The tale of my great uncle, a decorated Second World War pilot who is buried in Soham

I am writing to you at the suggestion of Celia Tyler at the Cambridgeshire Collection of Burial Records.

For a number of years I have been researching the details of a plane crash which claimed the life of my great uncle, Frederick Stephens.

He has been effectively ‘missing’ to our family since his death on September 27 1946.

Until very recently, when I stumbled upon some information which allowed me to locate Frederick, his place of burial and the circumstances surrounding it were unknown.

Ms Tyler suggested that I write to the local paper and give an account of the journey so far, in the hope that it may trigger the memory of a local resident and provide the missing details that to date remain a mystery.

Frederick Stephens was a decorated war pilot during the Second World War.

He was a Flying Officer in the Royal Australia Air Force and flew Lancaster bombers over Germany. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

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At some point during or shortly after the war he met a woman called Eunice Whittaker (Whitaker?). She was a war widow, with a small son called Anthony. They fell in love and got engaged.

After the war, Frederick discharged from the RAF and returned to Australia briefly and Eunice and Anthony tried to join them, but for some reason were not granted permission to immigrate.

Consequently, Frederick returned to the UK to be with her until the matter could be resolved. I am given to understand that they were living somewhere in Cambridgeshire.

On September 17 1946, Frederick commenced flying for Scottish Airways and so, two days before the crash, they moved to Paisley in Scotland. They were due to be married.

On September 27 1946, Frederick was flying a small Dragon Rapide from Renfrew to Glasgow.

It was a very foggy day and some kind of miscommunication occurred.

The plane crashed into Craigton Hill on High Craigton Farm, near Milngavie, Scotland killing all on board.

A farmer on the next farm heard the plane go over and heard the massive crash.

He and his sons climbed over a stone wall onto High Craigton Farm and began searching the foggy hill for the site in hope of survivors.

I have spoken to Irene Graham, the wife of one of the sons, who now runs a small B & B on the neighbouring farm called Tambowie Farm.

The police were called and the farmer took them to the crash site where the bodies were removed to the morgue in Milngavie.

For reasons unknown, Eunice had Frederick’s body taken back to Cambridgeshire, where he was buried in Soham Cemetery. The grave was purchased by his mother, Mrs Frederick Stephens and I can only assume she misunderstood the exact location of his burial because from then onwards, the family believed he was buried in Cambridge War Cemetery.

About 15-20 years ago, my brother came to England on a work trip and attempted to locate his grave at the Cambridge War Cemetery.

The family was of course shocked to learn that he was not there. Both his parents were dead by that stage so no clarification could be sought. So began an extensive search to locate him.

Very recently I uncovered what I believe is a police report of the crash. It listed Cambridgeshire as the place of burial.

There were other words on the handwritten document which were indecipherable but after Googling words that began with different letter combinations I came up with the parish of Soham as a possible place of burial.

I found Frederick’s burial record in the Soham Burial Book online and confirmed it was him by making contact with the local funeral home and the Soham Town Council, who were all so very helpful and forthcoming with information.

All the information matched and at last he was found.

That’s when I found out his mother had purchased the grave, and came to the conclusion she must have been confused about where exactly he was buried.

His burial was charged at double rates, which indicated he was not a resident of Soham but must have lived nearby.

I wonder why Eunice chose to bury Frederick in Soham. I was hoping that one of the local residents may know something of the story.

Eunice later married a man whose last name was Johns and they immigrated to South Australia in the 1960s I believe. I haven’t been able to locate any of the family members.

Now that we have found Frederick, plans are underway to erect a headstone on his grave and conduct a small service to give thanks for his life and service.

My cousin, Kate Doyle, who now lives in Ireland is taking over preparations and has a list of contacts who are willing to assist, including the local Reverend Tim Alban Jones, the assistant clerk of the Soham Town Council Gloria Walker and the local stonemason Jeremy Reader.

We are also hoping to gain access to the crash site on High Craigton Farm near Milngavie to erect and small memorial and conduct a small service there.

I have made contact with the property owners and am awaiting feedback at this stage.

I wonder if any of your readers might be able to help fill in the missing pieces of this story.

But if not, then I am so happy to have found Frederick at last and am grateful that he has been so well taken care of by his adoptive home.

I am also so grateful to the people of your town who have gone above and beyond to help me by answering my many phone calls and e-mails, searching for information and taking photos of the grave site for me.

One day I hope to come over and thank them in person for their help and care.


Great niece of Frederick Stephens

Cairns, Australia