The last Flight of Halifax EB134 – Tuam

On the evening of 7th November 1943 Halifax – EB134 set off on a training flight from Rufforth air field in North Yorkshire. This was a duel purpose flight, the pilot and crew had been experienced in flying twin engine air craft and now they had to train and become familiar in the four engine Halifax. They also had to train how to defend against a night attack by enemy fighter planes. A triangular route had been mapped out for them starting and finishing at Rufforth. The mission was planned to have a duration of 6 hours and fifteen minutes. As with such flights the plane carried an extra hour’s fuel supply to allow for unexpected problems such as adverse weather conditions.


        Aboard the plane were seven crew members as listed on this memorial plaque. The eldest was only 22 years of age, the youngest 20 years, not all that much older than some of the pupils from Lavally school who are here with us today. When the training exercise was completed and the plane prepared to land at its base the crew were informed that two other Halifax planes had crashed on the run way at Rufforth. They were instructed by radio from ground control to divert to the nearby air field at Marston Moor only five miles away. This was the last contact with Halifax EB 134. We must bear in mind that control staff were also young and in-experienced; instruments, including radios in the aircraft were primitive by today’s standards. The planes used for training purposes may not have been up to the required standard for normal active service. Today we are familiar with commercial planes being returned to base and grounded for a simple matter like a faulty warning light. It 1943 there was a war to be fought, planes had to be kept in the air, crews had to be trained to fly them, often in the most difficult of conditions.

   On Lough Erne in my home county of Fermanagh there were at least six flying boat crashes while on training exercises. The two books, “Hell on High Ground” by David Earl record the stories of a surprisingly high number of crashes by planes on training exercises in England, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man.


     Late on the night of Sunday 7th November personnel of the Local Defence Force who were manning a Look-Out Post at Flathead in Cork on the south coast of Ireland heard an air craft pass over head. These men were so well trained and experienced that they could identify most planes by the engine sound. They would know the make of plane and its country of origin. Their records show that the plane they heard was a Halifax. A short time later a plane was heard by local people circling over Tuam and Lavally. Visibility was reasonable, as eye witnesses could actually see the plane as it circled low over head. Just shortly before midnight the plane crashed into an ancient Ring Fort near Lavally Lake. It was taken that the pilot was circling around to use up as much fuel as possible and that he intended to ditch the plane in Lavally Lake. Local people rushed to the scene but were unable to do anything to help the crew due to the intense heat from the burning wreckage.


   We can only imagine the state of mind of the Halifax crew, although they did not know it, they were completely off course; at least 240 miles from base: no radio contact and nothing to assist the navigator to get a fix on their position. Then, as now if investigators can place the blame on human error, they will do so. Of the many crashes that took place here in this part of Ireland and that I have researched there has been little or no evidence of pilot error or navigational error. Principal causes were faulty instruments, primitive by today’s standards, engine failure and poor or no visibility. In many cases another few feet of ground clearance would have enabled a pilot to make a safe crash landing. Sadly this was to be the case with Halifax EB 134 when seven brave young air men lost their lives. I would be perfectly satisfied that this crash was not in any way due to human error. This should put at ease the minds of relations of the crew who have joined us today. It is worth noting that during World War 2 there was at least one plane crash in each of the twenty six counties of the Irish Free State.


   Had the Halifax not flown north wards after being heard by the crew of the Cork Look-Out Post it would have crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. The records would show that the crew were lost in active service and that they had no known graves. When the Good Lord decided that the seven young men should die in Lavally, near Tuam in Co. Galway he ensured that they did not die alone. While it is not on record, we can be sure that in the traditional custom of Ireland, clergy were soon on the scene to render spiritual aid to the young men. We do know that they were prepared in Tuam with great respect for a Christian burial. A large number of the local community assembled in the traditional Irish way as the seven coffins were placed on trucks for an unknown destination. Transported with dignity to the border, at my home town of Belleek, handed over by the Irish Army, with full military honours to their comrades of the Royal Air Force. Four of the crew – three Australians and one Canadian – rest in peace in well tended graves in Irvinestown with over 80 young airmen who gave their lives that we may be free. The other three were returned to their families in England and Scotland. Over 64 years ago nobody would have foreseen that the good people of Lavally and Tuam would today honour the seven young men who died at the Ring Fort of Lavally.


     Early this year Anne Tierney and I visited the graves in Irvinestown of the young men that died here. In our own way we silently remembered them. Without the expertise and out standing research abilities of Anne Tierney assisted by Tony McHugh we would not be assembled here today in such great numbers


      Ring Forts in Irish folklore are said to be the homes of the Fairies, the Good People who live in Tir Na nOg, the Land of the Young, where nobody ever grows old. Perhaps it is significant that seven young men should die here in the month of November when the people of Ireland remember in a special way their dead. It is also the month when the dead of both World Wars are remembered. The words quoted at Remembrance Day services all over the world are appropriate today.


They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old,

Age shall not weary the; nor the years condemn them,

At the going down of the sun and in the evening

We will remember them.