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Lady Carnarvon’s tribute to WWII flying aces who died after crashing on Downton estate

Lady Fiona Carnarvon

In the touching climax to the latest series of Downton Abbey, the Crawley family and their servants unveiled a Great War memorial to honour those who had lost their lives.

Now Lady Carnarvon, the owner of Highclere Castle where the ITV drama is filmed, wants to create her own real-life tribute to the heroes who died years later in the Second World War.

The chatelaine was moved to act after discovering that several US airmen who were stationed close to Highclere may have crashed on the 5,000-acre estate during the conflict.

Lady Carnarvon, the owner of Highclere Castle – where Downton Abbey is filmed – wants to create a tribute to the heroes who died after crashing on her 5,000-acre estate during the Second World War

Lady Carnarvon revealed the plans in her online blog, writing: ‘During my research into the Second World War at Highclere, I discovered that quite a few planes had come down over the Estate.

‘The pilots, navigators and airmen who died in the crashes were all somebody’s son: part of someone’s family with friends and a life not lived; most of them young Americans in their early twenties.

‘My goal is to create a sculpture and memorial to them here in the gardens. But first I have to find who they were and where exactly they came down.’

The Countess has put together a team of experts to try to uncover the men’s stories.

She wrote: ‘I have a wonderful team who are caring and committed to helping.

‘Steve, an ex BA/Concorde pilot, which means he can interpret the parts of a plane; Paul McTaggart, with his metal detectors and computer expertise; Robert, part of our security, ex-Army and good interpreter of engine parts; Terry and Eddie the keepers, who have passed down knowledge of where to look, Sid and Bob with the digger, and me.’

The team has already learned the fate of one American pilot, Lieutenant Thomas Dee Stewart, who died just two weeks before D-Day.

Originally from Nevada, he served with the US Ninth Air Force at a base just south of Highclere, at Andover in Hampshire.

He was charged with escorting bombers who took part in raids over France.

Lady Carnarvon knew a P-38 Lightning plane had gone down on the estate in 1944, but previously had no idea about its pilot.

She wrote: ‘The team met in the Castle courtyard one morning to investigate. I had a rough idea of where to start searching and I drove Steve and Paul up there in a tough 4×4 car – it is off the beaten track.

‘With the help of our keeper, Paul’s metal detector and observing the trees, some of which are still burnt inside, we began to find the area. It was clear that a lot of metal was still scattered over the floor of the peaceful leaf-strewn wood.’

Lady Carnarvon said she hopes to make contact with Lieut Stewart’s family, adding: ‘His body was retrieved at the time and flown back to be buried in Alamo, Lincoln County, Nevada, USA. He was just 25.’

Her determination to honour the heroes of war mirrors a plot which dominated series five of Downton Abbey.

In the last scene of the final episode – shown on Remembrance Sunday last year – the Earl of Grantham assembled the estate’s residents and staff for a touching service to unveil his memorial.

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