SEVENTY-FIVE years ago at 00.30 on June 7, 1944, 16 Lancasters from 106 Squadron RAF took off from Methringham in Lincolnshire and headed for Normandy.

Allied forces who had landed on the French coast less than 24 hours earlier had established a bridgehead and the squadron’s mission was intended to be of immediate support.

The object of the attack was the destruction of two bridges at Caen to delay enemy reinforcements reaching the battle area.

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Aboard Lancaster ND680 ZN-P, piloted by Squadron-Leader Eric Sprawson, the rear gunner Sgt Ted Wiggins from Wantage watched as the lights from the airfield disappeared into the distance.

It was the last time he would see the UK.

Sgt Edward Ernest James Wiggins (known as Ted) was 22 and the son of Ernest and Grace Wiggins of 74 Orchard Way Wantage.

His father was a motor mechanic and Ted had a sister Phyllis.

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After attending the CofE school in Church Street, Ted Wiggins found work at the International Stores in the Market Place where his parents worked.

Ted Wiggins joined the Royal Air Force in 1943 and qualified as an Air Gunner on July 10, 1943.

After further training at no 16 OTU at Upper Heyford, and 1661 Heavy Conversion Unit, he arrived at 106 Squadron RAF at Methringham in February 1944.

During this period he had joined the crew of Squadron-leader Eric Sprawson which also included Sgt K Anderton F/O R C Barker, F/O E L Hogg, Sgt W D Low and P/O PS Arnold.

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Over the next three months, Squadron Leader Sprawson and his crew went on a variety of missions bombing targets at Schwienfurt, Augsburg and Stuttgart in Germany and others at Tours and Maisy in France.

The flight to the target in Normandy was uneventful and the crew of Lancaster ND680 had been briefed to be over the target at 02.45 hours.

As the Lancaster was running up to bomb the target at 4,500ft, both gunners warned the pilot to 'cockscrew port' and Sprawson saw blue and white tracer going past the cockpit which seemed to come from behind the aircraft.

He started to turn but found the controls abnormal, then realised the port engine on the Lancaster was on fire.

An attempt was made to put the fire out but to no avail and with the aircraft in a slight dive, Sprawson gave the order to bail out.

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Seeing three of the crew go past him for the exit, the pilot was satisfied the intercom was working, but just in case called the gunners twice but received no reply.

Assuming they had received the message, Squadron Leader Sprawson parachuted out, seeing the burning aircraft on the ground during his descent.

Of those who escaped from the Lancaster that night, three (Sprawson, Barker, and Hogg) managed to evade capture and were hidden by local people until Caen was liberated in July.

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Sgts Low and Anderton were taken prisoner. Sadly the two gunners, Philip Arnold and Ted Wiggins were never found and are presumed to have perished with the aircraft.

In Wantage Ted’s parents received the news that he was missing believed killed. Sgt Wiggins’s name is now inscribed on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede.

In 2000, the British Government received from the Russian Government various documents and personal possessions that the Russian army had seized at the end of the war on occupying Berlin.

Amongst the items returned were Ted Wiggins two dog tags. How they got to Berlin is not known.