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Special centenary ceremony held to recall victims of RAF accident

Guests have attended a special memorial service at Oving, near Chichester.


A centennial memorial service was held to honour the three airmen from 92 Squadron RAF killed in a flying accident.


On April 7, 1918, just a week after the formation of the Royal Air Force, two aircraft, a single seat Sopwith Pup fighter and a two-seat Avro 504K trainer from 92 Squadron, collided in mid-air over the flying station at Tangmere.


Fatal training accidents in the Second World War were not unusual.


At the time of the accident, the RFC/RNAS had suffered 14,000 plus fatalities of which 8,000, well over half, occurred in training.


In the First World War, training had been more dangerous than combat.


The Sopwith Pup was being flown by an American pilot, 2nd Lt Victor Raleigh Craigie, from Boston, Massachusetts. He is buried in St Andrew’s Churchyard, in Oving, alongside one of the pilots of the other aircraft, Captain Norman England from Streatham in London.


The third pilot, 2nd Lt Clifford Hackman, who was also remembered on Saturday, was from Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, where he is also buried.


The Lord Lieutenant of West Sussex, Susan Pyper, attended the service. She said: “I think it’s so important for all of us, including our younger people in the cadets who have turned out today.


“It’s so important that we don’t forget and we learn from the past. We must never forget those who gave their lives for our freedom.”


Caroline Nicholls, the High Sheriff of West Sussex, said: “I think it’s critically important to be here. Not only to remember those who gave so much 100 years ago but also for younger people to see the sacrifices that were made.”


As part of the RAF 100 programme this year, the Bognor Regis RAF Association branch held the memorial service at St Andrew’s Church together with 92 Squadron, its association and the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum.


It consisted of a party of standard bearers and a guard of honour of cadets. The opening prayers were led by the Rev Brian Shersby, chaplain of the RAFA’s 381 and 2351 Squadrons.


His address to the gathered guests was followed by the exhortation, the last post, a time to reflect, the RAFA dedication, reveille and the national anthem.


A flypast of representative First World War aircraft flown by 92 Squadron followed the service.


Chichester MP Gillian Keegan said: “It’s the year of celebrating the RAF’s 100 years so there’s a big focus on the RAF and I think this story is really quite poignant, to be so young and to be training. People hadn’t been flying that long and planes were all very new.


“To die so tragically in a training accident just before the war ended is very poignant. I think it’s great that we remember these occasions and we do it so well.


“Organising all this, here in the churchyard in Oving to remember three pilots who died 100 years ago is a special thing to do.”

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