Buxton Cemetery – The Mackay crew, training flight accident 22nd May 1942

Mackay crew comp for post

The graves in Buxton Cemetery, Derbyshire of 4 of the Mackay crew, killed in the early morning of 22nd May 1942. In clockwise order: P/O Andrew Mackay – Pilot, Sgt. Wilfred Smeaton – 2nd Pilot, Sgt James Bevan – Wireless Operator and Sgt John Bode – Navigator

The first graves of 75(NZ) Squadron airmen I found was by utter chance when visiting Scartho cemetery in Grimsby and coming across the graves of Alex Mee and David Nola. Since then, I have tried to look at the Roll of Honour to get an idea of graves, relative to wherever I might be travelling and when possible visit and lay some flowers. Last summer I was able to visit Leslie Wright and a couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to stop by at Buxton Cemetery in the Peak District to visit 4 airmen who were killed on a training flight in May 1942.

On the night of May 21st 1942 Wellington Mk.III Z1566 took off from Feltwell on a night training flight. Their Pilot, Andrew Mackay had up to this point completed a total of 3 Ops with other crews as 2nd Pilot; and 2 other Night Flying Training (N.F.T’s)

02.5.42 Gardening – St Nazair
Wellington Mk.III X3714
S/L Denton, P/O McKay, F/O Hodson, Sgt Green, Sgt Chambers, Sgt Chambers

13.5.42. N.F.T.
Wellington Mk.III
P/O A.D. Mackay as Pilot

15.5.42 Gardening – Kiel Bay
Wellington Mk.III X3751
P/O Jarman, F/O McKay, Sgt Taylor, Sgt Fernie, Sgt Davey, P/O Chunn

17.5.44. N.F.T
Wellington Mk.III X3408
P/O A.D. Mackay as Pilot

19.5.42 Attacks Against Mannheim and St. Nazaire
Wellington Mk.III X3714
S/L Denton, P/O McKay, F/O Hodson, Sgt Green, Sgt Chambers, F/S McQueen.

The boys in the aircraft were relatively new to the Squadron and had not yet flown operationally as a crew. That night the Squadron were also flying, sending seven Wellingtons to lay sea mines (Gardening) at La Pallice and L’Orient. (t/o 23.00), however the raid was not a successful one, owing to bad weather and poor visibility and most of the aircraft returned with their mines.

Andrew’s name appears to be misspelled in the Form 540 for May, consistently appearing as McKAY, rather than as MACKAY, though this would appear to not be the only error in the ORB for this month. The Form 540 also identifies that the Pilot of Z1566 was a ‘P/O Smith’, clearly wrong, though the location of the crash and name of the sole survivor, Sidney Chappell is recorded correctly. The records incorrectly state that Andrew was flying Fight Co-Op in Wellington Mk.III X3714 (one assumes this was in the event actually P/O Smith).

The crew on board were Wellington Mk III, Z1566 were as follows:
P/O Andrew Mackay, RNZAF – Pilot
Sgt. Wilfred Smeaton, RNZAF – 2nd Pilot
Sgt John Bode, RAFVR – Navigator
Sgt James Bevan, RNZAF – Wireless Operator
Sgt Cyril Hayton, RAFVR – Front Gunner
Sgt Sidney Chappell, RNZAF – Rear Gunner

After becoming airborne and flying for some time on the exercise, the weather deteriorated. Andrew elected to remain above the cloud layer for some time before he was able to descend through a gap in the cloud in the early morning hours so that the navigator could visually establish their position. At 03.40 hrs, the aircraft apparently flew into a hillside at Grindon Farm, six miles from Leek, Staffordshire.

The ferocity of the impact essentially destroyed the front of the aircraft, spreading wreckage over a very large area. Perhaps possessing, literally death defying luck, the only survivor was the rear gunner Sid Chappell who was injured.

While John Bode was buried with the New Zealand airmen in Buxton, Cyril Hayton was returned to his home town and is buried in Byker and Heaton Cemetery , Newcastle-on-Tyne.

The burial ceremony in Buxton was conducted by staff of 38 Maintenance Unit, who had also attended the site of the crash on the 28th May 1942.

P/O Andrew Donald Mackay RNZAF 411919
Died age 22, 22nd May 1942
Grave 4178, Buxton Cemetery, Derbyshire, England.

Sgt. John William Bode RAFVR 1185743
Died age 22, 22nd May 1942
Grave 4181,Buxton Cemetery, Derbyshire, England.

Sgt. James Wilfred Beaven RNZAF 403566      
Died age 31, 22nd May 1942
Grave 4180, Buxton Cemetery, Derbyshire, England.

Sgt. Wilfred Herbert Smeaton RNZAF 405331
Died age 28, 23rd May 1942
Grave 4179, Buxton Cemetery, Derbyshire, England.

Sgt. Cyril Hayton RAFVR 1113610
Died age 22, 22nd May 1942
Sec. A.N. Grave 152. Newcastle Upon Tyne (Byker Heaton) Cemetery, England.

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