Crags Memorial

PP Roger outlined how memorial was the realisation of a dream of PP Andrew Coffey.  Andrew was aware of the plane wreck from his diving days, and in 2002 Andrew started the chain of events which finally led to the acknowledgement of the passing of the four airmen. Roger acknowledged the contribution of PDG Ray Welsford and Andrew to the event, as well as ex Rotarian Bernie Farley.

Many Rotarians rated this event as one of the best the club had ever done. It was the first time the families had met. One of the families had previously not known where the plane had crashed.

Below is an article published in Warrnambool Standard and  a letter received from Craig Baulderstone

The Crags memorial brings closure for families of air crew lost in 1944 crash

A STRIKING memorial has brought closure for the families of four airmen who died in a crash off Lady Julia Percy Island during World War II.
The stone monument, unveiled at The Crags west of Port Fairy on Saturday, features a scale replica of an Avro Anson aircraft which the men were flying in on February 15, 1944.
The bodies of the RAAF aviators — flight sergeants James MacLellan and Dennis Baulderstone and leading aircraftmen Norman Kruck and Brian Ladyman — were never recovered and the remains of the plane still lie in the ocean at the base of a cliff.
The men had been based at Mount Gambier, supporting air observers and carrying out training missions along the coastline.
The crash was a tightly kept secret, hidden in the war files, and the airmen were never given a burial service or recognised in any way. Family members were not formally notified of the men’s death until nearly eight months later.
That all changed when East Warrnambool Rotary Club member Andrew Coffey, an abalone diver, became aware of the wreckage and led a movement to have the lost men honoured.
About 50 of their relatives gathered for the dedication service, where Air Force Group Captain Terence Deeth asked them to look across to Lady Julia Percy and “be mindful of the great loss of these men and the loved ones that suffered”.
Captain Deeth said it was only due to the dedication and work of Rotary members that all four families were able to gather together for a final farewell.
Aircraftman MacLellan’s daughter Ann Sorensen was just two days short of her first birthday when her father died.
“I heard so many stories when I was little. I spent my childhood hoping he would ride up on a white charger and rescue me,” Mrs Sorensen said.
Aircraftman Ladyman’s sister Elizabeth Hastings, who travelled from Western Australia with her family, described the day as “fantastic”.
Mrs Hastings said her family was emotionally unable to speak about the loss of her brother until one of her nephews, Bill Ladyman, began asking questions.
Mr Ladyman, who also attended Saturday’s dedication, was just six years old when he noticed the initials “BCL” carved into the door of the family farm’s chaff shed. His father revealed the letters were placed there by his brother, Brian Carter Ladyman, who had died in the war. Craig Baulderstone, nephew of flight sergeant Dennis Baulderstone, said his uncle signed up for the airforce at the age of 20 and worked his way through the ranks. He spent his tour of active service in Hudson bombers out of Darwin.
He survived and spent 40 days on leave with his family in the summer of 1943-44. After a tour it was compulsory to spend at least six months in a training role and he took up his position at the air observers school in Mount Gambier.
He was killed in the mysterious crash in his first week in the new role and only a few days off his 23rd birthday.
“Dennis’ mum Beatrice was convinced he would come home,” Mr Baulderstone said.
“She always thought he had been captured by a Japanese sub and one day he would walk in through the back door.”
The monument, made from locally quarried bluestone, was donated by Michael and Cheryl Steel and sculpted and erected by Bamstone of Port Fairy. Stonemason Ian Knowles spent 100 hours cutting and hand finishing the sculpture.
“We wanted it to be significant and the design (of a banking plane) does that in two ways. Number one, it means it’s coming home, so there’s some closure for the families. Number two, if you are being rescued, a plane will tilt its wing to acknowledge it has spotted you.”

Letter from Craig Baulderstone

I wasn't sure how to say thankyou and express the level of gratitude i have for the ceremony on Saturday, to you and the other Warrnambool Rotary people. I was truly amazed at the extent of your efforts to honour these men. As much as anything to me it was the funeral Dennis never got, so just as we handed out pictures of my Dad at his funeral, I have attached the photos i have and the words i had on the table in the hall. Below i have also reflected on the weekend.
I guess I have lived my whole life with the stories about Dennis and the mystery associated with it. The announcement of the monument has been a great trigger to delve deeper into the history and that in itself has been a great journey and I have learnt so much. Sharing this with family and then seeing so many family members that i have generally lost touch with was great, and to be honest I was surprised to find just how interested they also were. So it was also a great family reunion.
I had been so busy with research that I suppose I haven't stopped to have expectations of what this event might be like. We pulled into Yambuk, having driven from Adelaide, and thought, "now to find the hall". As we turned the bend, cars everywhere, rotarians guiding cars into parks, huge great buses - it wasn't hard to find!
We met some of the people who have dedicated so much of their time to this memorial. We met family we haven't seen for many years, all having heard stories from Dennis' brothers and sisters as they grew up, all just memories though with that generation of family all passed now. Gone the chance to question details, like I had of my dad for many years. And yet from records and first hand accounts of people I met that day, I think we understand more than any of those or his parents ever did.
In silence of the bus trip, watching my 8 and 10 yo boys playing with their cousins, 6 boys in all under the age of 10, thinking how WW1 or 2 would have impacted a family like ours. Baulderstone cousins fought in both wars, with loss of life in both. What a tragedy and yet I still want my boys to fight for what is right, don't stand by and watch injustice, don't subscribe to what seems to be the common 'me generation' - why would I get involved if I don't have to. Of course ‘king and country’ doesn’t mean much to me but perhaps that in reality means the same as ‘our collective lifestyle we live in Australia’.
Then on the bus the first waves of emotion about the ceremony that hit me, that this huge number of people here to honour these men and my Uncle, I was just wishing my Dad could see this – he was always so proud of Dennis. Then as I got off the bus, the monument, the military representatives, the tents, all these chairs - and it hit me, this is Dennis' funeral, the only funeral he ever had. We are the only family left now to attend and honour him. What a shame that only one person who agonised at the time with the loss of these men was alive to be there - LAC Ladyman's sister - and I was so inspired by her reaction that sent a chill up my spine - "yes" she shouted as she threw her hands in the air - it was like she was saying "at last he is recognised, at last he is put to rest." I feel the same way, but I hadn't met Dennis to directly grieve his loss and the mystery of never finding a body, always hoping as my Grandmother would say "one day he is going to walk in that door" believing the Japanese had captured him in a submarine.  I guess it was easier for her to believe that than that after all the dangers of his active service up north, that he was now gone in a relatively safe training role.
But as was mentioned in the ceremony, the war effort is like one big machine and every effort combines to make it effective. You don’t get good pilots and navigators unless they are trained and there is always a risk with flying as so many training accidents demonstrated.
And the ‘wake’ as I saw it afterwards had a familiar feel to it – people sharing their stories, meeting other friends and relatives all with the one common aim, paying their respects and honouring the memory as this one big group.
On the Sunday, our family organized to be taken out to the island by a long term local fisherman that had helped divers recover a propeller of the plane in the late 60’s, that they had found while abalone diving.  There was this strange sort of comfort in seeing exactly where the wreckage had landed, being in the same location, being able to picture them struggling to land and being so close but obviously something going wrong. But visualising all this, at the location, somehow made it all that much easier, made more sense, I could put to rest so many ‘what ifs’ that were running through my head while researching it. If only I could take my dad or better my Nana there. But at least we have done this and somehow I just feel all the better for doing it - it all seems so right somehow. Like Ladyman’s sister, there is some relief like we have finished something that should have been done years ago. I’m not religious, but if there spirits are there I am sure all four men will rest easier and that would have to appreciate the respect shown to them.
But this would never have happened if it wasn’t for Warrnambool Rotary and I don’t know how to do justice to the level of gratitude I have. Sometimes you just have to say thank you and leave it at that.
You are the only ones i have email for, so please pass on our gratitude to others.