Castle Bromwich

Published on June 13th, 2015 | by Bill Dargue


All the Fun of the Fete!

Falling on the Fourth of July this year Castle Bromwich church fete takes on an American theme.

The Independence Day Extravaganza features all the elements of a traditional church fete for which St Mary & St Margaret’s is well known. There are games for children and adults, tombola, book stalls, entertainments and home-made refreshments – and the Youth Group is running the all-American diner.

The historic church is open to visitors and the bellringers will conduct trips up the tower (99 steps) for a bird’s-eye view of Castle Bromwich.

The fete begins with a peal of bells rung this year in memory of the American airmen serving at Castle Bromwich Aerodrome during the First World War. The airfield, now the site of the Castle Vale estate, served as a training ground for hundreds of young pilots who were to fight for their country across the Channel, among their number some American citizens. The United States did not enter the war until 1917 and those wanting to support the British war effort went to Canada to join the Royal Flying Corps (RFC).

Two of their number were never to return and lie at rest in Castle Bromwich graveyard opposite the church. Both died in training accidents. These were early days in the story of flight and the list of accidents at Castle Bromwich makes for disturbing reading.

Lieutenant David Billings hailed from Chicago, where his father was a church minister. In September 1917 during training, Billings’ safety straps broke while his plane was upside down. He fell to his death near the airfield but the aircraft continued on to Water Orton where it crashed into a wood. The young lieutenant was buried in Castle Bromwich graveyard.

Raymond Balch was brought up in Massachusetts and joined the RFC in Canada. In May 1918 two days before transferring to the Front, he took part in training over Sutton Park. Pulling out of a dive, his aeroplane broke up, throwing the young pilot to the ground where he was killed instantly. He too is buried in the church graveyard.

In the photograph: Castle Bromwich bellringer Chris Rickus stands by the grave of US airman, Lieutenant Balch.

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About the Author

Bill Dargue has been ringing the bells of St Mary & St Margaret's church in Castle Bromwich for over 30 years. He's one of the Castle Bromwich Bell Restoration Project trustees (Registered Charity 1155131) aiming to celebrate the tercentenary of the bell installation by setting the bells in good order for the next 300 years.

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