Whitley P4952 – Bellingham

Whitley P4952 took off from RAF Leeming late in the evening of 14th October 1940. One of 7 aircraft, its mission was to bomb the synthetic oil refinery at Stettin in Poland. The crew of 5 consisted of: 

Pilot: Squadron Leader Ferguson
2nd Pilot: Sgt Rogers
Observer: Sgt Fraser
Wireless Operator: Sgt Cummings
Tail Gunner: Sgt Niman

The mission was a success despite the atrocious weather conditions; however Stettin was almost at the limit of a Whitley’s range. With fuel already short a message was received from Leeming ATC that much of the UK was covered by low cloud and that all aircraft were to divert to RAF Marham in Lincolnshire, an extra 40 miles flying.

Leeming ATC were contacted by P4952 and a message was relayed informing them of the lack of fuel, the pilot was instructed to climb to 8,000 feet, point the aircraft in an easterly direction, out to sea, and for it to be abandoned.

At around 2am on the 15th, Squadron Leader Ferguson trimmed the aircraft in preparation for it to be evacuated. One by one the crew vacated the aircraft through the escape hatch in the nose. Sgt Mark Niman was one of the last to go, just before the pilot, and was keen to try out his parachute. During his training he was given brief instructions on how to use the chute and also to maintain a relaxed position just prior to landing. Instructions were given on how to steer the chute by pulling on the cords so on his descent Mark decided to have a go but pulled too hard resulting in his chute rocking from side to side in a pendulum motion making him quite nauseous.

Although now separated, all the crew landed on moorland some 10 miles south of Bellingham, Northumberland. Mark could see little of his surroundings when he landed so decided to wrap himself in his parachute and spent the night asleep on the moor. At day break Mark set off for help and headed for the nearest landmark, what he thought was a rock turned out to be a member of the Home Guard armed with a Fork. The other members of the crew had met a similar fate and were all marched into the Police station in Bellingham until they could be identified. A phone call to Leeming validated their story so before being transported back to base they were taken for a meal at Nunwick Hall near Wark.

Not long after it was abandoned Whitley P4952 ran out of fuel and crashed on moorland to the south west of Bellingham. Of the crew only Sgt Mark Niman and Sgt Ernest Cummings survived the war. Mark completed over 70 operations in 4 tours, the mission to Stettin being his last as rear gunner, he fought the rest of the war as a Wireless Operator. In June 1941 he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal.

Wireless Operator on this trip, Sgt Ernest Cummings was the son of George and Elizabeth Eliza Cummings of Meldon Street, Elswick, Newcastle upon Tyne.

A month after the crash near Bellingham three of the crew were posted missing when their Whitley, T4230, was lost on a mission to Merseberg, Germany and it is believed to have crashed in the North Sea. These were Pilot, then Acting Wing Commander, Ferguson, Sgt Fraser and Sgt Rogers.

Squadron Leader Kenneth Francis Ferguson was the son of Captain C.A. Ferguson and Lady Edith Ferguson of Fairford, Gloucestershire. He was not married.

Sgt Walter Fraser was the son of Mr and Mrs T.K. Fraser of Kinghorn, Fife. The family were to lose another son, P/O Kennedy Emslie Fraser, on the night of the 4th/5th of November 1943 when his Lancaster, ED696, of 9 Squadron was lost on mission to Kiel in Germany. Walter was not married.

Sgt Charles Stanley Rogers was married and lived with his wife at Home Farm, Cranfield, Bletchley, Buckinghamshire.

The small remains of the Whitley which still remain at the crash site.

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