Tragic Fife airman's belongings returned to relatives - 77 years after plane crash

A family in England are hoping to return a Kirkcaldy airman’s belongings to his relatives – 77 years after his death.

Air Gunner Sgt. Thomas Clelland, from Dysart, was one of a crew of six killed when their Halifax bomber crashed into cottages in the village of Darrington, near Pontefract, while on a training exercise on September 18, 1943.

Sgt Clelland was just 19 years old.

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He was on a night time training exercise from Riccall Airfield near York to Lands End when the Halifax BB245 bomber aircraft clipped trees before crashing into the village.

Keith and Dianne Corner with the helmet and goggles they believe belonged to Sgt Clelland from Dysart.
Keith and Dianne Corner with the helmet and goggles they believe belonged to Sgt Clelland from Dysart.

Two years ago, an appeal in the Fife Free Press newspaper was made to trace his descendants as villagers in Darrington planned to commemorate the tragic events with the unveiling of a plaque as part of a permanent memorial.

Sgt Clelland’s nephew was located and the family were able to finally honour the young airman.

Now, another family in England is also looking to track down those same relatives as they believe they have items which belonged to him, and want to return them.

Dianne and Keith Corner, who live near Gainford, came across a number of aircraft artefacts when they were clearing out the attic of Dianne’s father, John Yarker, who is an aircraft historian.

On closer inspection, the name SG T CLELLAND can be seen written on the goggles.

Keith explained: “My wife’s father served in the RAF, leading to him investigating numerous crash sites - generally, ones which had occurred during the Second World War.“He did always seek permission from the Ministry of Defence prior to any excavation and we can’t be sure whether Darrington was ever one of the places.“He is now in a care home suffering with dementia and we need to sell his house. The attic was filled with artefacts from several digs and numerous types of aircraft.“Two things we came across were a leather flying helmet along with some flying goggles.

“They have a name written on them, which looks like Sg T Clelland.“We can’t be fully sure that these goggles relate to this incident, but it does seem very coincidental. As the items relate to a name, we think they are personal and deserve to be rightfully returned to his family.”

Dianne continued: “Dad originally lived in Harrogate with family still living there, this. It is about about 29 miles from Darrington and the crash site, so there is a good possibility that he has visited it at some stage.

Air Gunner Sgt Thomas Clelland from Dysart who was just 19 when he was killed.

“We believe these items belonged to Sgt Thomas Clelland. It is to much of a coincidence they have the same name, and come from the era and especially with dad doing the history on crash sites.

"The helmet, we found with them has a design used between 1941 and 1944, so it would all fit in with the time of the accident.

“We think that it should be the relatives decision, whether they choose to keep them as a reminder and allow the story to live on within the family, or choose if they would prefer for them to go to a war museum.

"Either way we can send them wherever is required.”

The grave of Dysart airman Thomas Clelland.

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