The Crash in Ampfield, England

I have found these two articles among the information that I have on the Memorial to the five airmen lost July 2, 1944 in Ampfield, England. I feel that they explain what happened that day and why Martin Vear pursued finding the families of those that lost their lives. The articles also explain why he went on to have a memorial established for them near St. Mark’s Church in Ampfield, Hampshire, the United Kingdom.

Briton honors Fort Wayne serviceman, others

The Journal Gazette dated Tuesday, July 7, 1998 had an article found in the PEOPLE section of the newspaper and written by Nancy Vendrely. The article contains information about the airplane crash near the town of Ampfield, England during World War II involving First Lt. Walter Hayes Jr. and four other servicemen. Ms. Vendrely also talks about the memorial dedicated to the servicemen.

“The inevitable and tragic cost of war is too many lives cut short. A man in England has reminded us of this fact by his efforts to memorialize five young American airmen killed near his home during World War II. On of them was 22-year-old 1st Lt. Walter F. Hayes Jr. of Fort Wayne. martin Vear, 33, lives in Hampshire in Southern England. He first learned about the American pilots in 1980, after finding a remnant of gree-panted aluminum in a forest near his village of Ampfield. Curious about its origins, the teen-ager asked an elderly neighbor what it might be. The man remembered that an American plane had crashed in the woods shortly after D-Day in 1944, killing all aboard.

Vear went back to the woods for another look and found pieces a wristwatch, a pilot’s whistle and an I.D. bracelet with the name Duran F. Quinn on it. With those personal effects in hand, he began his quest to learn more about the men who died and to find their families. Vear learned from other residents of the area and from newspaper accounts of the time that a Cessna Bobcat UC-78, a light transport aircraft, had crashed into the woods July 2, 1944, killing the pilot, Hayes; the co-pilot, Capt. Billy Bryan of Cameron, Tex.;and three passengers – 2nd Lt. Dale Francis of Erie, Pa.; Capt. Norman Nelson of Fargo, N.D.; and 2nd Lt. Quinn of Elizabeth, La.

All had been in the June 6 D-Day invasion in France. Hayes and Bryan were flying to England to pick up parts for their P47s – the fighter bombers called Thunderbolts – and the other three, also P47 pilots, were on leave, hitching a ride. “They were 10 minutes away from the base when they got into a terrible storm. A wing snapped and the motor stopped,” Dorothy Hayes Miller of Fort Wayne says. Walter Hayes Jr. was her brother. The villagers heard all this and came out of their houses. They knew the plane was going to crash. As they watched, my brother was able to turn the plane and crash it into the forest…. Otherwise, it would have hit the village.”

When Vear learned of this final act of heroism, he vowed he would find the families and do something to honor the men who died that day. It took a long time – Hayes’ relatives were the last to be found, earlier this year (1998) – but on July 2, with relatives from four of the families present, Vear and the community of Ampfield unveiled a memorial stone at the site of the crash. The ceremony included British and U.S military officials and a flyby tribute by a P47 thunderbolt from the Imperial War Museum collection at Duxford, Airfield, Cambridge.

Miller learned in a letter from Vear that many people became involved in the effort. “He said that the people from all around worked to clean out the forest so it’s like a big park now. A woman in the town donated benches, and others donated flowers to be planted” Miller says it was Dr. Wridley A Fontenot of Allen Parish Library in Oberlin. La., who actually found the Hayes family. He had learned of Vear’s efforts when Vear came to Louisiana last fall to present Quinn’s I.D. bracelet to his sister. “He found Jack (her brother) first and then Jack called me,” Miller says. “I felt so bad we couldn’t be there. I don’t fly, and Jack just had bypass surgery.”


A graduate of St. Paul’s Lutheran School and North Side High School, Walter Hayes Jr. was a senior in aeronautical engineering at Tri-State college when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He enlisted the day after the attack and was sworn in at Baer Field Dec. 31, 1942. “My brother loved flying,” Miller says. “After Pearl Harbor, he wanted to join right now… He had been through civilian flying training at Tri-State – they had a program students could take then. so he was a civilian pilot, but he didn’t tell (the military) that. He wanted to start out as a cadet and go right though.” He received his commission and wings at Napier Field, Ala., Oct. 8, 1942, and was promoted to first lieutenant in November 1943. Before going overseas with the 9th Air Force in March 1944, he was trained in P47 dive-bombing tactics at Orlando, Fla. Hayes had received the Air Medal for raids over France and Germany before D-Day invasion. his last letter to his parents was written from a foxhole in Normandy.

He was buried in England along with other airmen. Miller’s then-fiance, Dick Miller, who was in the Navy, managed to take a photo of Hayes’ cross with his I.D. on it and sent it home to her parents. “We got Junior back home around 1949,” Miller says. “He’s buried in Huntertown Cemetery along with other family.

It’s a long time – 54 years – but families don’t forget loved ones lost in that terrible war. And Martin Vear – a stranger to all these American Families – has shown that others also remember and care.”

The Journal Gazette, (Fort Wayne, Indiana) – People Section- Northwest dated Tuesday, July 7, 1998 The article appears on page 7.


Grateful Brit seeks kin of fallen WWII airmen

An article found in the Temple Daily Telegram, Temple, Texas dated Friday, October 10, 1997 tells the tale of Martin Vear’s going to the hometown of Captain Billy B. Bryan. The article was written by Jeanne Williams and found on page 1 and page 12A.

“CAMERON – A stranger knelt at the grave of Capt. Billy B. Bryan holding the remnants of a wristwatch, stopped in time 53 years ago when five U.S. Army Air Corps pilots perished in a plane crash on the English countryside.

Martin P.J. Vear said he experienced a felling of overwhelming peace as he visited Bryan’s grave Thursday morning in Cameron’s Oak Hill Cemetery, bearing the watch the young American fighter pilot left behind the day he died overseas. “It’s emotional in defferent ways … it’s just being here,” Vear said, as he quietly perused the simple inscription on Bryan’s military tombstone. Vear, 33, a construction cost engineer of Ampfield, Hampshire, in the United Kingdom, visited Milam county on Thursday seeking Bryan’s next of kin to present them with the watch he found at the crash site in England about 130 feet from the Vear cottage. The watch band was missing and the face was weathered, obscuring the hands that stopped at the exact hour records show the aircraft crashed. Vear began searching for information about the American soldiers 17 years ago after he stumbled upon a 2-inch square of aluminum in the woodland outside his village. Older villagers remembered a plane crash sometime after D-Day that killed five Americans.

Later, Vear found the parts of three wristwatches, a pilot’s whistle and a pilot officer’s gold identification bracelet, engraved with the name and service number lying in the soil at the crash site. Vear believes these personal articles belong to the soldiers’ survivors.

He is writing a book commemorating the World War II incident in his home town and is spearheading an effort to build an American war memorial at the crash scene to honor the five soldiers*. Meanwhile, he is tracking down the American relatives of these soldiers to give them the items he found at the crash scene. It is a small debt of honor from a grateful nation, he said. “It is as an Englishman that I speak,” Vear said during a Thursday interview with the Temple Daily Telegram in the Cameron Public Library. “In 1940 and 1941, Britain was on its knees being bombed by night and bombed by day by the German air force. as my father and uncle have said on so many occasions, if it wasn’t for the Americans shipping us arms, food and other items to keep our war effort going, we wouldn’t have pulled through.

“That really got me to thinking that I really must do something about this, and 17 years later here I am in the States trying to conclude the research.” Vear, through years of extensive detective work, eventually discovered that five soldiers from the 313 Fighter Squadron died July 2, 1944. The plane, a UC-78 Cessna “Bobcat” utility aircraft assigned to the 50th Fighter Group, 9th Air Force, crashed 10 minutes before it reached the airfield because of bad weather and structural failure of the right wing. The plane departed Carentan, Normandy, France, at 11 a.m. that day for a base at Chilbolton, Hampshire, England, to collect spare parts for the Fighter Group’s P47 Thunderbolt aircraft.

Bryan, and Norman H. Nelson of Fargo, N.D., had been promoted to captain the day before and had been given five days of liberty. Others who died were Lt. Duran F. Quinn of Elizabeth, La.; Lt. Walter Hayes of Fort Wayne, Ind.; and Lt. Dale Francis of Erie, Pa.

Hayes was pilot; Bryan was co-pilot. Bryan had been the 50th Fighter Group’s first pilot credited with shooting down an enemy aircraft, a Messerschmitt 109 on June 7, 1944, the day after the Normandy Invasion. The unit history records that he was decorated with the Air Medal that month.

Cameron Librarian Mary Amerson and her staff are helping Vear track down Bryan’s relatives. Vear and Dr. Wridley A Fontenot, Allen Parish Libraries archivist in Oberlin, La., visited the cemetery Thursday morning ……

According to accounts, Bryan may have a sister and uncle living in Cameron. His widow, Ellen S. Bryan, reportedly has re-married and is living in Austin. Bryan is listed on Milam County’s war dead memorial on the courthouse square.

Bryan’s body was moved from England to Cameron in 1949, and he was laid to rest in the family plot next to his father, John Bryan, World War I veteran. ……….

“I think both Wridley and I have become celebrities overnight, but as far as I’m really concerned, this is about the airmen,” Vear said. “It revolves around them and the sacrifices they gave. They sure shouldn’t be forgotten,” he said. “It brings quite a wide range of young men from different parts of the U.S. who came to Britain, went over to France and lost their lives under tragic circumstances. This is one of the reasons I have not let go of it.”

*(The term soldiers refers to the fact that the airmen were part of the U.S. Army during WWII)

Temple Daily Telegram, (Temple, Texas) dated Friday, October 10, 1997 found on page 1 and 12A