1944- Wings of Hope

Halifax JP 276 A to Assist Free Poland

The Irishman, 34-year-old Sergeant Kenneth James Ashmore, was RAF crew member, one of the Halifax’s air gunners. Four-engine bomber, Handley Page Halifax JP-276 “A” took off from Campo Casale, near Brindisi in Italy, in the evening on 4th August 1944. Its aim was to execute a drop in the zone “SAN 125” near Skierniewice. The content of the drop were containers with ammunition, weapons and medical equipment for fighting insurgents in Warsaw. Unfortunately, the plane was shot down probably by a Russian fighter aircraft at night 4/5 August 1944 near and burning it reached the outskirts of Dąbrowa Tarnowska town where it thrust into the ground as deep as 2-4 m.
According to eyewitnesses, there were burnt bodies of the crew and the plane scattered on the spot and a few hundred meters around. The crew members were secretly buried in Dąbrowa Tarnowska Parish Cemetery by town community members. In 1948 they were exhumed and buried with honors in the British Polts in the Kraków Rakowicki Cemetery.

62 years after …

In 2006 representatives from Warsaw Upraising Museum came to Dąbrowa Tarnowska. They were looking for a place of Halifax’s catastrophe. The excavation works allowed to extract parts of the bomber which had been driven into the ground and remained there for 62 years. They were mainly parts of engines, plate, under-carriages and others. Remnants of the crashed and burnt plane were preserved by specialists from the Warsaw Rising Museum and later exhibited there.

Bones of the crew found during the works were taken to Warsaw with all respect. There they underwent DNA testing in order to determine finally the personalities of the crew.

The crew consisted of  7 people: 5 Canadians from RCAF, and 2 from RAF (1 British and 1 Irish).

They were as follows:

F/L Pilot                     Arnold R. BLYNN            RCAF

P/O Navigator            George A. CHAPMAN      RCAF

F/O  W/OP                 Harold R. BROWN            RCAF

F/Stg Bomb.               C.B. WYLIE                      RCAF

F/S  A/G                     Arthur G. W. LIDDELL    RCAF

Stg. F/E                      Frederic G. WENHAM      RAF

Stg. A/G                     Kenneth J. ASHMORE      RAF

“1944 – Wings of Hope. Halifax JP 276 A to Assist Free Poland” exhibition prepared by the Warsaw Uprising Museum was opened on 6th August 2007 in Warsaw. The manager of the Museum, Mr. Jan Ołdakowski invited an official delegation from Dąbrowa Tarnowska. All parts of the plane were cleaned and preserved by specialists from the Warsaw Rising Museum. It is worth to note that the engines look almost like new ones. The exhibition presents also the content of the drop containers (dressings and ammunition) as well as personal belongings of the crew such as a penknife, maps, a parachute and guns.

On 11th August 2007 a solemn patriotic and religious ceremony took place in the Dąbrowa Tarnowska  Parish Cemetery. In the presence of a few hundred people the monument placed on the site of the first burial of the Halifax crew was unveiled.

On 4th November 2007 were held burial ceremony of bones of the crew found during the excavation works. The organizers of the ceremony at the Kraków Rakowicki Cemetery were the Canadian Embassy, the United Kingdom and Ireland, which worked closely with the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising. Ireland was represented by Charge d’Affaires Embassy of Ireland – Mr. Ralph Victory the. There were family members of all seven airmen invited to the ceremony. The crew’s families were mainly represented by their nephews and nieces, who live in Canada, Britain and Ireland. After the church ceremony the funeral procession went to the Kraków Rakowicki Cemetery, where the headquarters of the British Commonwealth Soldiers made coffin to the grave. Airmen gave military honors Honorary Assistant and the Orchestra of the Polish Army.

So after more than 63 years, the remains of the heroic airmen were buried with dignity and solemn.

On 5th October 2007 the relations of the crew of the Allied bomber visited the site of the catastrophe. The Mayor of the town presented the history and present of Dąbrowa Tarnowska. He showed photographs and a part of the film showing the archeological excavations and unveiling of the monument in the parish cemetery. Each member of the families received also a small bag with soil from the spot of the catastrophe, a small metal part of the plane and a DVD with film coverage of the monument unveiling as well as the opening of the exhibition “1944 – Wings of Hope. Halifax JP 276 A to Assist Free Poland”. Everyone was deeply moved.

Sgt Kenneth Ashmore’s neice Teresa McMahon said:

„It would have meant so much to my mother – she was Kenneth’s sister. She knew that he had been buried here years ago, and had always wanted to come to Krakow.”

At the farewell ceremony the Mayor ensured the relatives that the crew will be treasured in the inhabitants’ memory and handed down to posterity. The monument will be looked after by the Local Government. In response the Mayor heard these words:

            “We have always been told that Poles are kind people – today we were convinced ourselves about it. Thank you for everything. It has been 63 years since the occurrence and we are very happy that we could bid our relatives and friends good-bye with the help of Poles. Their bones are received by Polish soil which is thousands kilometers far from our homes.”

Kenneth James Ashmore was born in Dublin, where he was a medical student at Trinity College, enlisting with the RAF in April 1943 as Volunteer Reserve. Kenneth would have continued his education after the war…..

He was posthumously awarded the 1939-1945 Star, the Defence Medal and the War Medal 1939-1945. They were also awarded the Polish Home Cross Medal, the highest award for bravery in the struggle for the liberation of Poland, and the awards will be presented to their families in due course.

Honor and glory to the heroes!

Copyrights © Piotr Czyżewski, 2014