Remains of WW2 airmen who crashed on secret mission found 76 years later an hour away from wreckage
The remains of two World War II airmen who crashed on a secret mission were found 76 years later by a family investigating a blocked septic tank, an investigation has found.
The bodies of RAF pilot Alfred Milne and navigator Eric Stubbs were discovered on a smallholding on the North Yorkshire Moors in March 2020 – about an hour’s walk from where their plane crashed.
An investigation revealed that the RAF men had been transporting a smaller version of the Barnes Wallis-designed Bouncing Bomb to Scotland when their Mosquito aircraft crashed in October 1944.
The hearing on her death was told that her remains were found on land formerly owned by Kenneth Ward, a disgraced military historian and collector, but they fell short of determining how they got there.
The bodies of Alfred Robert William Milne (left) and Eric Alan Stubbs (right), both 22, were found at a property in North Yorkshire in March 2020
There was a massive police operation at the remote smallholder farm after neighbors were investigating a blocked septic tank and discovered human remains
The remote property became the focus of a massive police operation that lasted for weeks as a field adjacent to the house was excavated in sections in search of more remains.
When the bodies were found in March 2020, Ward had just been released from a five-year sentence on gun and explosives charges and stalking a neighbor.
The remains were found on property previously owned by military historian Kenneth Ward (pictured).
In 2010, police found a huge stash full of bombs and edged weapons in his Appletree Hurst Cottage at Chop Gate, including a loaded Luger pistol under his pillow and an airplane cockpit with working loaded weapons.
Ward had previously been found to be in possession of a personal item belonging to a deceased pilot.
The Ministry of Defense confirmed that in 1999 he received an informal warning about his possession of a trailer believed to have belonged to a Canadian airman who died in a crash in East Yorkshire during the war.
The presumed date of the offense was 1982, before the passage of the Military Remains Protection Act four years later, making it illegal to search wrecks without a MOD permit.
Ward is known to have spent much of his life searching for plane wrecks and he preserved hundreds of memorabilia and opened his home as an unofficial museum
He welcomed other enthusiasts and often gave interviews to the aviation trade press in the 1990s and 2000s.
When the remains of Mr Stubbs and Mr Milne were found, Ward was arrested by North Yorkshire Police at his new home in a trailer park in York.
They discovered his trailer was stuffed with military memorabilia, which were also confiscated.
But despite a lengthy investigation focused on how the aviators landed at Appletree Hurst and whether there were any other remains on the property, no charges were brought.
It meant the families of the two 22-year-old pilots will never know how their remains were so far from where their de Havilland Mosquito fighter jet crashed in Bilsdale in October 1944.
North Yorkshire Police and Ministry of Defense Police concluded their investigation with no further charges brought against Ward. Pictured: A police car at the entrance to the remote property
The Northallerton inquest found that police were called to the unoccupied cottage after a family who had recently moved into the adjacent property discovered a human jawbone in an open patch of grass near a paddock shed.
The homeowner who made the find was investigating a clog in his septic tank when he saw the bone and recognized it as a medical professional.
Two mandibles have been confirmed by forensic archaeologists to before 1950 and preventive dental work performed by the RAF on soldiers flying at high altitude has been noted on the teeth.
There was evidence of impact injuries and discoloration from contact with a helmet or chin strap, and fragments of a harness were found nearby.
The bones were found to have been removed from the original crash site and exposed to the elements for an extended period of time.
Detective Chief Inspector Carol Kirk of North Yorkshire Police and forensic archaeologist Dr. Carl Harrison both confirmed that the remains were classified as “secondary deposit” and brought from another location.
The remains were found an hour’s walk from where the plane carrying the two airmen crashed
The inquest also heard evidence from a military historian, Richard Allenby, who said he interviewed the only witness to the Mosquito crash, a farmhand named Ken Luck.
Mr. Luck had heard the plane’s engine sputter and seen the nose drop before exploding on impact.
PO Milne and Navigator Sgt Stubbs were on a secret flight from RAF Beccles in Suffolk to Turnberry in Ayrshire when their plane crashed.
After the crash, the bomb rolled out of the plane into the orchard of a nearby farm but did not explode and was later recovered by the RAF.
Mr Luck’s report contradicted the original assumption that Mr Milne had lost control while flying over high ground in low cloud, and led North Yorkshire coroner Richard Watson to conclude that there was a mechanical failure or lack of fuel actually caused the crash.
After that, the bodies of the two men were believed to have been recovered and buried – deepening the mystery of how they ended up on Ward’s land.
Mr Watson said the men’s remains have now been buried with full military honors in southern England.
Coming to an accidental death, the coroner said: “It has been 77 years since the end of World War II, and 78 years since that incident. This year would have been Sgt Stubbs centenary and PO Milnes would have been last year.
“This is a timely reminder to all of us young men who made the supreme sacrifice during these trying times, and it is a reminder of the cost of war.”
Information was also given about the lives of the two airmen. Alfred Milne was born in London in 1921 and worked as a sorter at the post office before being called up in 1941.
Police were seen searching the property in Chopgate and digging up large parts of an adjacent field
He was posted to Canada and rose through the ranks, eventually becoming a pilot officer and marrying his wife just a year before his death.
They had no children, but he was survived by his sister and nephews.
Born in Guildford in 1922, Eric Stubbs was unmarried and “disappeared” from his family tree after the war, when his sister also died childless.
Before the war he worked as a municipal clerk.
Participating in the study were Joan and Nicola Stubbs, who are descended from a cousin.
Kenneth Ward, 75, has always denied knowing how the airmen’s remains ended up in his run-down cottage, where he lived alone after outliving his mother and brother.
In 2021, a year after his arrest, Ward said, “They’re no further than they were a year ago, other than wasting a fortune of taxpayers’ money. I’m told the investigation has cost up to a million pounds.
“They looked for mementos that they thought were buried in the fields for some reason, but they found nothing.
“They searched my house, took many items and did not return them. I had to move and my life was turned upside down.’