A STRIKING memorial has brought closure for the families of four airmen who died in a crash off Lady Julia Percy Island during World War II.
The stone monument, unveiled at The Crags west of Port Fairy on Saturday, features a scale replica of an Avro Anson aircraft which the men were flying in on February 15, 1944.
The bodies of the RAAF aviators — flight sergeants James MacLellan and Dennis Baulderstone and leading aircraftmen Norman Kruck and Brian Ladyman — were never recovered and the remains of the plane still lie in the ocean at the base of a cliff.
The men had been based at Mount Gambier, supporting air observers and carrying out training missions along the coastline.
The crash was a tightly kept secret, hidden in the war files, and the airmen were never given a burial service or recognised in any way. Family members were not formally notified of the men’s death until nearly eight months later.
That all changed when East Warrnambool Rotary Club member Andrew Coffey, an abalone diver, became aware of the wreckage and led a movement to have the lost men honoured.
About 50 of their relatives gathered for the dedication service, where Air Force Group Captain Terence Deeth asked them to look across to Lady Julia Percy and “be mindful of the great loss of these men and the loved ones that suffered”.
Captain Deeth said it was only due to the dedication and work of Rotary members that all four families were able to gather together for a final farewell.
Aircraftman MacLellan’s daughter Ann Sorensen was just two days short of her first birthday when her father died.
“I heard so many stories when I was little. I spent my childhood hoping he would ride up on a white charger and rescue me,” Mrs Sorensen said.
Aircraftman Ladyman’s sister Elizabeth Hastings, who travelled from Western Australia with her family, described the day as “fantastic”.
Mrs Hastings said her family was emotionally unable to speak about the loss of her brother until one of her nephews, Bill Ladyman, began asking questions.
Mr Ladyman, who also attended Saturday’s dedication, was just six years old when he noticed the initials “BCL” carved into the door of the family farm’s chaff shed. His father revealed the letters were placed there by his brother, Brian Carter Ladyman, who had died in the war. Craig Baulderstone, nephew of flight sergeant Dennis Baulderstone, said his uncle signed up for the airforce at the age of 20 and worked his way through the ranks. He spent his tour of active service in Hudson bombers out of Darwin.
He survived and spent 40 days on leave with his family in the summer of 1943-44. After a tour it was compulsory to spend at least six months in a training role and he took up his position at the air observers school in Mount Gambier.
He was killed in the mysterious crash in his first week in the new role and only a few days off his 23rd birthday.
“Dennis’ mum Beatrice was convinced he would come home,” Mr Baulderstone said.
“She always thought he had been captured by a Japanese sub and one day he would walk in through the back door.”
The monument, made from locally quarried bluestone, was donated by Michael and Cheryl Steel and sculpted and erected by Bamstone of Port Fairy. Stonemason Ian Knowles spent 100 hours cutting and hand finishing the sculpture.
“We wanted it to be significant and the design (of a banking plane) does that in two ways. Number one, it means it’s coming home, so there’s some closure for the families. Number two, if you are being rescued, a plane will tilt its wing to acknowledge it has spotted you.”