Search to find family of Kirkcaldy airman in WWII tragedy

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An appeal to find the descendants of Thomas Clelland, an RAF crew member from Kirkcaldy tragically killed in Darrington aircraft disaster in 1943, has been launched.

The move comes ahead of the 75th anniversary of the disaster in September which claimed the lives of all six crew as well as four members of a civilian family, when the Halifax bomber they were flying as part of a training exercise, crashed into cottages in the village of Darrington, near Pontefract.

Villagers plan to commemorate the tragic events with the unveiling of a plaque as part of a permanent memorial – and want to trace any relatives of those killed so they can be invited to attend the tributes.

Air Gunner Sgt Clelland from Dysart was just 19 years old when, on September 18, 1943, whilst on a night time training exercise from Riccall airfield near York to Lands End and back, the Halifax BB245 bomber aircraft on which he was a crew member, clipped trees before crashing into the village.

The resulting fire engulfed several cottages also killing four members of the Dean family and injuring several others.

It is believed the aircraft had suffered the loss of one of its propellers causing it to crash, inexplicably, it was one of three Halifax aircraft based at Riccall that suffered the same fate that night.

Only months later was it accepted by the RAF that there was a design fault with the propeller system on the Halifax, making the loss of life all the more tragic.

“The crew had only three weeks experience on flying the aircraft.

‘‘Some say a more experienced crew could have nursed the bomber back to base as it had three good engines left,” David Hepworth, one of those behind the memorial told the Press.

“The crew were not operational hence flying out of Riccall, a training base.

“The tragedy really highlights the number of young men that died in training to be pilots and aircrew.

“I believe the total number is in the thousands and I think some official recognition should be given.”

David and his colleagues have already made contact with two of the air crew’s families and hope that someone in Kirkcaldy may put them in touch with Thomas Clelland’s relatives.

“We know he was the son of Hugh and Christian Clelland from Dysart and that Thomas was finally laid to rest in Hayfield cemetery in Kirkcaldy, we just hope the tragic story will help us find his descendants.

“Despite not being operational, these young men were part of the war effort and taking on a dangerous and very risky role, it’s only right that as part of this anniversary we do something to recognise that bravery and ultimately, the lives they sacrificed.”

The organisers now hope the story will put them in contact with the family of the brave Dysart airman ahead of September’s ceremony.

>> Are you a relative or do you know someone who is. If so please get in touch with the Press on 01592-647905 or email neil.henderson@jpress.co.uk