War hero remembered as remains found 70 years on

Sergeant 'Chick' Woolven was a Pathfinder in the RAF.
Sergeant 'Chick' Woolven was a Pathfinder in the RAF.

The remains of a Sussex war hero are to be re-dedicated, 70 years after he was shot down over Germany.

Littlehampton relatives of Sergeant Fred Erwin ’Chick’ Woolven have been invited to attend a formal service in Berlin on April 27.

The Second World War RAF navigator went missing, presumed dead, on January 3, 1944, and the family knew nothing more about his whereabouts until the Ministry of Defence contacted them late last year.

His grandson, Michael Woolven, said: “It was a relief to a certain degree that they found the remains, because as a child, you wonder if he bailed out, lost his memory and got stuck in Berlin.

“I think it’s put the end to the story, the wondering what happened.” Chick Woolven’s Lancaster bomber was identified in 1976 during excavation work, but due to the politics of the time, regulations prevented the release of information.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, communication between the former East Germany and the West opened up again.

Michael and his sister were eventually informed by the Ministry of Defence in November that a pathologist’s report had identified their grandfather’s remains.

Nicknamed for his quiet and shy disposition, Chick was the first Burpham pupil to win a scholarship to Chichester High School.

He was awarded a scholarship to Oxford, but turned the place down as his parents could not afford to send him. Instead, he stayed in Arundel to become a railway clerk, where he met and married Joan Marie. In 1941, he volunteered for the RAF and was assigned to the 156 Path Finders Force 
in 1944.

The elite squadron dropped flares over Germany to allow the following bombers to hit their targets.

He was declared missing on his 19th mission during a sortie over Berlin. His son, named after him as Frederick Erwin Woolven, was born seven months later.

Frederick Erwin junior became a telephone engineer at Littlehampton post office, and made enquiries to the West Sussex Gazette after the paper published a photo of his father’s cricket team from 1938.

In a tribute piece, the West Sussex Gazette recalled Chick as ‘a good scholar, a man much respected in and around Arundel’.

The re-dedication at Berlin war cemetery will be attended by Chick’s grandchildren and wider family.

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