Another installment in our 'Holgate Heroes' series.

Jack Wreakes

Jack Wreakes in flightsuit
Jack Wreakes in flightsuit

FLIGHT navigator Jack Wreakes suffered a mysterious death when the wing of his plane suddenly fell off during what should have been a routine exercise.

Raised on Wilthorpe Avenue in town centre, Jack was the only son of Fred and Doris Wreakes and comes from a family of military men.

His father was a veteran of World War One where he was wounded at Passchendaele, though he never openly discussed his experiences.

As a child Jack was known to be funny, and would repeatedly make jokes with his school friends about how his surname made it sound like he must constantly smell.

During the war he joined the RAF where he served with the 420 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force aboard a Vickers Wellington III.

Jack Wreakes (crouched down) in front of a Vickers Wellington III with other Crewmen
Jack Wreakes (crouched down) in front of a Vickers Wellington III with other Crewmen

It was in the afternoon of March 1, 1943 when his team took flight for an apparently normal navigational exercise in North Yorkshire – witnesses saw them to be flying perfectly when the port wing of the plane collapsed, causing the aircraft to plummet.

Due to the speed of the incident, there was no opportunity for the team to escape and all five of the crew perished in the crash – Jack was only 21 at the time.

A later investigation of the crash revealed that a failure in the joints had caused the malfunction – an entirely avoidable incident that took the life of five dedicated servicemen.

The investigation into his life was aided by his niece Sue Nuttall, the daughter of Jack’s only sibling Joan, who kindly provided Ian and Melvyn with photographs and letters from Jack.

She told the Chronicle: “It’s really good this has gone back up – mum would be amazed if she was still alive to see it. “It’s important that we’re still remembering these people who could easily be forgotten.”

On her birthday the niece of Jack Wreakes made a visit to Shaw Lane Sports Club to see his memorial first hand.

Sue Nuttall, who now lives in Whitby, is very familiar with the sports club in town as her husband used to regularly play cricket there.

Yet, until last Friday she had never seen the memorial board her relative’s name is remembered on. Sue told the Chronicle: “I knew my father fought in the war thanks to my mum, but she didn’t talk about him much.“She was 15 when he died so I guess she had the same relationship all teenage girls have with their brothers.”

When Ian Harley and Melvyn Lunn were originally researching the names on the board Sue was quickly found through her relationship to the sports club and offered them a helping hand.

Sue Nuttall
Sue Nuttall

She provided pictures and even dug out old letters between her mum and uncle.“It’s funny because when my grandma died in 1985 there were so many people about who had lived through the war,” she added.“It was still sad if someone had lost someone, but everyone had a story.“Things are really different now – it’s good that we’re able to keep remembering them.”

You can read the introductory article explaining the history around our Holgate Heroes here