Alex Hurrell, Reporter
Monday, April 15, 2013
Like many boys brought up in a Norfolk filled with past and present RAF bases, the young Dennis Morris developed an early passion for aircraft and the second world war history surrounding him.
Now, at the age of 61, the retired motor engineer has almost finished a book drawing together the dramatic, human stories of some of the men based at wartime RAF Coltishall.
Mr Morris, of Harmer Close, North Walsham, has spent “years and years” tracing relatives, talking to eye witnesses, reading books and asking RAF historians for help.
He is confident that he has now begun the final chapter of a book whose working title will be Recollections of RAF Coltishall - although it will also contain references to personnel from RAF Matlaske.
“These are people’s personal recollections. I don’t want anyone to forget, especially in our part of the world, what those boys did for us. They were mostly only in their 20s,” said Mr Morris.
“Boys” like Spitfire pilots 22-year-old Ft Sgts Alex Buglass, and Joe Hollingworth, killed on July 29 1943.
The pair were flying back to RAF Coltishall, after an aborted mission to Holland accompanying US Marauder bombers, when something went wrong on their approach and their aircraft collided in mid-air. Scots-born Buglass’s plane nose dived into farmland near Sco Ruston Hall, where Hollingworth and his pregnant wife Jean, from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, were billeted.
Hollingworth’s Spitfire went into a spin and crashed, flat on the earth, nearby. He was flung out, also dead.
The noise brought his wife rushing out of the hall. She ran to ask 14-year-old farm hand Alan Spinks, who was working nearby, for the plane’s number - and was given the news she must have most dreaded.
Mr Morris heard the story from Mr Spinks, who died about two years ago, and from Hollingworth’s then unborn son, David, who followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a civil aviation pilot.
Ft Sgt Gordon Maunders was luckier. He was on the point of landing his Spitfire back at RAF Coltishall, on April 11 1944, when he came under fire from a German Messerschmitt, which severely damaged the plane’s engine.
Maunders managed to take the stricken aircraft, with its engine on fire, back up to about 4,000 ft, invert it and bale out, parachuting safely to land at Randall’s Farm, Skeyton, where he was given a cup of tea while he waited for the RAF to arrive.
His plane landed with such force that it was buried eight foot in the ground, according to Mr Morris, who cherishes small fragments of it which he owns.
He has pieced together the tale by talking to Maunders’ daughter, Lin, and the late Avril Randall.
Tragedy arrived, quite literally, on the doorstep of the Mason family, living at 4 Council Houses, Witton, near North Walsham, on April 6 1944.
Spitfire pilot Stephen Towns, 22, was returning to RAF Coltishall after practising aerobatics when something unknown went catastrophically wrong.
The plane plummeted to the ground, scooted along the ground and came to rest, in flames, with one wing tip on the front doorstep of number four, and the other on top of the garden hedge. Ft Sgt Towns, from Northumberland, burned to death in the cockpit.
Mr Morris was told much of the story by Denis Payne, of North Walsham, whose father Tom was one of the ambulance crew which rushed to the scene.
He has amassed a wealth of photographs to go with the stories but would love to find one of the “thermometer” erected in North Walsham Market Place in 1941 to record efforts in raising money for the town’s Spitfire Fund. He is also hoping to find a publisher for his book.
■ Anyone who can help should contact Mr Morris on 0791 892 8021.