The Solitary Military Gravestone at St. Peter, Stockerston, Rutland:

The Story of Flight Sergeant Donald Frederick Payne


The churchyard at St. Peter, Stockerston, in the small county of Rutland, is extremely tranquil with stunning views over the Eyebrook Reservoir.  It is somewhere that I frequently visit as my grandparents are buried there.


After a recent visit, I started to make some enquiries about the solitary military gravestone in the churchyard.  This article tells the tragic story of Flight Sergeant 1737531 Donald Frederick Payne of the 115 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, Bomber Command. 

In the quiet and picturesque churchyard at St Peter, Stockerston, Rutland, a military gravestone marks the grave of Flight Sergeant 1737531 Donald Frederick Payne. 

Donald Frederick Payne was born in 1923.  He was the son of Frederick George Payne and Alice Payne.  The family had close links to the village of Hallaton.  Sadly, the Second World War (1939-45) brought tragedy to the Payne family.  Donald's older brother, Sergeant 317030 Horace Alexander Payne of the 30th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales Own), died whilst on active service on the 30th September 1942.  Horace was laid to rest in the Penzance cemetery, Cornwall.

Donald Frederick Payne was enlisted in the armed forces in 1942. He served as Flight Sergeant 1737531 Donald Frederick Payne, of the 115 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, Bomber Command.  During his service he flew as a flight engineer.   Due to the high number of casualties suffered by Bomber command he and his family must have been extremely relieved when the war came to an end in 1945.  The shear tragedy of this story is that after surviving the hostilities of the war years, Donald and his flying colleagues died during a daytime flight over England.

At about 11.20 hours, on the 21st February 1946, Donald was part of a five man aircrew completing an air test of an Avro Lancaster registration number PB373.  The pilot during the flight was Flight Lieutenant John Douglas Cantrell. Whilst the Lancaster was flying over Leamington Spa, Warwickshire a loud explosion was heard.  The Lancaster was seen to disintegrate in the air and fall to the ground in flames.  None of the aircrew survived. 

All of the aircrew that perished with Donald were members of the 115 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteers Reserve, Bomber Command.  His colleagues were,

  • Flight Lieutenant 153835 John Douglas Cantrell, aged 23.  He was son of Joseph Benedict Cantrell & Emily Cantrell who resided in York. He is buried in Fulford cemetery, Yorkshire, England.
  • Flight Lieutenant 154518 Frederick Reginald Berry, aged 21. He was the son of Augustus Jack Berry & Alice Berry, and the husband of Doris Berry who resided in Cambridge. He is buried in the Stapleford cemetery, Cambridgeshire, England. 
  • Flight Sergeant 1819939 Dennis William Crutchley, aged 21. He was the son of William Crutchley & Doreen Crutchley, and the husband of Winifred Gladys Crutchley who resided in Burton-Upon-Trent.  He was buried in the Burton-Upon-Trent cemetery, Staffordshire, England.
  • Flight Sergeant 1811928 Ronald Stedman. He was buried in the City of London cemetery and Crematorium, Manor Park, London, England.
  • Flight Sergeant 1410814 Maurice John Newman, aged 23. He was the son of William James Newman & Florence Mabel Newman who resided in St. George, Bristol. He is buried in the Avonview cemetery, Bristol, Gloucestershire, England.

Donald Frederick Payne is commemorated alongside his brother, Horace Alexander Payne, on the Hallaton War Memorial.