Salute marks anniversary of Letchworth hero pilot’s crash death
- Credit: Archant
The sacrifice of a hero bomber pilot and his crew will be saluted in a tiny French cemetery this summer, 71 years after their plane crashed to earth.
Richard Picton was a reporter on the Hertfordshire Express, the forerunner of the Comet, and when war broke out he was studying journalism at university in London.
The former St Christopher School pupil, who grew up in Letchworth, joined the RAF and after being commissioned his first posting was as an instructor, passing on gliding skills.
But he wanted a frontline role in the Second World War, transferring to Bomber Command and flying Lancasters on raids over Europe.
He was involved in 24 mass raids, including operations over Berlin and Nuremburg, but on the night of April 11, 1944, his crew were heading home from a raid on one of the biggest rail depots in France when their plane was shot down. There were no survivors.
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The 24-year-old, who was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the rest of the seven-man crew died near Achiet-le-Petit in the Pas de Calais region.
Michel Lespagnol, who lives close to the village, contacted the Comet to see if any members of the pilot’s family wanted to join a tribute the village will be holding in honour of the men in June.
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Michel’s interest in the crew was sparked after his mother told him how she had seen a bomber shot down on that night.
The 58-year-old said: “She always told me about the plane and how shocked she was when it fell. I always felt I needed to learn this story.
“I was contacted by the mayor of Achiet-le-Petit who told me he wanted to start a project to pay tribute to another Lancaster which crashed in his village.
“I found a book about it and so from there I tried to reach family members of the crew.
“Last June I found two family members and I organised a tribute to them with other people from the village in the town hall.
“It was a very emotional moment – the family members meeting living witnesses of the fall.
“Achiet-le-Petit is just a small village with 320 inhabitants, and the aim of this tribute is just to remember all those who died during the wars, for those who gave their lives for our freedom.”
The ceremony will take place on June 6, the anniversary of the D-Day Normandy landings and the start of the liberation of France from Nazis occupation.
In the citation for his DFC, which was awarded with effect from the date of his death, Richard was described as a pilot captain who had completed “many successful operations against the enemy, in the course of which he has invariably displayed high skill, fortitude and devotion to duty.”