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Sergeant Will Stapleton and the crew of Lancaster NG244


Compiled from information researched by his nephew, Dave Stapleton



Lancaster NG244 was delivered to 626 Squadron at RAF Wickenby on 22 October 1944. On 2 November 1944 F/O Preece and his crew of ‘A’ Flight 626 Squadron took over flying Lancaster NG244, which had been given the 626 Squadron designation code UM-E2 and the call sign ‘Easy Two’.

The crew flew 10 of their 21 missions in Lancaster NG244.

22nd December 1944 -  On the afternoon of 22 December 1944 the crew of Lancaster NG244 ‘Easy Two’ climbed aboard their aircraft in preparation for their twenty second mission, they took off at 15.23 hours with thirteen other 626 Squadron Lancasters on a sortie to bomb the railway facilities at Koblenz in Germany.

They were to be part of a 166 strong Lancaster force on this raid.


Some time after take off the aircraft’s port inner engine failed and the pilot was forced to abandon the mission. He turned the aircraft around and returned to base.

By now the weather at RAF Wickenby had turned bad with poor visibility due to heavy rain and fog was starting to form over the airfield, it was also now becoming dark.

Just after 17.30 hours on approaching RAF Wickenby and joining the airfield holding circuit, the crew received instructions from the Control Tower to divert to RAF Leeming in York shire where the weather was better.

However, shortly after this transmission the personnel in the Control Tower heard a very loud explosion which, according to records “...shook the camp...”, but because of the bad visibility they could not tell where it had come from. They had also lost radio contact with ‘Easy Two’.

It was assumed that, whilst making a turn over the airfield, the aircraft had inexplicably stalled and crashed into the ground.

It transpired that, at 17.36 hours whilst flying with only three engines and still with the full load of bombs on board, ‘Easy Two’ lost a second engine whilst turning to land and had crashed into the bomb dump bays on the edge of the station main bomb store.

The aircraft with its bomb load exploded and, according to RAF Wickenby Station Diary, “ enormous crater was made and the bomb dump was lucky to not have received a direct hit...”. All seven members of the crew were killed.

It is thought that the loss of the two engines, the bad weather and poor visibility, and the stresses of flying under these conditions could all have contributed to the crash. The real cause will never be known.

The incident was a major disaster for RAF Wickenby and the Station prepared to implement evacuation procedures. Eyewitness accounts talk of many acts of bravery on the ground as Aircrew and Ground crew fought to get as many bombs as possible away from the fires to minimise the danger of a complete explosion within the bomb dump. Should this have happened it would have put the local population at risk as well.

All 626 and 12 Squadron aircraft on the Koblenz raid were diverted to other airfields on their return. The airfield remained closed for operations for some time afterwards.

Because of the ferocity of the explosion, no remains of the crew were found at the time however, records recently discovered state that some days after the crash the remains of “one or more of the crew” were discovered in the crash site area, but they could not be identified. These remains were taken to Market Rasen Cemetery where they were buried with military honours on 31 December 1944. Text and photos from Dave Stapleton


The crew of NG244 UME2 were:

Flying Officer Reginald Ronald Preece - the Pilot, was the 21 year old son of Mr and Mrs R R G Preece of Thornton Heath, Surrey. He was educated at Selhurst Grammar School, near Croydon, and was employed as a clerk before joining the RAF.


Sergeant Peter Radley - the Rear Gunner, was the 19 year old son of Arthur Thomas, and Florence May Radley of Turnford, Hertfordshire

Sergeant Philip Lawson Waldon - the Mid Upper Gunner, was the 19 year old son of Frank and Ida Waldon of Downham, Norfolk

Flying Officer Frederick Ernest (Rex) Gurden - the Bomb Aimer, was the 23 year old son of Benjamin and Emily Gurden of Harbury, Warwickshire. He married Joy Denise Wiles in late 1943 and made their home in Coventry.

Sergeant Alastair Fraser  Liddle - the Flight Engineer, was the 22 year old son of Thomas and Annie Liddle of Motherwell, Lanarkshire.

Flight Sergeant Arthur George Mace - the Navigator, was the 22 year old son of George and Edith Mace from Cardiff. He married Margaret M Regan at Cardiff in mid 1943 and their son, Robert, was born in 1944.

William Thomas Stapleton by Dave Stapleton.

Will was born in Cardiff on the 9th April 1923 to William Thomas and Florence Gwendoline Stapleton, the eldest of four children. He went on to attend Allansbank Boys School.

After he left school his first job was as a delivery boy for a local grocery shop in Gabalfa, Cardiff.

He then went on to work in the Mellingriffith Tin Plate Works north of Cardiff where both my father, Will’s Brother, and my Grandfather also worked.

On the 13th March 1942, at the age of 19, Will joined the RAF and trained as a Wireless Operator. He carried out his basic training in Blackpool, and his technical training took him on to No. 2 Radio School at Yatesbury in Wiltshire, and then on to 29 O.T.U at Bruntingthorpe in Leicestershire.

On the 25th August 1943 he attended No. 4 Radio School at Madley for further training at the end of which, on the 22nd November 1943, he was promoted to Sergeant.

On the 4th of December 1943 Will was posted to No. 8 A.G.S. (Air Gunnery School) at Evanton in Scotland, as at the time all Wireless Operators were also being trained as Air Gunners.

On the 7th March 1944 he was posted to No. 3 (O) A.F.U. (Advanced Flying Unit) at Halfpenny Green in Staffordshire where I understand night flying training took place.

A month later he moved to 28 O.T.U. at RAF Wymeswold in Leicestershire where conversion to Heavy Bombers took place and the process of “Crewing Up” was started.

On the 26th June 1944 Will and his new crew were posted to RAF Lindholme in South Yorkshire where the crew were trained to fly Lancasters. This training took just over two months.

Finally on the 1st September 1944 they were posted to 626 Squadron at RAF Wickenby in Lincolnshire. Will’s training had taken two and a half years from the date he joined the RAF to the time he and his crew were posted to their first operational Squadron.

After completing a number of training and familiarisation flights with the new Squadron, the crew flew their first operational mission on the 16th September 1944.

Will flew 22 missions in Lancasters as a Wireless Operator.

Tragically he and his crew lost their lives on the 22nd December 1944 when their Lancaster UM-E2 NG244 inexplicably crashed into the Wickenby bomb dump bays. Sgt William Thomas Stapleton was 21 years old.



In late 2001 I was contacted by Beryl “Paddy” Petersen (née Hutchinson).

Beryl told me that she had been a WAAF crew bus driver on 626 Squadron and remembers the whole crew well.

In her words “they were great, lovely and friendly, it was a tragedy we had not known before”.

She recalled the day that Lancaster NG244 crashed and told me that it was quite the worst incident during the war as far as she was concerned.

Beryl went on to say “The noise on the night that it happened was truly terrible when the aircraft hit the ammunition dump. I had just returned to my hut, to change and have a break, we were almost five miles from the dump.

I remember a WAAF Corporal came in, there was already several of us in there and one of them just asked what had happened, who was it?”. The WAAF Corporal replied “Easy Two”. “We all wanted to go to the site, but were told we would not be needed”.

A few days after the crash Beryl was called upon to carry the coffin bearers and bugler to the funeral at Market Rasen Cemetery, where she was required to follow the bomb trailer, which bore a single coffin draped with the Union Jack and the Pilot’s cap placed on top if it.

Beryl also told me that she had been totally overwhelmed by the ceremony where the lone bugler played the last post over the grave.

She remembers having to apologise to the officer in charge for her crying on the return journey, and he had remarked to her that it is right that a woman should cry at a funeral, and that the crew would have appreciated it.

It was comforting for the families to know that the Squadron and Station had buried the remains of the crew with a proper military funeral.        Dave Stapleton




WAAFs from Wickenby's MT Section in September 1945