Mystery of airman's childhood revealed

THE MYSTERY of Patrick Browne, a young airman who died when his Lancaster bomber crashed in 1945, has been solved. Three months ago, the POST published a story about Patrick, who was killed aged 20 just outside RAF Syverston in Nottinghamshire, and is bur

THE MYSTERY of Patrick Browne, a young airman who died when his Lancaster bomber crashed in 1945, has been solved.

Three months ago, the POST published a story about Patrick, who was killed aged 20 just outside RAF Syverston in Nottinghamshire, and is buried at Rippleside Cemetery in Barking.

We appealed for family and friends to come forward as Lady Helen Nall, of Hoveringham Hall, and villagers from nearby Hoveringham, wanted to create a memorial to the crew of JB125 who perished on January 12, 1945.

Lady Nall discovered part of the plane's wreckage with a metal detector on her estate in January.

Now, thanks to Father Young at St Mary and St Ethelburga's Church, Linton Road, Barking, we can reveal details of the airman's life.

Father Young put an enquiry into his parish newsletter asking for information about the young Air Force Sergeant and his best friend, Pat Bearfield, came forward with pictures and plenty of stories.

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Mr Bearfield, 82, now lives in Barkingside, and is the only surviving member of a group of altar boys, including Mr Browne, pictured above.

The pair were great friends and lived near each other.

"Pat lived in Bifrons Street and I lived in Gascoigne Road in Barking," said Mr Bearfield.

"We used to walk to church together quite often. We were both altar boys at the Catholic Church in Barking and Cardinal Heenan, as he became, was the priest there during the 1930s.

"Father Heenan trained the altar servers. Pat was an altar server and so was I."

Mr Browne was a few years older than Mr Bearfield, and was his mentor at church and taught him Latin.

The boys all went through some rather rigorous training to become altar servers.

Mr Bearfield said: "When Father Hennan was parish priest he used to take the altar servers in this battered old coach, which was the only one in the town, down to Buckingham Palace.

"We all got out of the coach and he would line us up in front of the palace gates and say: 'Do you see those soldiers, boys? Well, they are only guarding an ordinary king. You, as altar boys, are guarding God. So you have to be even better than them!'."

The boys were also taken on an outing to Southend each year with Father Heenan in the same old coach.

"That was a real treat," he said. "Most people could not afford to go to the seaside in those days.

"I remember trying to get out of going swimming because I didn't like water, so I forgot my costume and towel on purpose.

"Of course, when I said this to Father Heenan, he said: 'Do you not think I've heard that one before? Here's tuppence, go see that man over there. It will cost you a penny for a costume and a penny for a towel'."

He left St Ethelburga's School in Barking at 14 and took an apprenticeship at the gasworks in Beckton.

"At the time it was the largest gasworks in Europe," said Mr Bearfield.

"Funnily enough I also ended up there after I left school a few years later."

But when the war started Mr Browne, then 18, volunteered to go into the Air Force.

About a year later his family and friends got the news that his plane had crashed coming back from a raid and he was dead.

He was buried with full military honours.

Mr Bearfield said: "I was then 18 years old and helped preside over his funeral service because we were always such great friends.

"We do not know what actually happened that day. All I know is that the plane crashed as it was returning to base from Germany.

"The war was over by the time I joined the Air Force. I was posted out to India for three years, from 1945-48.

"Of course, I was disappointed that I could not join up at the same time as my friend.

"Pat and I both always wanted to be in the Air Force."

After air raids over London and Essex the pair would go down to the marshes near the Thames hunting for bits of shrapnel.

Sometimes they would find the plane wrecks and rip off the German crosses to have as souvenirs.

"We would have heard the big 4.7 anti-aircraft guns down there and then the crash of a plane coming down," said Mr Bearfield, "so we would go down to see what we could find.

"I remember one of the lads said he had found something much better than our little pieces of shrapnel.

"He opened up his bag and showed us a dead German's finger!"

After Mr Bearfield left the RAF he worked in the match factory in Barking and then went into the probation service.

He later became the chief officer for Wormwood Scrubs and dealt with inmate and notorious Moors Murderer, Ian Brady.

Mr Bearfield was delighted when he heard his friend would be commemorated at a memorial service next summer, organised by Lady Nall and the people of Hoveringham.

"It's only right that he be remembered for his bravery," he said.

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