Search for relatives of Wantage soldier who died in Norway plane crash

Herald Series: Norwegian policeman Gunnar Foseid hopes to trace relatives of Sjt Herbert Woodward Norwegian policeman Gunnar Foseid hopes to trace relatives of Sjt Herbert Woodward

ON MAY 10, 1945, two days after VE Day, Herbert Woodward climbed aboard an RAF plane on a mission to bring peace to German-occupied Norway.

But he was never able to complete his assignment, as Short Stirling LK297 crashed into a hill called Andtjernåsen, in southern Norway, killing all 24 men on board.

Now a Norwegian policeman has set himself the task of tracing as many of their relatives as he can, to invite them to a commemoration next year.

Serjeant [the correct Light Infantry spelling] Woodward, 29, from Wantage, of the 2nd (Airborne) Battalion of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, had survived bitter fighting at the Battle of Arnhem in Holland the previous September.

He and fellow members of the British 1st Airborne Division were then assigned to join Operation Doomsday, to take control of Norway after Nazi Germany surrendered.

LK297 had taken off from Great Dunmow, in Essex, at 3.55am but by the time it reached its destination, thick cloud and rain was blanketing southern Norway.

Many British planes turned for home, but LK297 flew on, trying to find Gardermoen airfield, now Oslo’s airport, but crashed and caught fire.

The wreckage was not found until June 21 and the soldiers and aircrew were buried at Oslo’s Western Cemetery. A memorial stone was placed at the crash scene in 1989.

Gunnar Foseid, 38, a chief inspector in the Norwegian police, is one of the organisers of the memorial event.

A former soldier himself, Mr Foseid said: “The story about these soldiers who died trying to liberate my country made a really deep impression on me.

“They made it through the war — bomb raids, supply drops, battles like Arnhem, and then they lost their life on overtime. How unfair.”

He added: “The sacrifice for peace and the importance of maintaining peace must never be forgotten.”

Mr Foseid was in charge of research earlier this year to trace relatives of 20 men who died when another Short Stirling, LK147, crashed on the same day as LK297, just a mile from Gardermoen.

He made contact with 40 relatives of 16 of the men.

Daughters, sisters, nephews, nieces and grandchildren travelled to Norway for a memorial ceremony held on May 12.

Jim Sibbald, chairman of the Wantage Royal British Legion, said: “As we draw close to Remembrance Sunday, it’s fitting that we remember those from Wantage who gave their lives in past and recent conflicts.

“It’s particularly poignant that Serjeant Woodward was one of the last losses during the war.”

Sjt Woodward was the son of Albert Joseph and Mary Ann Woodward and husband of Doris Woodward. He had three sisters, Violet Keziah Emily (born in 1907), Harriet (b. 1909) and Anne Rosetta (b.1910).

Wendy Archer, of the Oxfordshire Family History Society, said: “I have heard of these sort of reunions happening and it seems like a great idea.

“People can go and look back at the parish registers for Wantage which are held in the Berkshire record office in Reading.”

Do you know anything about Serjeant Woodward or are you related to him? Please email phughes@oxfordmail.co.uk

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