Bodies of Second World War airmen found an hour’s walk away from crash site

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Second World War airmen had their bodies moved an hour away from the site where they suffered a fatal crash, an inquest has heard.

The remains of Alfred Robert William Milne, an RAF officer, and Eric Stubbs, his navigator, both 22, were found on a remote farm by a family investigating a blocked septic tank in 2020, 76 years after their plane crashed during a “top secret” military mission.

Both men died when their Mosquito aircraft came down on hills near Bransdale, in the North York Moors, in October 1944.

The RAF sent a salvage crew to the crash site as the plane was carrying a prototype “Highball” bomb designed by Barnes Wallis, which was recovered without detonating.

But despite both men supposedly being buried with full military honours, their bones were found around an hour’s walk from the crash site in North Yorkshire in February 2020.

The discovery sparked a joint police and Ministry of Defence investigation and they were identified by forensic experts and DNA matches.

Bodies had been exposed to elements

There was evidence of impact injuries and discolouration from contact with a helmet or chinstrap. Fragments from a harness were located nearby, the inquest heard.

It was established that the bones had been moved from the original crash site and had been exposed to the elements for a prolonged period.

Dr Carl Harrison, a forensic archaeologist, confirmed that the remains were classed as a “secondary deposition” and had been moved from another place.

The plane was originally thought to have crashed when, flying in low visibility, the pilot spotted high ground too late.

But coroner Richard Watson heard a local farm worker nearby had witnessed the engines sputtering before the crash, suggesting a mechanical failure or shortage of fuel.

Ken Luck, then a young man, told Richard Allenby, a military historian, what he had seen when the Mosquito was destroyed on 11 October 1944, the inquest heard.

The bouncing bomb that it was carrying to a weapons exercise in Scotland bounced into Luck’s orchard, but did not detonate and the RAF later retrieved it.

Mr Watson concluded that a mechanical failure or fuel shortage had caused the crash and recorded a verdict of accidental death.

Milne and Stubbs

Alfred Milne was born in London in 1921 and worked as a post officer sorter before enlisting in 1941.

He was posted to Canada and rose through the ranks, eventually commissioning as a pilot officer and marrying his wife just a year before he died.

They had no children, but he was survived by his sister and nephews.

Eric Stubbs, born in 1922 in Guildford, was not married and “disappeared” from his family tree after the war when his sister also died childless.

He worked as a local government clerk before the war.

The inquest was attended by Joan and Nicola Stubbs, who are descended from a cousin.

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