At the end of 1943, mid point in the phase of the Royal Air Force Bomber Command activity known as the ‘Battle of Berlin’ it was decided that No.4 Group, whose headquarters were at Heslington Hall near York, should be expanded and strengthened by the creation of a new squadron, to operate from Burn. A large area of farmland was commandeered and the village which lies three miles south of Selby in North Yorkshire, was rudely disturbed when huge earth moving equipment arrived to commence airfield construction.
Designated 578 Squadron and equipped with Halifax B MkIII heavy bombers, the task of recruiting, training and implementing orders designed to weaken the enemy, was entrusted to Wing Commander D S S Wilkerson DSO.,DFC. The Squadron became fully operational on 20 January 1944 when he led an attack on Berlin.
During the following fourteen months of operation 578 Squadron flew 2,722 sorties against numerous and strongly defended targets. 219 aircrew members, all volunteers, of which 186 were from the United Kingdom, 21 from Canada, 9 from Australia, 2 from New Zealand and 1 from Poland, were killed and many others suffered wounds. 79 were taken prisoners of war, 13 evaded capture. 45 aircraft were destroyed on active service.
Few operational Squadrons can have exceeded the record of 578 in so short a period, during which aircrews earned 82 Distinguished Flying Medals, 143 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 3 Distinguished Service Orders, one Silver Star for Gallantry (USA) and the ultimate recognition for valour, the Victoria Cross, awarded posthumously to Pilot Officer C J Barton, the only Halifax Bomber pilot to be so honoured.
In March 1944, with the task well and truly completed, the 578 Squadron was disbanded.
Such was the spirit of camaraderie and mutual respect which had been created within itself and the local community that the 578 Burn Association was formed to keep the memory alive. The first memorial was dedicated at Burn in 1991.
This coincided with work being undertaken by Hugh Cawdron to produce the biography of his late friend Wing Commander D S S Wilkerson who was killed in a flying accident shortly after leaving the Squadron in August 1944. At a 578 Burn Association meeting in Selby in 1993 it was suggested that Hugh should extend his book to welcome input from veterans, a proposition readily accepted. In return, Hugh offered to design and implement a programme of 578 related memorials to be financed from the proceeds of his book. This convenient arrangement enabled 578 Squadron memorials to be created at Carpenter’s Wood near Maidenhead, Selby Abbey and Burn Chapel with design assistance being made available for others.
The process of creating a memorial always requires thorough pre-research and sometimes, lengthy negotiation to obtain the necessary permission before the work can commence. That at Balkholme was achieved within months whereas Selby Abbey was carried out in three phases spread over twelve years.
Most of the memorials illustrated have utilised simple, readily available and economical materials, within the work capability of the designer, exceptions being specialist skilled operations such as galvanising, stainless steel fabrication and engraving, book binding and stone masonry.
None of the memorials would have been feasible without the goodwill and generosity of landowners and other donors.
Dedication of a memorial, whatever its size and wherever its placement is always to be remembered by those attending. The nostalgia generated by these occasions is special and stays in the mind especially, as has happened twice in Selby Abbey, names of the fallen were read out by their surviving comrades. Such events can also be the source of joy and celebration, such as occurred in 1998 when, after the Service of Remembrance in the Abbey, the 578 Burn Association invited the villagers of Burn to lunch and an afternoon of entertainment on the Airfield.
Finally, tribute is due to the pioneering work of the late C W ‘Chuck’ Adams DFM, intrepid rear gunner with 578 Squadron and subsequent author of the book ‘The Fourteen Months’ which continues to provide a valuable, first-hand reference to us all.
There are ten memorials dotted around the Uk and one in Mailly Raineval (nr Amiens - France) remembering individual crew members, entire crews, and 578 squadron as a whole. All are set in evocative settings. Should you be passing any of these areas I urge a short detour to the spot where so much was given for the peace that we enjoy today.
BURN VILLAGE NORTH YORKSHIRE: A Squadron Memorial standing on the wayside of Main Road , comprising a random edged, dressed face grey granite freestanding stone commemorating all who served in 578 Squadron 1944 -1945. Dedicated : 10 November 1991 : Designer : Eric Bowden : Sheet 105 SE 594 285
BURN VILLAGE NORTH YORKSHIRE: A Squadron Memorial in the Methodist Chapel, comprising a wall mounted glazed stainless steel framed array of eleven engraved stainless steel panels giving 578 Squadron history and naming each of 219 airmen who flew out from Burn, never to return . Dedicated : 16 May 1999 : Designer and maker : Hugh Cawdron : Sheet 105 SE 594 285
SELBY ABBEY NORTH YORKSHIRE: The main 578 Squadron Memorial occupies two medieval niches on the North Wall of the North Choir Aisle. It comprises a gathering of pieces including The Squadron Memorial Book. Comprising forty-two acid-free paper leaves bound into embossed goatskin covers and contained in a glazed stainless steel and English oak desk cabinet, commemorating the loss of forty-three Halifax Mk.III bombers and Two hundred and nineteen 578 Squadron airmen who flew out of Burn, never to return.
In the adjacent main Choir of the Abbey hangs an additional item: The 578 Squadron Standard. Hand painted on linen canvas, mounted on a steel enameled staff with polished brass spread-eagle finial, listing the achievements, casualties and honours gained and dedicated to all airmen and airwomen who served with the Squadron. All these items were installed and dedicated between 1995 and 2007: Designer and maker : Hugh Cawdron : Sheet 105 SE 616 325
CARPENTER'S WOOD BURCHETT'S GREEN MAIDENHEAD BERKSHIRE: A Squadron Memorial set in a woodland glade, comprising a solid pinewood pedestal with splayed top bearing an engraved stainless steel plate, erected on the site of the fatal crash of LK-Q on 18 July 1944 commemorating Six members of aircrew lost without trace . Dedicated : 18 July 1998 : Designer and maker : Hugh Cawdron : Sheet 175 SU 843 825
RYHOPE SUNDERLAND TYNE AND WEAR: A public Memorial comprising a cast bronze plaque, mounted on the village war memorial commemorating Pilot Officer Cyril Joe Barton VC . Dedicated : 10 November 1985 : Designer : Alan Mitcheson : Sheet 88 NZ 410 530
FARNSFIELD NOTTINGHAM: A public Memorial set in the newly wooded site of the fatal crash of LK-U on 6 July 1944 , comprising a dressed Dolomite stone obelisk, commemorating Seven members of aircrew Dedicated : 6 July 1994 : Designers : Farnsfield Memorial Trust headed by Jack Wright. Maker : Michael Disley : Sheet 120 SK 644 556
TEDSMORE SHROPSHIRE: A private Memorial set in the roadside bank site of the fatal Baltimore crash on Tedsmore Bank on 16 September 1944, comprising a Cross made from Australian Jarrah wood bearing an engraved stainless steel plate commemorating the life of Wing Commander David Scott Shearman Wilkerson DSO DFC Dedicated : 3 October 1996 : Designer and maker : Hugh Cawdron : Sheet 126 SJ 370 256
SILVERSTONE NORTHAMPTONSHIRE:A private memorial, at the main entrance to the motor race track, utilising a concrete Ordnance Survey obelisk bearing an engraved stainless steel plate recording the site of the fatal crash of LK-S on 31 March 1944 commemorating Seven members of aircrew Dedicated : 24 September 1998 : Initiator : Arthur Clegg : Designer : Hugh Cawdron : Sheet 152 SP 671 424
BALKHOLME EAST YORKSHIRE: A public memorial depicting two interlocked Halifax bombers on a downward plunge, mounted on a tall tubular column, erected on the site where two aircraft, returning from the Bottrop operation of 20/21 July 1944 collided in mid air and fell to earth Commemorating the loss of all fourteen crew members Dedicated : 15 October 2005 : Designer and Maker : Hugh Cawdron. Site presentation and Ground works : The Balkholme Community.
MAILLEY-RAINEVAL PICARDY FRANCE: A private memorial, comprising an engraved stainless steel plate mounted on a low plinth at the base of the village War Memorial, commissioned by relatives of the seven crew members of 578 Squadron Halifax MZ592 which was shot down early in the morning of 13 June 1944 after an operation to bomb Amiens. Dedicated : 4 September 2004 : Designer : Hugh Cawdron
THE WING COMMANDER DAVID SCOTT SHEARMAN WILKERSON DSO DFC RAFVR BUST: Designer : Hugh CawdronCOMMONWEALTH AIR FORCES MEMORIAL TO THE MISSING: RUNNYMEDE SURREY: A public memorial dedicated to members of the Commonwealth Air Forces who have no known graves which includes Thirty-eight members of 578 Squadron Aircrew: Royal Air Force 31, Royal Australian Air Force 4, Royal Canadian Air Force 3. OS map ref: Sheet 176 TQ 000 720