A World War Two veteran is set to open a new art exhibition at Kersey Church celebrating the building’s fascinating wartime history as a ‘guiding light’ for pilots returning home.
During the war, St Mary’s Church was lit up by powerful searchlights to act as a beacon for planes flying back to Britain from bombing raids.
Doug Vince, 98, who is a member of the church, was a flight engineer onboard a Stirling heavy bomber which was severely damaged after being shot at on its way home following a raid in 1944.
As the pilot caught a glimpse of Kersey Church and aimed for the nearest landing strip, Mr Vince desperately fought a raging fire on board as his friend Mick McGovern was trapped in the rear gunner seat. Mick sadly died in the incident and Mr Vince suffered severe burns to his hand, but the rest of the crew survived the landing, against all odds.
The church is marking Remembrance Sunday with a month-long art exhibition celebrating the vital role the building played during the war.
It was originally planned that 89 ceramic and copper doves, one each to mark those on the church’s role of honour, were to be suspended from the ceiling, lit up by a searchlights to represent the church’s role as a home beacon. But on discovering Mr Vince’s incredible story, a 90th dove has been created in silver and ceramic in honour of his fallen friend Mick.
Mr Vince said he was approaching home, on just his second bombing raid, when their plane was shot at.
“You had to be brave to fly in a Stirling,” he said. “I didn’t see the Kersey Church beacon myself. As a flight engineer, you were there for six hours on a flight, sitting behind the wireless operator seat. We were shot at as we were coming into land, in the funnel as we called it. We landed on fire. I grabbed a fire extinguisher to put out the fire, but it was red hot and burned my hand. This art exhibition brings it all back. It is important to remember the brave men who died - but I must say I don’t wish to remember everything myself.”
Due to the new Coronavirus lockdown, the official opening of the exhibition will now be broadcast live on the church’s website on Sunday 8 November from 10.45am. It will include a pre-recorded clip of Mr Vince receiving the commemorative dove.
The Revd Jackson Crompton-Battersby, from the church, said: “Kersey Church was a guiding light for those brave airmen coming home – the white cliffs of Dover for Suffolk. Thousands and thousands of pilots used the church to guide them, so much so it was known as the ‘Thank God’ church. It was a beacon of hope for air crews.”
After the war, Mr Vince become part of the Guinea Pig Club, volunteering to undergo pioneering reconstructive plastic surgery to repair his injured hand.
The Remembrance Sunday service will be broadcast live at www.kind.church
Photo: The Revd Jackson Crompton-Battersby, Doug Vince and his cousin Elizabeth King. Credit: PROMINENT
Remembrance | weblink
Story in the East Anglian Daily Times | weblink