was a Bomb Aimer on Lancaster Bombers during WW2 and flew in several missions before becoming a Prisoner of War at Stalag Luft 3 (Zagan, Poland) to which he has returned many times with current serving RAF personnel. This was, however, his second visit to the Black Forest, the first was by parachute from the burning aircraft.  Charles was typically upbeat throughout the visit.

“I was a lot younger the last time I made this trip”

Air Commodore (retired) Charles Clarke OBE

He joked with airport staff about not having to show his boarding card when he departed from RAF Coningsby on that fateful mission all those years ago.

Sadly, three of his crew did not escape the aircraft. A memorial stands just a few hundred yards from the crash site that has been beautifully built by local Germans to honour the 3 crew members, the pilot, Flying Officer Erie Williams (Royal Canadian Air Force), Air Gunner, Sgt William Walch and Flight Sergeant James Glazebrook (Royal Australian Air Force).

The Mayor, Burgermeister Markus Wendel of Bad Teinach-Zavelstein, extended warm hospitality and respect, marking this event and site with dignity. 

“This is a special and graceful occasion where we welcome Mr Clarke to this site.

“I often hike near here now and pause for a moment on the bench opposite the memorial to reflect on the sacrifice made by young people in wars. Peace and freedom are so important.”

Burgermeister Markus Wendel
The Mayor of Bad Teinach-Zavelstein

Air Commodore (retired) Charles Clarke OBE with a local band.

Before meeting the locals and having his photograph taken with the local band, who played beautifully at the ceremony, Air Cdre Clarke said,

“I can’t believe how far into the forest the crash site is and how lucky I was to parachute into a clearing. Thank you to all those who have made it possible today.”

Air Commodore (retired) Charles Clarke OBE

After WW2 Air Cdre Clarke’s many appointments included tours in the Ministry of Aircraft Production, the then Air Ministry, the Ministry of Defence, commanding an RAF Station (Stafford) and various overseas tours such as Aden, Malta and Palestine. He retired from the RAF in 1978 and held a number of business appointments until 1995.  However, he has kept himself fully employed as President and Chairman of the Royal Air Forces ex-Prisoner of War Association and separately as Chairman of the Bomber Command Association. He is a remarkable man who is currently planning events for the 75th Anniversary of the Great Escape which will take place in March 2019.

Air Commodore (retired) Charles Clarke OBE at the memorial in the Black Forest, Germany.

To find out more about Air Commodore Charles Clarke, The Great Escape and the Long March read “The Last of the Kreigies’ by Steve Darlow.  See information on The Great Escape here.