A SERVICE paid tribute to two heroic airmen who sacrificed themselves to save a town from destruction.

Flying Officer John Archibald Wilding and Flight Engineer Sergeant John Frank Andrew were remembered at a ceremony in Wallingford this afternoon, on the 73rd anniversary of their deaths.

Dozens of people bowed their heads as a minute’s silence fell on a corner of two residential streets named after the pair, who steered a flaming Halifax bomber out of harm’s way on September 9, 1944.

Leading the service at the junction of Andrew Road and Wilding Road, Reverend David Rice said: “Their brave actions saved our town of Wallingford.”

Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) personnel Wilding and Andrew had been returning from an abandoned raid in France when the engine of their aircraft caught fire and exploded over Wallingford.

Aware it was still laden with a full load of bombs, 23-year-old pilot Wilding ordered his men to jump out while he and 22-year-old Andrew turned it away from the town centre.

They crashed into fields at Newnham Murren, on the Crowmarsh Gifford side of the river.

Wallingford county councillor Lynda Atkins, who is also county chairwoman of the Royal British Legion, was among those who gathered in the rain for the 2pm ceremony.

She said: “If that aircraft with all of those bombs on board crashed on the town, it would have taken out a large part of what was there. We would have lost so many lives and so much of our history.

“It’s true to say that they sacrificed their lives for the whole of the town, and we have to remember that.”

The ceremony happens every year next to a memorial cairn for the airmen, which bears the badge of their 426 Thunderbird squadron

It was organised by Linda Shoebridge, a Wallingford resident who witnessed the aftermath of the crash. She said: “I saw all the smoke go up. Our attic windows all fell in [with the impact].”

She was joined today by relatives of the men, residents and RAF and RCAF personnel, as well as children from the Scouts, Cubs and Air Cadets.

A short parade ending with salutes was followed by words and prayers from the reverend, and the laying of several poppy wreaths.

Caption Aaron Noble of the RCAF, based at RAF Benson, was among nine people who marched up to the memorial to place a wreath. He said: “The RCAF ensures there is someone here every year to lay a wreath to honour their sacrifice, and recognise the fact that Wallingford might not exist without that.”

Wilding and Andrew were mentioned in Dispatches for bravery, and Wilding was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.