VIDEO: Memorial 70 years after Chichester Liberator crash

A MOVING memorial saw tributes paid to a 14-year-old girl who died when an American plane crashed on Chichester 70 years ago.

May Grainger was one of three people to die when a Liberator bomber crash landed in Kenneth Long’s timber yard, in The Hornet, on May 11, 1944.

Rebekah Cannon, assistant curate at St George's Church, in Chichester, leads a small service in memory of May Grainger

Rebekah Cannon, assistant curate at St George's Church, in Chichester, leads a small service in memory of May Grainger

Exactly 70 years on, the son of the pilot came over from Atlanta, in Georgia, USA, to lay flowers on her unmarked grave in Portfield Cemetery.

“It’s been very moving,” said Britt Duncan, son of 92-year-old Joe Duncan, who was just 22 when he piloted the plane back after a raid on Germany.

Several people joined Mr Duncan and his wife Karen at the cemetery on Sunday (May 11).

He added it was a ‘real thrill’ to be in Chichester and said the people who welcomed them were ‘warm and hospitable’.

May Grainger lived in Bramber Road and her mother worked at Kenneth Long’s premises.

Elizabeth Tees, 58, also died a few days after the crash from her injuries, along with Leonard Price, father of Chichester writer 
Bernard Price.

Chichester historian Ken Green published a booklet on behalf of the Chichester Local History Society in 2010 entitled The Day the Liberator crashed on Chichester.

“It’s fantastic that Britt should come over here,” he said on Sunday.

“He’s come really for this event. His father over the years felt so bad that three people were killed as a result of his plane crashing, but it was wartime and sadly these things do happen.”

He added Mr Duncan was a ‘hero’, one of many who flew over Germany day after day while being constantly shot at.

May Grainger’s memory is kept alive by Chichester High School for Girls, which teaches its students about her as an introduction to learning about the second world war.

“That meant so much to me, because it’s so important that they know it’s real history, it’s not Hollywood,” said Mr Duncan.

“It was such a unique chain of events that caused it.

“I was very impressed that the school does that.”

Pupils Honor Lewis, 13, and Elena Scrivens, 12, also laid flowers in memory of the former pupil.

“It’s ingrained in our curriculum now and it certainly will be in the future,” said citizenship teacher Richard Roman, who had shown Mr and Mrs Duncan some of the work done by the school.

“What was particularly reassuring was that his father would be so pleased to know that even though it was a really sad incident, it was remembered and used to promote a story of sacrifice.”

He said students were often ‘amazed’ when they were told the story.

“That a member of the school actually lost her life at the time – it brings it alive and they recognise the place of the crash site, they recognise some of the remnants of the damage.”

Back in 1944, the crew had parachuted out of the plane as it caught fire.

Lieutenant Duncan had turned it so it was heading out to sea so it would crash there before he too jumped out.

However, as he watched, the plane turned away and ended up falling on Chichester.

May Grainger’s funeral was held at St Pancras Church and her grave is unmarked in Portfield Cemetery.

The school has said it would like to get a tablet to mark the spot, however as it is a family plot, a member of the family needs to give permission.

Chichester District Council said it did not have the authority to put one there without having permission.

Mr Roman said he remained hopeful that one day a tablet could mark the point where their former pupil was buried.