Lancaster Bomber L7578

This article is an edited version of a school history project researched and written by Tom Wilson whose grandmother, Mrs Margaret Whiteside, lived in Thurgarton. 

On the evening of the 28th May 1944, Cyril Sneath, a local builder, left his home at Thurgarton just before 9pm for duty as ARP warden at the Air Raid Precautions unit based at The White House in Goverton. They had been alerted that evening to night time training flights from Syerston airfield which lay a mere 2 miles south just beyond the Trent. Shortly after coming on duty the four man unit heard a plane ‘dying’ over towards Thurgarton.

In Thurgarton men in the local pubs also heard a plane in distress and rushed out just in time to hear a huge explosion followed by a column of black smoke. A mile to the west people in the hamlet of Gonalston raced to the crash site a few fields  above Glebe Farm. The scene was one of devastation with a huge blaze, black smoke and the wreckage of the airplane scattered over the field. First on the scene were two local lads on bicycles (their sister Mrs Alan Yates still lives at Glebe Farm) and what they saw and heard that night gave them nightmares for many weeks afterwards. A few moments later the ARP unit  arrived but nothing could be done for the seven man aircrew – all had perished on impact.

The Aircrew

The plane was a Lancaster bomber manned by seven young airmen from Britain and Canada:-

Pilot Officer George Benjamin Sanderson. Royal Canadian Air Force

Sergeant James Graham Middlemas of Galashiels, age 19.  Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

Pilot Officer Archibald Thomas Noble (Air Bomber) of High River, Alberta, age 28.  Royal Canadian Air Force.

Sergeant Bernard Broe (Air Gunner and Wireless Operator) of New Mills, Derbys, age 22. Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

Sergeant Dereck Nicholls (Air Gunner) of Sonning Common, Oxfordshire, age 19. Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

Sergeant Albert Dennis Clark (Navigator) of Sheffield, age 28. Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

Flight Sergeant Dennis Wright (Air Gunner) of Toronto, age 20. Royal Canadian Air Force.

The plane, Lancaster bomber number L7578

The plane, Lancaster bomber number L7578

Lancaster L7578 was originally built in 1940 as a Manchester bomber by A. V. Roe of Newton Heath and later modified to a Lancaster type. It had been part of 5 Group serving in Squadrons 97, 207, 83, and later in Conversion Units 1654 and 1668 until finally being employed in the No. 5 Lancaster Finishing School based in 1944 at Syerston Airfield.

The Lancaster bomber was the main workhorse of  Bomber Command in World War 2 and suffered a high attrition rate. In 1944 most new aircrews at Syerston trained on Stirlings or Halifaxes before gaining a few weeks experience flying Lancasters at the Finishing School.

The Crash

We do not know the cause of L7578’s crash. It was an old aircraft flown by a relatively inexperienced crew but one report raises the possibility that a parachute harness became entangled in the plane’s controls on climbing from Syerston.

Map with Syerston airport, crash site (red arrow), ARP unit and probable route of flight (blue line)

Witnesses to the plane’s final moments described it veering away from the villages of Bleasby and Thurgarton shortly after take off ; they believed the pilot knew that a crash landing was unavoidable and headed for open fields.  Just before impact the plane took off the top of an oak tree in the field hedge.

Oak tree today


The seven airmen were buried in adjacent plots at Newark Cemetery and their graves are tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

James Graham Middlemas (by kind permission of David Willey)

A few years after WW2 the parents of James Middlemas erected a memorial stone to their son and his fellow crewmen. It stands on the edge of the field just 30 yards from the crash site.

6 thoughts on “Lancaster Bomber L7578

  1. The pilot, Mr. Sanderson, was my mother’s brother. Sadly, we bade farewell to her, Mabel May Sanderson McKenzie, on June 22, 1998 – her 82nd birthday. Thank you for keeping my uncle’s memory alive. Gratefully, Marie.

    • Dear Marie, a memorial service is being planned to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Lancaster’s crash at Gonalston. If you, or anyone you know, would like to attend or send a message in lieu, please let me kn ow. Thank you, Helen Nall 0115 966 3634 / 07989 322815

  2. Sergeant Bernard Broe was my husbands uncle, have just started researching into this, thankyou for this information, kind regards Suzanne

  3. We will shortly be placing a page of remembrance to this crew on the Aircrew Remembered Website.
    If anyone has photos of the crew would appreciate hearing from you?

  4. A close family friend Betty has very fond memories of SGT Graham Middlemas and his family who lived in Galashiels. Graham and Betty spent the night dancing in Newark the night before his tragic death. The actual Lancaster L7578 that crashed was quite famous, it was used by John Nettleton VC for training prior to the Augsburg Raid. and there are lots of photos of it, it was coded KM-B.
    We were kindly invited by Mr Liell Francklyn the landowner at Gonaldston to visit the memorial erected by Mr and Mrs Middlemas to their son and the crew of L7578 which brought back happy and sad memories for Betty.

    Graham and Betty went together for some time until his death. Sadly Betty’s husband was killed also flying Lancaster ’s 2 weeks before the war ended.
    Betty tells me she really felt sorry for Graham’s father who was the manager of the playhouse in Galashields. When Mr. Middlemas was told about his only son’s death he caught a train from Galashield’s to Newark then a taxi to Syerston, but the RAF would not tell him how his son had died and where they had crashed. Mr. Middlemas under his own steam had to go around some of the pubs in the area and ask for information about his son’s death he finally received the information he wanted in The Elm Tree at Hoveringham. When he arrived at the field where Graham had crashed the RAF police turned him away. The Francklyns who owned the land made friends with Mr. Middlemas and every New Years Eve he came to Newark and sat by his son’s grave at Newark

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