Cromwell Lock Memorial

In memory of the ten Sappers from 300 Tp, 131 Indep Para Sqn RE (V) who lost their lives on the River Trent on 28th September 1975



Cromwell Lock Memorial



A memorial to the men of 300 Troop of 131 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers (V), who died on a night Exercise "Trent Chase" on 28th of September 1975. This was an annual watermanship exercise over approximately 80 miles.

In stormy weather and dark conditions 10 out of the 11 Sappers drowned when their assault boat went over Cromwell Weir, including two Brothers, Sappers Stuart and Peter Evenden. 300 Troop were from Scotland.

A memorial was erected next to the Locks, opposite to the weir, made of Scottish granite, with the names of the men inscribed on a bronze plaque.

Sapper Norman Bennett

Aged 29


Sapper James Black

Aged 18

Sapper Raymond Buchanan

Aged 20

Sapper Peter Evenden

Aged 19

Sapper Stuart Evenden

Aged 22

Sapper Ian Mercer

Aged 17

Sapper Alexander O'Brien

Aged 18

Sapper Terry Smith

Aged 20

Sapper Ronald Temprell

Aged 26

Sapper Joseph Walker

Aged 21


Cromwell Lock Memorial Service 2023

The annual Cromwell Lock memorial service was held on Saturday 23rd September to remember those soldiers from 131 Independent Parachute Squadron RE(V) who died there whilst on Ex Trent Chase in 1975.

Representatives from the Airborne Engineers Association, local Parachute Regimental Association Branch members and individuals paid their respects to the 10 soldiers from 300 Tp, based at Grangemouth, Scotland who perished on that exercise.

A short service was conducted, as in previous years by the Rt Rev’d John Finney, wreaths were laid at the memorial, the Last Post and Reveille sounded and the names were read out.

The service this year was held on the Saturday in order not to clash with the memorial service held at Donnington for 1 Parachute Squadron RE who were based there during WW2.

The memorial looked in good shape thanks to the efforts of members from 299 Association and the Birmingham Branch AEA who throughout the year have conducted maintenance work on the memorial, following the repair work carried out by 23 Parachute Engineer Regiment last year. Our thanks go to all concerned in making the memorial a fitting place for remembrance.

Cromwell Lock Memorial Service 2022 by Lt Col (Retd) John Lee

The annual Cromwell Lock service was held on Sunday 25th September to remember the 10 soldiers from 300Tp, 131 Indep Para Sqn RE (V) who died there after the assault boat they were navigating went over the weir in September 1975.

A total of 61 people attended with representatives from the Airborne Engineers Association, 131 Cdo Sqn, Newark and neighbouring Parachute Regimental Associations and the Royal British Legion.

The memorial had been recently renovated by members of 23 Parachute Engineer Regiment who had done a fine job in making good the wear and tear sustained over 40 years and it was in pristine condition.

The service was conducted by the Rt Revd John Finney who conducted last years’ service and the theme of his address was dedication and service, citing the late Queen Elizabeth’s reign as a shining example. Wreaths were laid by the AEA President, Lt Col (Retd) John Lee, and the representatives from 131 Cdo Sqn, the Birmingham and 299 Association Branches of the AEA and from the PRA Branches.

After the service the attendees retired to The Muskham Ferry Inn for refreshments and a chance to renew old friendships.

A service was also held at Zetland Park in Falkirk on the same day where there is another memorial and which was attended by families and friends and members of the AEA Scottish Branch so it can be truly said the lads are not forgotten.


Cromwell Lock Memorial Refurbishment - August 2022

In August 2022 the memorial was refurbished by a team from 299 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers led by SSgt Scott Comer RE. Thanks go to 23 Parachute Engineer Regiment for providing the manpower and to the Canal and River Trust for providing Onsite Facilities to the team.  The images below show the memorial before and after the refurbishment.


Cromwell Lock Memorial Service 2018 by Lt Col (Retd) John Lee

The annual Cromwell Lock Memorial Service was held on Sunday 23rd September to remember the 10 sappers from 300 Tp, 131 Indep Para Sqn RE (V) who lost their lives whilst taking part in Ex Trent Chase on the 28th September 1975.

The service was held on a bright sunny morning, in contrast to the weather fore­cast, and was attended by around 40 or so people with members from our Birmingham and 299 Association Branches and representatives from the Newark, Nottingham and Spalding Branches of the Parachute Regimental Association also being in attendance.

The service was organised by Arn Andrews of the Newark Branch PRA and it was conducted by the local vicar, the Rev Mark Adams. Wreaths were laid at the memorial and PRA standards were carried, and the Last Post and Reveille was sounded by Stuart McNair.

I am pleased to say that the memorial is in good shape, although some rabbits have decided to burrow in the flower beds, however, the flowers gave a nice blaze of colour in the morning sun and the site is cared for by a band of volunteers who assist in keeping it spick and span.

After the service guests were invited back to Arn Andrews farmhouse for refreshments introductions were made and the usual reminiscences were made over a beer (or two) and enough food to feed the proverbial regiment.
All in all, a pleasant way to remember the lads from 300 Tp and meet up with old friends.

I would like to express my thanks on behalf of the AEA to the Newark Branch, and Arn Andrews in particular, for organising this event once again and their continuing support over the years.

My Memories of Ex Trent Chase, Sept 1975 by Lt Col (Retd) John Lee

Originally published in the AEA Journal in June 2015

At the time I was Signals and Int Sgt in HQ Troop, 131 Sqn and was on this exercise in the CP vehicle with the then 2IC Capt Jim Snape. We travelled up from Kingsbury on the Friday and met up with the other members of the squadron at Burton upon Trent.

The weekend training consisted of a navigation exercise in assault boats, testing the various field troops of 131 Independent Parachute Squadron RE (V) along the River Trent over a distance of 80 miles. The exercise started on the Saturday morning with the teams setting off at regular intervals, reporting into various checkpoints along the way. The weather had cleared up somewhat, as during the Friday night severe winds and heavy rain lashed the area. These winds had damaged a number of power lines resulting in the warning lights at Cromwell Lock not being operative.

The various teams set off and progressed along the river, unfortunately the 300 Troop boat had engine failure twice which delayed them considerably, and in order to give them a chance of completing the course they were leap-frogged forward some miles.

By the Saturday evening the 299 Troop team had passed through Cromwell and were on the last leg having safely landed upstream of the weir, hauled their boat to the other side and continued their journey. By this time the wind had started to pick up again and the river was high with the previous day’s rain beginning to swell it.

Sometime late in the evening 300 Troop team reported into the checkpoint before Cromwell Lock, known locally as the Devil’s Cauldron, and were briefed by the then OC, Maj Tom Gillett about the hazard ahead and set off.
As they approached Cromwell Lock the red warning lights were not on and the noise of the water going over the weir was hidden by wind noise. The boat was washed over the weir with the tragic results we all know. There was only one survivor, Pat Harkin who had been on my recruit course at Drip Camp in 1968.

At around dawn in the Command Post we had a message to say that a boat had capsized in the water at Cromwell Lock and we were to proceed quickly to the location. It was only when we neared the site and saw a yellow search and rescue Wessex we realised the seriousness of the situation.

The Memorial at Cromwell Lock

For the next few hours debris was being recovered and at lunchtime we were ordered to RV in Newark. By this time the Press had arrived and we were told not to speak to them. The full horror of what had happened then unfolded and a shocked squadron returned to their various locations.

A short time later the funerals of those who had died were held in Falkirk and the surrounding areas and I will always remember the massed crowds silently watching and paying their respects as the gun carriages bearing the coffins passed by on their way to the funeral services. The 15th (Scottish) Bn, The Parachute Regiment manned the gun carriages and the deceased were buried with full military honours.

This was a particularly sad time as only a few weeks before, several members of the 15th Bn had drowned in the Kiel Canal whilst on exercise, indeed a very sad time for 44 Parachute Brigade.

A piece of Scottish granite with an inscribed plaque bearing the names of those who perished is located in a small enclosure at the scene of the tragedy and there is another memorial in Zetland Park, Grangemouth.

At the end of September services are held at these sites to remember the lads from 300 Troop who perished on that sad occasion.

Spr - Norman Bennet, Age 29
Spr - James Black, Age 18
Spr - Raymond Buchanan, Age 20
Spr - Peter Evendon, Age 19
Spr - Stuart Evendon, Age 22
Spr - Ian Mercer, Age 17
Spr - Alexander O'Brien, Age 18
Spr - Terry Smith, Age 20
Spr - Ronald Temprell, Age 26
Spr - Joseph Walker, Age 21

RIP lads

Cromwell Lock Disaster - 40th Anniversary Commemoration Service, Sept 2015

The fortieth commemoration service for 10 soldiers from 131 Independent Parachute Squadron RE (V) was held on Sunday 27th September 2015 at the memorial site at Cromwell Lock, near Newark, Nottinghamshire.

Under a sunny sky about 130 people attended the service, including representatives from 131 Indep Cdo Sqn RE (V), 299 Para Sqn Sqn RE (V), the Newark and Nottingham Branches of the Parachute Regimental Association, many ex members of 131 Sqn, members of the Airborne Engineers Association either in branch groups or individually and members of the public. The proceedings were recorded by both the BBC and ITV and shown on the local news editions that evening.

The ceremony commenced with the Association Piper, Frank Menzies-Hearn and the Chaplain leading, followed by association standards, the service representatives and veterans.

After a welcome and introduction, including a statement from Mr Julian Brazier MP, Minister for the Reserves, read out by the AEA President Lt Col John Lee, the service was handed over to the Rev. Stuart Turner CF, Chaplain to 23 Parachute Engineer Regiment. The Last Post was played, a minute’s silence observed and the wreaths were then laid, Maj John Brennan, Vice President AEA, laying the first one. The AEA President then gave a narrative of the event after which, following prayers, the service was concluded.

Although obviously a moving occasion it gave the opportunity for many there to renew old friendships and meet up with long lost friends. After time taken for photos and introductions most of the assemblage retired to the Muskham Ferry Inn in North Muskham for a welcome drink and sandwich where further tales from the past were told and new friends found.

Many attendees had long journeys back home, especially those who made the trip from Scotland but it all who attended would have been proud that the lads from 131 were remembered in a fitting and appropriate manner.

There was another service held earlier on the Sunday morning at Zetland Park in Grangemouth where there is another memorial to the 10 sappers, and which families and friends attended.

Squadron representatives

Although this was a special event it is worth recording that there is a service held every year in late September when members of the PRA Newark and Nottingham Branches together with ex 131 members remember those young men who died at Cromwell Lock.

The statement from Mr Julian Brazier MP is reproduced below, and for a full narrative of the event please see the article in the last AEA Journal, No 44. (December 2015)

"The loss of ten young Scottish sappers from 1311ndependent Parachute Squadron forty years ago is a tragedy the scale of which it’s hard to comprehend. A combination of factors came together on that awful night, so unlikely and yet so devastating in their effect.The fact that each came from a close knit community and such a tightly bonded unit made that loss all the more keenly felt."

Standards dipped during the service

Cromwell Lock Memorial Service 2012 by Joe Davidson

On the 28th Sept, Dougie Balloch and myself, both former Sqn members, were invited to join the Falkirk Sappers Group to commemorate the 37th Anniversary memorial for the men of 131 Para Engineer Sqn, killed on exercise Trent Chase, Cromwell Weir 28th Sept 1975.

The Memorial stone was raised by the people of Grangemouth Central Scotland to honour the men killed, many of them from the Grangemouth area.

Each year Mr Rab Cruickshank organises the memorial service and the laying of a wreath. Family members of the men lost, as well as members of the Falkirk Sappers Group attended the service.


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Airborne Engineers Association