Doomed Bircham Newton plane was on Hollywood movie shoot

David Jacklin, left, chairman of the trustees of the Bircham Newton Heritage Museum, and curator, Terry Cox, examine the model of the Avro Anson. MLNF16PB06066 ANL-160706-154052001
David Jacklin, left, chairman of the trustees of the Bircham Newton Heritage Museum, and curator, Terry Cox, examine the model of the Avro Anson. MLNF16PB06066 ANL-160706-154052001

The 75th anniversary of a tragedy that cost the lives of three occupants of a plane that crashed at Bircham Newton has been marked by aviation enthusiasts.

The twin-engined Avro Anson took its final flight out of RAF Bircham on June 26, 1941, and it is at the station’s memorial centre where the crash was remembered.

But this was no casualty of war for the pilot and the two passengers who died were filming a scene for a Twentieth Century Fox film, A Yank in the RAF, starring Tyrone Power and Betty Grable.

The pilot was Sgt Ernest Polden, serving with No 500 Squadron, and the two film cameramen were Otto Walter Kanturek and John ‘Jack’ Arthur Perry.

Now John Parry’s nephew, Daryl Jago, in honour of his forebear and as a personal act of remembrance, has donated a model, bearing the exact insignia on the aeroplane to the Centre.

500 Squadron’s Avro Ansons served with Coastal Command but were found unsuited for the role and were redesignated that same year as a trainer for bomber crews.

The plan had been for the plane to act as a camera platform so that two Hurricanes, belonging to No 257 (Burma) Squadron based at RAF Coltishall, could make mock attacks on it to simulate aerial battle scenes some 2,000 feet above Norfolk.

But what was planned as a routine operation ended when one of the Hurricanes, piloted by Pilot Officer Hone, who parachuted to safety, hit the Avro Anson and turned it upside down.

John Parry is buried in Cornwall, Otto Kanturek is in the Scottow War Graves Cemetery close to RAF Coltishall and Sgt Ernest Polden is buried in Dorset, dying just a year after marrying his wife, Edith, who, herself, died two months later whilst giving birth to their daughter Jennifer.

It was Rhiannon, the daughter of Daniel Bennington, Jennifer’s son, who initiated the research into her great-grandfather’s past when she asked her parents if they knew of any family involvement in the war. Then aged 10 she wanted to write about the subject as a story project at her primary school in Wales.

Mr Bennington knew that his mother had been adopted by family friends and researched the details of her birth-parents.

Following that discovery Rhiannon, her father and mother, Helen, were part of a group of descendents of those involved in the tragedy who visited the centre two years ago.

Others included Otto’s son Chris and Daryl Jago, from Plymouth, John Parry’s nephew. The group also laid a wreath on the RAF Bircham Newton memorial, , and visited the crash site near Cawston close by Coltishall and the Scottow cemetery.

Mr Jago, although moved by the memory of his descendant’s past, was unable to travel from Plymouth to hand over the model personally to the Heritage Centre.

“We are absolutely delighted to add this model to our collection,” said chairman, David Jacklin, chairman of the trustees when the model arrived at the museum.

Entrance to the centre is free and this year it will be open on Sunday, June 26 and Sunday, July 31, on the bank holiday weekend the end of August and on Sunday, September 27, 11am-5pm.