Members of the Royal Air Force currently based in Romania on a NATO mission attended a memorial service on Sunday for the crew of an aircraft killed in the Second World War.
Members of the RAF 135 Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW) based at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Southern Romania joined the locals to pay their respects, members of the Royal Navy and the British Army also travelled from various deployed locations in Romania to attend the service.
The UK Ambassador to Romania, Mr Paul Brummell attended the religious ceremony at the local Orthodox Church. In a speech to the locals and military personnel of varied rank, he said:
“It is a great honour to be here today, to remember with pride and with sadness the sacrifice made by the members of the RAF bomber crew who died in Comana in May 1944. For all of us here representing the British community and the Armed Forces, it is an honour to be with you today to remember the bravery of the five members of the RAF who died in the Wellington Bomber in May 1944, and a special tribute to the people of Comana who showed such compassion in their care of the deceased airmen. Being able to commemorate these two acts of chivalry is a mark of the strength of the friendship that unites us.”
Despite being on opposing sides in the war the villagers recovered the bodies from the crash site and gave them a Christian burial in the local monastery. Commanding Officer of 135 EAW, Wing Commander Chris Ball added:
“To be standing side-by side at today’s ceremony with the local people of Comana, as well as personnel from the RAF, Royal Navy and British Army currently on operations in Romania is a true honour. This is an inspirational story which shows the bond of friendship between our two nations, the fact that it is still celebrated is a symbol of how that relationship has endured. There is a poignant message here that even in the midst of war, loss and hardship, humanity and compassion can still prevail.”
The ceremony was organised by local businessman Gelu Palamaru whose mother had witnessed the crash. In flames and heading directly for the village, the pilot changed course of the stricken aircraft at the last minute to crash into nearby marshes.
The Wellington bomber from 150 Squadron was shot down by German anti-aircraft gunners on the night of 6/7 May 1944 while on a bombing mission from Amendola in Italy to the Romanian oilfields near Ploiesti.
In 1946, the bodies of the five airmen: Warrant Officer Stanley Clarke and Sergeants Leonard Cox, Robert Scott, George Vaughn and Clifford Walker were disinterred and moved to the British Military Cemetery at Tâncabesti, near Bucharest.
This touching story was largely unknown outside of the Comana region until, in early 1990, just after the fall of the communist regime, the aircraft wreckage was rediscovered.
In May of that year, the people of Comana held a commemorative Orthodox religious ceremony in honour of the aircrew at the monastery where the bodies were first laid to rest. The ceremony has been held annually ever since; attracting hundreds of local people, senior Romanian politicians and British Embassy personnel.