On the evening of 22nd November 1942, 21 year old Flight Sergeant Eric Singleton sat in the cockpit of his Lancaster bomber, W4107, and gunned the 4 Merlin Rolls Royce engines. With a mighty roar they pulled the fully laden bomber into the night sky. With him were 6 other young men all on their second operational sortie – their target that night was the industrial city of Stuttgart in Germany. By 4am the next morning this beautiful machine lay wrecked in a field on Sark. So what is the story of this bomber, its crew and how it ended up on Sark?

The Story

Eric Singleton and his crew were members of 49 Squadron based at Scampton – later to become the home base for the famous “Dam Busters” . That night they took off with 6 other bombers from their squadron to join the bomber stream of over 200 aircraft heading for Stuttgart.

Ground haze and thin cloud over Stuttgart prevented the Pathfinders from locating the centre of the city. Despite this and with the help of a bright moon, Eric and his crew managed to pick up the river from the north and were able to gain good fixes. Arriving just after 22:00 hours the bombers began to pound the city.

After dropping their bombs Eric Singleton turned his aircraft to get clear when it was hit several times by flak.

Eric picks up the story:

After dropping our bombs, unfortunately before getting clear, the aircraft was shot at and received several direct hits. The starboard inner engine was on fire and there was fire in the fuselage… I thought we were going to have an explosion.

The situation was serious and deteriorating rapidly. Petrol was leaking from ruptured tanks and an incendiary bomb that had failed to drop and was hung up in the bomb bay, went off.

Skipper Eric Singleton ordered four of the crew to bail out immediately. The navigator, flight engineer, wireless op/air gunner and bomb aimer launched themselves from the burning bomber into the dark void over occupied Germany, 5 miles from Stuttgart.

Sibyl Hathaway, Dame of Sark, described what happened in her autobiography :

There was great excitement one night when a Lancaster bomber made a forced landing in a field near the Seigneurie. The plane circled round and we were awakened by the noise… the German patrol appeared in our drive, running madly in order to take a short cut through the field… we heard no shots, although Bishop [the farm bailiff] said he could hear English voices… later I got details from the German doctor who confided to me that the plane was returning from a raid on Stuttgart. The navigating instruments had been shot away and four of the crew had bailed out over France, leaving only the pilot and two others to land here. They were taken off next day to a prison in Germany.

Eric, however, decided to see just how far he could continue to fly the damaged aircraft. His two remaining crew, mid upper gunner Eddie Pope and rear gunner Les Saunders, stayed with him battling the fire. Their efforts were eventually rewarded when they succeeded in extinguishing the fuselage fire, and miraculously, a short time later, the engine fire went out.

Eric asked rear gunner Sergeant Saunders to act as navigator to try to get them home.

Several hours later, in bright moonlight, Eric thought they had reached the Isles of Scilly, the rear gunner however thought it was the Isle of Wight. Low on fuel, they HAD to make a landing and had to do it soon.

They approached from the south skimming over the chimneys of houses. Wheels up, Eric brought the huge bomber down onto its belly. It ploughed the length of one field, burst through a hedge and eventually came to rest in a second field.

They hadn’t landed on the Isles of Scilly or even the Isle of Wight. Sgt Singleton had in fact miraculously brought the heavy four engine bomber safely down on to the only suitable piece of ground on the Island of Sark. He later rather modestly described it as ‘very tight flying.

The remaining 3 crew climbed through the bomber’s top hatch, pleased to be alive and unhurt. However, five minutes later they were surprised by a group of soldiers shouting at them to put their hands up.

Eric later proclaimed :

I thought it was the Home Guard, but as they asked us to put up our hands, we realised they were Germans!

After being given hot coffee and cigarettes they were taken to Guernsey and later deported to Germany where they were to stay as prisoners of war with the rest of the crew, who had been captured after they’d bailed out over Germany, until the end of the war.

Post War

Half a century later, in September 1992, Sark’s Seigneur Michael Beaumont invited Eric Singleton back to the island under much less hostile conditions. After a tour of the island the party visited the place where W4107 had ‘landed’. But there was one more surprise to come…

As the press cameras were rolling and Eric was telling his remarkable story he heard a familiar sound. A Lancaster bomber that was due to take part in the Battle of Britain display in Guernsey the following day flew across Sark and made a pass over the field in his honour.

He later said that “it was the nicest thing that had ever happened to him“.

The 49 Squadron Lancaster was the only plane to land on the island during the war and the place in which it came down is still affectionately known by the islanders as ‘Aeroplane Field’.

The Crew of Lancaster W4107

First Names E J
Rank Flight Sergeant
Service Number 539435
PoW Camp(s) Stalags Luft 1, Luft 6, Luft 4
PoW Number 904
 Flight Engineer
First Names R A
Rank Sergeant
Service Number 576842
PoW Camp(s) Stalags Luft 1, Luft 6, Luft 4
PoW Number 912
First Names K C
Rank Sergeant
Service Number 1263894
PoW Camp(s) Stalags Luft 1, Luft 6, Luft 4
PoW Number 876
 Wireless Op/Air Gunner
First Names A G
Rank A G
Service Number 1073261
PoW Camp(s) Stalags Luft 1, Luft 6, Luft 4
PoW Number 889
 Air Gunner
First Names Edward
Rank Sergeant
Service Number 1048603
PoW Camp(s) Stalag Luft 1
PoW Number 895
 Bomb Aimer
First Names D J
Rank Sergeant
Service Number 1376451
PoW Camp(s) Stalags Luft 1, Luft 6, Luft 4
PoW Number 886
 Air Gunner
First Names L W
Rank Sergeant
Service Number 1416688
PoW Camp(s) Stalag Luft 1
PoW Number 901