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Historian appeals for information about Islington World War Two pilot

PUBLISHED: 09:44 04 September 2020 | UPDATED: 11:28 04 September 2020

Site of the plane crash in Schiefbahn in 1942. Picture: Submitted by Christoph Heyes

Site of the plane crash in Schiefbahn in 1942. Picture: Submitted by Christoph Heyes

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A historian is searching for information about an Islington pilot who crashed his plane in Germany during World War Two.

Sgt Winkle's Reichswald Forest War Cementry. Picture: Submitted by Christoph HeyesSgt Winkle's Reichswald Forest War Cementry. Picture: Submitted by Christoph Heyes

Christoph Heyes is on the hunt for relatives or friends of Sgt Peter Fitzpatrick Vane Winkle for an article which he hopes will be published in an annual local history tome.

Former mayor Cllr Dave Poyser and Islington Council’s Heritage Department have already tracked down some information, including that Sgt Winkle’s family home was initially on Green Lanes before he moved to Barnet.

His mother passed away in 1934, just eight years before Sgt Winkle’s own death.

READ MORE: Second World War veteran from Barnsbury on what it was like to be in Germany when Nazis surrendered

Grave of Peter Winkle in the Schiefbahn graveyard. Picture: Submitted by Christoph HeyesGrave of Peter Winkle in the Schiefbahn graveyard. Picture: Submitted by Christoph Heyes

On April 15, 1942, RAF pilot Sgt Winkle was on his way back from a bombing on Dortmund when his aircraft was shot down over Schiefbahn, now a district in Christoph’s home-city Willich.

All five servicemen onboard died in the crash.

An eyewitness report from the area told Christoph it was their “worst experience” of a plane crash.

“The flight alarms had become a habit by then, so we no longer always got out of our beds,” witness Willi Holter said. “It was the same way that night, but when the bedroom was lit by spotlights and the anti-aircraft gun fired loudly I went to the window and saw a Wellington circling low over Unterbruch in the spotlight. Its erratic flight behaviour showed that the aircraft had been hit.

“It finally went into a steep glide down and hit the ground with a massive explosion. We saw the flames in the Unterbruch direction. However, we underestimated the distance of the crash site and it was close to us.”

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Willi said the machine “exploded on impact”, with debris blasted towards a farm owned by a Jakob Nilges.

“The exploding fuel caused burning parts to fly into Nilges’ house and set it on fire,” Willi added. “It burned to the ground.”

Christoph became interested in the subject after reading about the crash a short time before the anniversary, on April 13.

He said: “It would make me very happy if the memory of that nearly forgotten plane crash could bring our countries closer together.”

However, Peter may have been an only child and have no living descendants.

Christoph told this newspaper he hopes to visit the UK in his quest for knowledge, after the coronavirus pandemic is over, and to meet the living relatives of another one of the crewman he has already tracked down: “From the beginning I have wanted to write something from both sides, not just the German side.

“My only hope when I started was that maybe I would find someone who could tell me ‘my grandmother told me about an uncle who died’.

“I never considered that direct relatives may still be alive.”

Cllr Poyser added: “Once again, the Heritage Department at Islington Council have done a tremendous piece of work.

“I hope any relatives of Peter’s can now come forward and contact the historian or perhaps visit his grave in Germany.”

Anyone with information should contact Christoph on christoph.heyes@gmail.com.


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