Star of David added to mural for pilot killed in Canvey Island war disaster
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Star of David added to mural for pilot killed in Canvey Island war disaster

Recognition that airman Fred Kaufman was Jewish added to a memorial honouring victims of the 1944 air crash, following approach by one of the community's military historians

A memorial to three American bomber airmen killed in a crash over Canvey Island during the Second World War has been amended to include a Star of David in acknowledgement that one was Jewish.

Fred Kaufman was a pilot with the US 379th Bomber Group and was co-pilot aboard a B17-G named Heavenly Body II on 19 June 1944 when disaster struck as they flew back to the group’s base in Huntingdon after a bombing run over northern France.

Kaufman was flying on what was described as “a beautiful summer’s day, with a little haze over the River Thames,” when another B17 plane in the same formation – which had been hit by enemy fire – “fell” onto Kaufman’s craft above Canvey Island.

Witnesses and survivors said the disabled plane’s wing sliced through Heavenly Body’s nose, killing Kaufman instantly. The listing bomber, whose engine had blown, crashed near All Hallows with all crew onboard after the escape hatch failed to open.

The other eight members of the nine-man Heavenly Body II crew were able to parachute out, but one was killed doing so and another drowned upon landing in the sea, near the shore. The six others survived, several later meeting The Queen.

This week Jewish military historian Martin Sugarman paid tribute to retired Canvey Island teacher Colin Letchford for agreeing to put a Magen David on a town mural which honours the American servicemen who died that day.

“After discovering who owned the mural I had a long discussion with the chair of the organisation that cared for it and asked the Concord Beach community on Canvey to add a Magen David,” recalled Sugarman.

“Colin agreed at once as a statement against racism and to recognise that Fred Kaufman as Jewish. I am now trying to persuade the Canvey Island History Society to say the same on their website about the B17 incident.”

On the significance of the change, Sugarman reflected on the trope that Jews are more loyal to Israel than the country in which they live, saying: “This is another victory for the struggle against the myths of antisemitism.”

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