Hero airman who crashed and died in Harleston remembered – 100 years on

Joseph Leo Philips is remembered in Harleston, 100 years on from his fatal aircrash. Photo: Ian Carstairs.
Joseph Leo Philips is remembered in Harleston, 100 years on from his fatal aircrash. Photo: Ian Carstairs.
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A Canadian airman, who died when his aircraft crashed in Harleston during the First World War, was remembered on the 100th anniversary of the incident.

Second Lieutenant Joseph Leo Phillips was taken to hospital when he came down in a field of standing corn on July 20, 1917. It was just his second solo flight.

The grave of Joseph Leo Philips at Earlham Road Cemetery, Norwich. Photo: Ian Carstairs.

The grave of Joseph Leo Philips at Earlham Road Cemetery, Norwich. Photo: Ian Carstairs.

The 21-year-old, a trainee pilot attached to the 25 Training Squadron based at Snarehill Aerodrome near Thetford, died at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital later that day.

Members of the community gathered to remember Phillips earlier this month.

Parts of the wreckage were obtained from the Flixton Aviation Museum, which were held by representatives of the Royal British Legion, Jimmy Keywood, the Royal Air Force Association, Herbert and Julie Websdell, and the Rev Nigel Tuffnell.

The Canadian flag, in which they were wrapped, was handed to town council chairman Barry Woods and clerk Lynda Ling, who draped it around the base of the memorial.

Holding the broken propeller-tip of Joseph’s aircraft propeller at his memorial in the field where he crashed and in which the propeller was broken, was a truly moving experience

Ian Carstairs, organiser

At his grave, in Earlham Road Cemetery, Norwich, parts of the aircraft, flowers and the oak leaves were laid over the Canadian flag on the ground, before flowers, wheat and leaves were placed in front of Phillips’ headstone.

Canadian flags and special designs for Joseph have also been flown in the town in his memory.

Mr Tuffnell said: “As the sun came up over the hill and behind the trees, it was hard to imagine the tragedy that happened here 100 years ago.

“It is, though, so easy to imagine a young man flying across the fields, full of life.

“In remembering Joseph Phillips, we are also remembering all such young lives cut short and the debt that we owe to so many.”

Mr Woods added: “Being Canadian born, it is touching to form a link between the British community and our Canadian brothers and sisters remembering this brave young man, who came to England to fight, and ultimately die for something he believed in.”

And Ian Carstairs, who helped organise the event, said: “Holding the broken propeller-tip of Joseph’s aircraft propeller at his memorial in the field where he crashed and in which the propeller was broken, was a truly moving experience.”

“We are indebted to the Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum for their kindness in allowing it to be brought to the memorial.”