Short Sunderland W6028 Flying Boat took off from RAF St Angelo in Co. Fermanagh on 20th February 1944. That day, it was to take part in a training exercise simulating a battle with a Beaufighter from 235 Squadron.
The Flying Boat was with 422 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Beaufighter with RAF 235 Squadron. 235 Squadron were in St Angelo to help convoy cover in the Atlantic. At the time, Luftwaffe Junkers JU-290 and Dornier DO-217s often attacked Allied shipping.
Battling with a Beaufighter
As they “battled”, both planes flew low and fast. They followed the trajectory of the road towards the airfield from the north-east. Near the village of Trory, a small hill caused the Sunderland to take avoidance action.
W6028 was at such a low height that its trailing wing took down nearby telephone lines as it manoeuvred. At 1250hrs, it came down in fields close to where the Devenish ferry operates. It left a trail of destruction across the road and field. Wreckage burned as the plane disintegrated in impact.
A Fermanagh local, James Lunny, was one of the first to arrive at the scene. He rushed to help the injured airmen as the debris of the plane caught fire. He would later win a medal for his bravery on the day.
Hebenton and Bodsworth remembered
Eight crew members suffered injuries including Sergeant S Ford, Sergeant SB Irving, Flying Officer A Tomlinson, Flying Officer IF Dotwiller, Flight Sergeant BF Jones, Sergeant TH Chappel, Sergeant JS Eadie, and Sergeant GS Fleming. The men were from both the Royal Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force.
Air-gunner Leslie Arthur Hebenton died at the scene. Sergeant Reginald William Bodsworth died the following day as a result of his injuries. Pilot Officer Hebenton’s grave is in Irvinestown Church of Ireland Churchyard in Irvinestown, Co. Fermanagh. Bodsworth is buried in his home county of Northamptonshire in the UK. A stone plaque memorial at the crash site pays tribute to both men who lost their lives.