Those of you who have walked on Reigate Hill may have noticed a memorial dedicated to the memory of nine USAAF crew who were tragically killed when their plane, a B-17(G), crashed into the hill on the evening of Monday 19 March 1945. The crew, from the 384th Bombardment Group were returning to their base at Grafton Underwood in Northamptonshire after an operation near the German/Czech border.
Far from ideal flying conditions
Cloud had dogged the crew following take off some nine hours earlier and near Reigate, they entered another cloud bank. Moments later, their aircraft crashed into Reigate Hill killing all those on board.
This was the crew’s thirteenth mission together - although some had flown missions with other crews. As far as research can determine this mission was their first in this particular aircraft.
The Officers on board
There were three officers on board the flight and all were Army Air Corps Second Lieutenants - Pilot Robert Stanley Griffin, Co-Pilot Herbert Seymour Geller and Navigator Royal A. Runyon who came from California, Michigan and Hancock County, Illinois. Geller, a student at university, had enlisted on 21 November 1942 in Detroit. At just three months short of 25, Griffin was the oldest officer on board.
Staff Sergeant Robert Manbeck
Staff Sergeant Robert Manbeck was the tail gunner. Two years after joining the army in November 1942, Sergeant Manbeck had completed more than 50 missions, volunteering for a second tour.
Sergeant Donald W. Jeffrey
Donald W. Jeffrey, the aircraft's togglier would have dropped the 10 five hundred-pound bombs.
Sergeant Philip J. Phillips JR
The Radio Operator Philip J. Phillips JR was living in Nassau County New York (on Long Island) when he decided to enlist. He was trained as the aircraft's medic.
Sergeant Robert F. Marshall
Flight Engineer and Top Turret gunner Robert F. Marshall had enlisted in Milwaukee where he was a factory foreman. In the event of an emergency he would have used his basic flying skills to fly the aircraft.
Sergeant William R. Irons
William R. Irons came from Massachusetts. He would have been small enough to fit inside the ball-turret and hang outside and underneath the aircraft.
Sergeant Thomas J. Hickey
Waist Gunner Sgt Thomas J. Hickey was the most highly decorated of the crew, having been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He lived in King's County, New York City and had been an office messenger.
How we remember these men
An opening in the woodland on Reigate Hill marks the spot where the plane crashed. A memorial sculpture at the accident site was dedicated to the airmen on the 70th anniversary of the crash and was created by sculptor Roger Day. Made of ancient Surrey oak, the two pieces of the memorial are spaced the same distance apart as the aircraft's wing tips, and are made to the exact dimensions. Buried deep in the sculpture is molten metal, recovered from the crash site and now forming part of the memorial itself.