... some short articles based on archive information



These articles were originally put together for the Milton Keynes Aviation Society newsletter.
Articles :


RAF HENLOW - the Early Years




















Plane For Sale  
Folded up in the archives at the County Records Office in Bedford is an original 30x18” poster for an auction held on 11th September 1920. It reads ...  
By order of the Beds. Constabulary under Distress Warrant / Sale Yards / Bedford / W & H Peacock / will sell by auction at above, on / Saturday Sept. 11, 1920 / at 12 o’clock (noon) punctually a / De Havilland / No.6 / Aeroplane / Marked “G-EAQB” / fitted with 90hp 8-cylinder Austin RAF engine / No. E5704 (Wing markings No.15982,  GW. EC. 2A. / U.7031, S.2273,) Palmer Cord Tyres, Air Speed / and Height Indicators, Compass, etc. / now lying at Mr Robert Whitworth’s Farm / Honey Hills / near Biddenham, Beds./ Intending Purchasers are asked to View the Lot prior to the Sale. The Magneto may be inspected at the County Police Station, Bedford. / Permits to View obtained from the Auctioneers. / The sale is for cash and the Purchaser to take delivery of the Lot at its present site.

How the aircraft came to be here is likely explained by the article that appeared in the Bedfordshire Times and Independent a few weeks before the sale date ... [Friday 20th August edition] 

AIR PILOT KILLED AT BIDDENHAM. About 8.20pm on Monday night, and aeroplane, which had been near Biddenham some time, was taken up by its pilot, accompanied by a mechanic. When about 100 feet up the engine stopped and the plane began to descend. In attempting to avoid a barn it crashed. The pilot, James Gordon Riley, aged 21, of 5, Oak Tree Avenue, Palmer’s Green, London N., was jammed in his seat owing to the front of the engine being crushed in. He received severe head injuries. Mr Blick, of Ford End road, was first on the scene, and was shortly joined by two of the Beds Constabulary, who were on the riverside patrol at Honey Hills. The mechanic, named Hamblin, of Brixton, also received injuries about the head. He was the first to receive attention, and was conveyed by boat to Kempston Mill, and later to the County Hospital. The pilot was then removed, and died about five minutes later. The plane was one of those belonging to the By-Air Co., of Coventry, who were giving passenger flights a few weeks ago. The first machine sustained damage and this was the second which, it will be remembered, came to grief in a field of growing corn belonging to Mr R Whitworth. It had to wait for removal until the corn was cut, and this accomplished, Mr Riley and his mechanic got to work upon the machine. On Monday evening we believe it was their intention to fly to Hendon. The inquest was opened by Mr Gregory Whyley at the ‘Three Tuns’, Biddenham, on Tuesday afternoon. Riley Riley, a bank clerk, living at the same address as the deceased, identified him as his brother, a civil airman and a shareholder and pilot in the By-Air Co. He took his certificate in 1917 and had served in the RAF. / The inquest was adjourned for a fortnight in order to enable the evidence of the mechanic, who is the only witness who can throw light on the mishap, to be taken.

In a follow up article covering the inquest proceedings some additional details emerged. William Roe, of Coventry Road, Bedford, described how on Aug. 16th about 8.15pm, he was in a stubble field at Biddenham, when he heard the engine of an aeroplane. He crawled through the hedge, and saw an aeroplane in the field. The pilot tested the planes, and then the machine started off. It went about 100 yards along the ground before it began to rise, cleared the hedge, and went up towards some sheds. Near the sheds it circled. It was about 60 or 70 ft up. It then seemed to come down at an angle of 45 degrees. He did not see it strike the ground, as he was behind the hedge. He ran to the spot, and saw that both men were seriously hurt. He obtained a bicycle and rode into Bedford for a doctor. The passenger, Corporal Hamblin, RAF, stationed at Uxbridge, recovered sufficiently to give evidence. Mr Riley had wired him on Aug.13th to come to Bedford, and he came the next day. He worked for some time on the engine, which was lying in a field, and put in a new cylinder and piston. The machine was then in good order, except for filling up. On the morning of the 16th Mr Riley assisted him in changing one of the ground wheels, and getting in stores of oil, etc. Hamblin did not remember getting into the machine at the start, and had no recollection of what happened afterwards. Mr Trevor Laker, of Coventry, formerly a pilot, gave evidence as to the history of the machine. He said he had got it down from Hounslow, after some trouble, to Lilbourne Aerodrome near Rugby. The water circulation failed, and he had a forced landing a Lilbourne. After that the engine was thoroughly overhauled by their ground engineer, and he made several flights before he left the Company, the machine flying perfectly. He tested it on July 16th, when they were flying it at Kempston. It was then (in his opinion) being flown badly, and he expected to see the pilot crash at any moment. He deduced that the tail trimming was out of order. He went to the field and found that Riley had made a bad landing, and bent his under-carriage. Witness told Riley that if he made a similar mistake that would be his last. Finally Mr J W Batchelor, aeronautical draughtsman, Coventry, said the machine was passed as air-worthy in July. He had seen Mr Riley’s log book, which showed that he had spent 789 hours in the air, and had sunk a German submarine.

The aircraft involved - if it is the same one as was auctioned (Airco DH6, ex C7815) – did not fly again. Records show that it was withdrawn from use at this date and the registration cancelled. Beyond this little is known as to how the sale went, however two papers in the same file as the poster give some clues ... and raise some questions.

The first is a short note from a Superintendent at Bedford Police Station to Mr Mr H Peacock (Auctioneer in Bedford), dated 1st September 1920. It reads ...
"Dear Sir, I received a request from Mr Whitworth yesterday to move the Aeroplane from his field, as he wanted to put horses in. I did so and it is now at the rear of the “Three Tuns”, Biddenham, as it is a better place and it will not be tampered with. When allowing permits to view kindly put “Three Tuns” instead of Mr Whitworths farm, Honeywells. This is also an easier place to find. I see by this mornings paper that Aeroplanes sold very badly at Cambridge but I should think that probably there were a lot for sale." The second is a typed letter (carbon copy) from the auctioneers, dated 31st January 1921, to O Bach, Esq. Aberlady NB (near Edinburgh).
"Dear Sir, We offered your Aeroplane last week but were unable to get any bidding at all for the same. We offered it again last Saturday, after advertising, and have sold it for £6, and will render you the account on Wednesday. Yours faithfully / (unsigned)."

The reference to the pilot's WW1 service record in reputedly sinking a submarine is  interesting. 
It is a little known fact that in the last year of the war the AMC DH6, which had been specifically designed as a trainer, was adapted for use as a submarine hunter and may therefore have been a type on which he had  some considerable experience. 

... image and information from www.internetmodeler.com

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RAF Henlow - the early years  

Few (if any?) surviving RAF Stations can claim longer unbroken service than RAF Henlow.  Following the acquisition of 220 acres of land just south of the village of Henlow in mid/south Bedfordshire in 1917, it opened as the first new station under the newly formed RAF service in May 1918. Initially it was an aircraft repair depot servicing squadron and units within the ‘Eastern Area’, and later, after the end of WW1 and restructuring of the service in 1919/20, became the aircraft depot for the ‘Inland Area’ (IAAD). For a brief period between 1925 and 1927 it also became an operational fighter station with Snipes, and later Gamecocks, of no’s 23 and 43 Squadrons. Longer term flying residents were the parachute test section/flight formed in September 1925 which stayed, in various forms, until the end of December 1959.

The RAF Cranwell Aprentices Association website has the following interesting summary of this station’s early history :

1917: Flat area near industrial Luton chosen for an Eastern Command repair depot


1918: First RAF personnel moved in from Farnborough on 10th May to establish No.5 Eastern Area Aircraft Depot.
By the end of the year 300 women clerks and fabric workers employed.
With the Armistice, fighters were sold off for 10/- and bombers for £1.


1919: On 1st April airmen awaiting demob mutinied over increased working hours. Long jail sentences imposed by a Court Martial

1920: Another 161 acres purchased for a flight testing airfield.
Became Inland Area Aircraft Depot on 16th March.
An apocryphal story circulated that a large building used to repair Handley Page aircraft was intended for a pickle factory at Hendon, but that the destination names got mixed.

1924: The Officers' Engineering School moved from Farnborough in April

1925: Fighter Squadrons No.23 and No.43 reformed at Henlow on 1st July under home defence changes.
Parachute Test Section formed in September.

1926: Became Home Aircraft Depot, 21 Group, on 4th April.
The Parachute Training Section moved in from Northolt in October, and with the Test Section became the Parachute Test Unit. The test method was to stand on the wing of a Vimy bomber, pull the rip cord, and if the 'chute didn't open, hopefully not to let go.
Squadron No. 43 left for Tangmere in December.

1927: Squadron No.23 left for Kenley in February.

Following its departure some members of 23F Squadron maintained contact with colleagues at Henlow and unfortunately this was to result in a fatal crash 16 months later.

From the Bedfordshire Times; Friday 6th July 1928, p5:
The fatal aeroplane accident at Clifton on Sunday evening caused deep concern in the village, for the pilot, Flight-Lieutenant H C Calvey, was very well known there and at Henlow Camp. Before being transferred to Kenley about 18 months ago he was stationed at Henlow and lived at Clifton Lodge, a residential hotel only a short distance from where he met his death. He had paid frequent visits here since his departure, and would announce his arrival to brother-officers at the hotel by circling three times overhead, sometimes flying upside-down, and doing other “stunts” before going off to land at Henlow, where his companions would meet him. It is thought that Flight-Lieutenant Calvey was about to follow his usual practice when the accident happened, but as Clifton is on the direct line from London to Sutton Bridge, where he was proceeding for ground firing practice, it may be merely coincidence that the accident occurred at this spot. At all events, the cause of the disaster remains a matter of conjecture. All that is known is that the machine was seen flying at about 1000 feet and approaching the lodge from over the church when without warning it went in to a spiral nose-dive and crashed to the ground. It fell near a corner of Church Close, an open hay field, and the crash was heard several miles away. When the first people from the village reached the spot they found the dead bodies of the pilot and his passenger, Flight-Sergeant W C Hollier, in the middle of the wreckage. The Henlow Aerodrome fire brigade and an ambulance were sent for, and PC Jackson, assisted by members of the RAF and other helpers, extracted the bodies. The machine was an Avro-Lynx two seater.

Mr F Humphreys, the proprietor of Clifton Lodge Hotel, told our representative on Sunday night that he was in the house when about 6.45, he heard a terrific noise. “I ran out with several officers who were staying at the house” he said, “and saw the smashed aeroplane just across the field. At first it was impossible to recognise the occupants, so badly were thy injured, and when it was discovered that one of them was Lieut. Calvey we had an awful shock, as he had often stayed with us and was a personal friend.”

Mrs Humphreys stated that all her husband and two officers were able to do was to send for the ambulance and assist in removing the bodies.

The accident was actually seen by Mr G W Secker, who said that the machine fell at something over a hundred miles an hour with the engines (sic) running apparently full out until it hit the ground. There was nothing to indicate that anything was wrong until the nose-dive began. Another witness, Mrs Rodwell, who saw the smash from her house about 400 yards away, said that as the machine fell one of the airmen appeared to be waving. She added, “The whole village will mourn for Lieut. Calvey, for everyone here knew him, and there has never been a more popular officer in the village. It is like loosing one of our community, and his death happening at a spot that was so familiar to him makes the tragedy seem all the worse.”

People in the church heard the roar of the Avro’s engines during the reading of the Lesson, but no one seems to have attached any undue importance to the noise of the crash that happened a few moments later, and the service proceeded without interruption. However the Rector’s wife, Mrs La Porte Payne, who was not at the service, called Mr C Revitt, the lay reader, from the church and informed him of the occurrence and the Rector later announced the sad news to the congregation and offered special prayers on behalf of the bereaved relatives.

Flight-Lieutenant Calvey was about 30 years of age, and leaves a widow and a little boy aged four. On Saturday he took part in the Air Pageant at Hendon, afterwards dining with friends in London. Flight-Sergeant Hollier was also married.

The skill and daring of Flight-Lieut. Calvey as a “stunt” pilot had won him wide renown in the Air Force, an in the July number of Airways, the air travel magazine, a contributor who writes under the name of “Obsever” says : “On a recent visit to Kenly Aerodrome, I was fortunate enough to arrive just in time to see Flight-Lieutenant Calvey accomplish that extraordinarily difficult aerobatic, the inverted loop. In the manoeuvre, the machine in this case a Hawker ‘Hawfinch’, is first flown upside down, and then dived to attain sufficient speed for the loop, from which the machine emerges still flying upside down. The feat is not easy of achievement because when upside-down the wings are less efficient and the machine tends to stall more readily than when the right way up. Incidentally, Flight-Lieutenant Calvey, in my opinion, is one of the finest aerobatic pilots in the Royal Air Force, and at one time was holder of the world’s record for upside-down flying.”

The aircraft involved is likely to have been Avro 504K H2534 which is recorded as having crashed near Henlow on this day. This type was derived from the 1912 Avro 500 and made its debut in September 1913. It was mainly used as a basic trainer and was superseded by the 504N Lynx (1927-33).  

 Avro 504K

Flight Lieutenant Calvey’s grave and headstone are to be found in nearby Henlow (St Mary) Churchyard. His epitaph concludes with Greatly loved and remembered”

Around this time there were a number of other flying accidents, as noted in various other memorials  and records:

Plaque in the Station's (St Andrew) Church

To The Glory of God
and Sacred to the Memory
Flying Officer LACEY C. AFC
Flying Officer SCOTT W.
361781 LAC YOUNG B.H.
328869 AC1 SIMMONDS J.W.
Killed in an air collision
April 10th 1926

These men were killed when Vickers Vimy F9184 of IAAD and Avro 504K H5035 (of unknown Unit), collided and crashed, Wednesday 10th April 1926. The Operations Record Book notes ... "Fatal crash of Vickers Vimy and Avro in collision, in which F/O Scott, F/O Lacey, AC Young, AC Germaine & AC Simmonds were burnt to death. The Avro piloted by F/O Scott flew into the underside of the Vimy which was testing parachutes".

Another brass plaque is inscribed :

To The Glory of God 
and Sacred to the Memory
Cpl. EAST A.
Killed in a parachute descent
March 9th 1927

A full list of  RAF Personnel Commemorated in RAF Henlow (St Andrew) Church can be found at the excellent Bedfordshire Memorials & Rolls of Honour website.

In the Beds Times & Independent, 25th March 1927, p4, was found the following snippet: “BROOM / AN AEROPLANE ACCIDENT. An aeroplane from Henlow came to grief at Broom on 17th March and the pilot, Flying-Officer Jezzard had a narrow escape. Onlookers observed that the machine was in difficulties when over the village and it landed on the small holdings beside the Broom Road. The wheels of the machine caught in a furrow and it somersaulted. The pilots face was scratched.”

Tragically a year and five days later the same newspaper reported: 

There was an imposing scene at Henlow Churchyard at the funeral of the late Flight-Lieutenant Jezzard, aged 36, whose tragic death from a crash occurred on 22nd March. his funeral was accorded full military honours at Henlow Parish Church on Tuesday. The RAF Band was in attendance, and played the Dead March and other appropriate music on the way to the church. The coffin, draped with the Union Jack, was borne by members of the RAF, Henlow Camp, and the officiating clergy man was Major the Rev. G A Davies (Chaplain at Henlow Aerodrome). The lesson was read by the Rev. T W Kingsnorth (Wesleyan Minister), of Shefford. At the graveside three volleys were fired and the Last Post sounded. / The mourners present were Mrs F Jezzard (widow), Mr E Jezzard, Mr R Jezzard, and Mr Roderick Jezzard (brothers), Sandwich, Mrs Gillett (sister), Hampton Hall, Mr and Mrs Capelin (brother-in-law and sister), St Leonards, Mrs Otley (sister-in-law), Kensal Rise, and F/O G N Birkinhead (friend). There was a magnificent collection of floral tributes, including many of a public character.”

F/L Jezzard had crashed while flying Avro 504N s/n J8581, with LAC Hooper as passenger. The aircraft hit telegraph wires on the main road to the station, approximately two miles south of the camp, at 1215 hours.

More fortunate were the three occupants of Vickers Virginia K2329 (Mk X) of the Parachute Test Flight who, on Thursday 21st March 1940, escaped largely unscathed when the aircraft stalled due to drag from parachutes about to be tested, and crashed on the railway lines bordering the aerodrome.

Parachutists dropping from Vimy’s over RAF Henlow, 1929.
(Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Record Services)  

The first Vimy, a heavy bomber bi-plane, was designed and built at the end of WW1 (1917-18) but production too late for active service. It entered squadron service with 58 Squadron at Heliopolis near Cairo in 1919. They remained in front line RAF service until 1925 and after withdrawal were used for training and in RAF livery up to at least 1938.

The Virginia appeared in 1922 as a ‘stretched-Vimy’. Called the ‘Ginnie’ by its crews, the most numerous variant produced for the RAF was the metal winged Mk.X which remained in front line service until 1937. On retirement several were used at Henlow for parachute training until 1940-41. It is remarkable to think that these vintage aircraft were still lumbering around local skies two years into the war, still in useful service. I have come across evidence of their presence in a couple of places. Firstly in the Operations Record Book of 13 Maintenance Unit (MU) which records that, as a result of the air raid on Henlow by a lone raider on 16th September 1940, Whitley K7250 and Hind K5546 were badly damaged and slight damage was caused to 1 Hurricane, 4 Magisters, 3 Prefect, and 2 Vickers Virginia aircraft. (details of this raid in MKAS newsletter September 2000).  Secondly, in the course of local research, I came across a rare photograph showing an unidentified Virginia sitting in a field near Harrold in North Bedfordshire. Farmer Jim Northern, in who’s family's fields it had landed, believes it was taken in the late 1930’s. The picture shows three men at work on the starboard engine, and this suggests the reason for the unexpected visit.

The forced landed Vickers Virginia
(J Northern, Harrold) 
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 1926 Fete Disaster at Kempston 

This is the time of year (July) when many village fetes and local fairs take place. Fete committees will have racked their brains for months in search of some particularly exciting attraction, to supplement the traditional favourites, and boost visitor numbers. In 1996 I was a member of Turvey Fete Committee and half heartedly put forward the suggestion that we might contact the RAF to ask whether any airshow display aircraft would be in the area on the day in question and might, with minimal effort, consider routing past our event. However we convinced ourselves that they were probably inundated with such requests and would send a withering letter of rejection, so did nothing about it. On the day of the fete, and ½ an hour after the opening ceremony, there was a distant roar and past went the Red Arrows at about 900ft, in a dispersed and ragged formation a mile to the east, oblivious of our presence and unnoticed by the visitors! Now if that that letter had just been sent …

Tethered hot air and gas balloons are an impressive sight. From their first appearance this type of craft was a natural crowd puller so it is of no surprise that they have a long history of appearances at fetes. It is shocking however to discover that something so apparently benign could be involved in turning gaiety into horror, as was the case on the 26th of July 1926 at Kempston, near Bedford.

From the Bedford Record, 3rd August 1926:

"KEMPSTON TRAGEDY … BALLOON BASKET BREAKS AWAY … FOUR KILLED AND ONE INJURED.  At 3.30 this Tuesday afternoon (27th July 1926), when the amusements and attractions of Kempston Flower Show and Fete were at their height, a terrible disaster occurred. The organizers of the Show had engaged one of Spencer and Son’s captive balloons to make trips carrying four passengers on each trip in the basket. Several trips had been made, and just before the accident the balloon was up in the air at about 600 feet. The usual practice of winding in was followed at the end of this trip by a small motor winch standing on the ground and winding in the balloon by means of a hawser. The wind, however, had freshened from the north-east as the balloon was nearing the earth. It was noticed that the effect of the pull on the hawser in conjunction with the effect of the wind on the envelope of the balloon was causing the basket to tilt dangerously. The pilot was not in the passenger basket but sat on a seat just above them. The basket contained four adult passengers. In consequence of the basket tilting, it is believed that when the balloon was about 50ft. from the ground the pilot allowed some of the gas to escape in order to effect a safer landing, but the result of it was that the netting which supported the basket came off the partially deflated envelope, in the words of an eye-witness, like “the skin off a banana”. The basket fell rapidly to earth, pitching out the four passengers and pilot. The distance was about 40ft. The accident took place in the full view of an enormous crowd, and the authorities promptly decided to close the proceedings. The Luton Red Cross Band played the National Anthem, and except for those who helped remove the injured people to the Hospital everyone departed for home.

THE KILLED. Four people were killed, the names being as follows: The pilot of the balloon, Mr A T Willin, address unknown at present; Mrs Ernest Crowsley, 270 Bedford Road; Mr W Francis Harbage, 1 Church Walk, Kempston, and his wife; Mr Ernest Crowsley lies in hospital dangerously injured.

The balloon bore in large letters the name “Mirarnia”, and underneath it the words “Royal Aero Club of Great Britain”. The balloon was perfectly round in shape and not the usual pear-shape. A parachute descent by a lady had been arranged for the evening."

In a follow up article in 1977 two eyewitness of the disaster provided some additional details about events that day, including the cost of the ride as being two shillings per person, and a recollection that the balloon owners were subsequently fined £100 for not having a certificate of air worthiness … altogether a cautionary tale for fete organizers.

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Small Pieces of Information ...

In my records are a number of brief entries - small pieces of information that have been ‘picked up along the way’. Sometimes they combine to give a broader picture of aviation operations at any particular time. Most however are lost amongst more dramatic and better recorded events, but occasionally they come to my notice again as a collection of interesting and no doubt poignant stories worthy of further research ... one day.

The following all occurred in the month of November and are from RAF Henlow or the southern part of Bedfordshire.

Friday 26th November 1923
From a Memorial plaque in RAF Henlow (St Andrew) Church :
To The Glory of God / and Sacred to the Memory / of / Flying Officer G.P. ABBOTT / Died at Henlow / November 26th 1923 / A member of Captain Scott’s / last Antartic Expedition (where the dash indicates a new line).

11th November 1938
From Henlow Air Depot / 13 Maintenance Unit ORB :
11/11/38 (Friday) Armistice Day - declared a holiday after the silence, with the exception of those on Special Duties

... and from 185 Squadron’s Operations Record Book the same day :

Henlow 11/11/38 14.10hrs Battle aircraft K8136 of No. 185 Squadron, Thornaby, failed to clear sports ground fence on edge of aerodrome when taking off after visiting station, and crashed into hut on sports ground, killing one civilian groundsman - Mr Harry Abbis and dangerously injuring another groundsman - Mr Harry Dilley, both employed at Henlow Camp. The pilot P/O Cakebread and passenger Sgt Ward were unhurt. (The pilot had attempted take off with the propellor incorrectly set in coarse pitch.)

Sunday 19th November 1939
Headstone in Henlow (St Mary) Churchyard :
570873 Aircraftman 1st Class C W WAGNER Royal Air Force 19th November 1939 Age 18 “Just one of many” but to us “Our darling boy”

Son of Emile Francis and Violet Woolston Wagner, of Ilford, Essex. Near East Boundary. Details not known.

Monday 25th November 1940
From Henlow Air Depot / 13 Maintenance Unit ORB :
Henlow; Station Sick Quarters (SSQ) Report : 25/11/40 W Millar - a civilian stoker employed on night duty No.110 Shed was found dead in the stokehold. Inquest revealed he had fallen asleep in the stokehold whilst on night duty and that death was due to poisoning by carbon monoxide gas.

In April the next year ... SSQ Report :19/4/41 Civilian stoker found dead in stokehold of No.110 Shed. Inquest revealed that he had fallen asleep while on night duty and that cause of death was poisoning by carbon monoxide. It is noted that this is the second fatal accident occurring under the same circumstances within 5 months.

Saturday 30th November 1940
From Henlow Air Depot / 13 Maintenance Unit ORB :
Henlow; 30/11/40 No.1902334 Sapper Mallon T., No.655 G C Co. Royal Engineers, killed as a result of bayonet wound sustained in an attack on him by 1910236 Sapper R L Davison. This latter soldier was subsequently charged with murder by the civil authorities.

Wednesday 11th November 1942
Extract from ‘Fortresses of The Big Triangle First’ p33;>
Luton; Flying Fortress B-17F 41-24563of 303 Bomb Group
…damaged in a landing accident at Luton. It sustained damage to one wing and Air Force Service Command inspectors who viewed it following the accident estimated it would take 100 man hours to put it into flying condition. It was inspected again on 1st December, and found to have been completely cannibalised in such a way that it was considered beyond economical repair. This plane was practically new, with less than 100 flying hours.”

Thursday 2nd November 1944
Extract from ‘The Route As Briefed’ (The History of the 92nd Bombardment Group USAAF 1942-1945); p214 :
Pvt Jerry E Zavatijian of the 407th Squadron, who had sustained injuries as the result of an accident October 31, died on November 2. Returning from a pass to visit friends in St Albans, Pvt Zavatijian accepted a ride with the driver of a British lorry. Forced off the road, the lorry struck an historic cottage at Elstow, Bedfordshire. The cottage, a tiny dwelling flush on the road, had been the home of John Bunyan from 1649 to 1655, and was a landmark for pilgrims from all over the world. Pvt Zavatijians death was ruled to be incurred in the line of duty.

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First Crash at RAF Cranfield 

Formed out of approximately 400 acres of farmland, Cranfield Aerodrome officially opened its level grass surface to aircraft on 1 June 1937 under the control of No 1 Bomber Group. First to arrive were the Hawker Hinds of 108 Squadron from Farnborough. They were soon followed by further Hinds of newly re-formed no.82 and 62 Squadrons and at the time the three dozen aircraft represented almost a third of the Groups operational strength. Despite all the activity more than three months were to pass before the inevitable happened and the first fatal crash occurred. The 15th October 1937 edition of the Bedfordshire Times and Independent reported the details under the heading FIRST FATALITY AT NEW AERODROME - Cranfield Pilot Killed in Night Landing.”

“The first fatal accident at the newly established Cranfield Royal Air Force Station occurred on 12th October at the edge of the aerodrome. An aircraft of No.82 Bomber Squadron which was being flown by Pilot Officer James Lawrence Wells, aged twenty-one, of Edinburgh, struck a tree near the Moulsoe Road and burst into flames. Efforts to save the pilot failed. Pilot Officer Wells, who had been posted to Cranfield for navigation duties after passing a short navigation course, was taking part in night operations. His aeroplane hit one of the trees in a clump attached to Moulsoe Road cottage occupied by Mr Sinfield. It crashed to the ground and almost immediately burst into flames. Pilot Officer Wells was the only occupant and he had no chance of escaping. The aerodrome fire squad rushed to the scene, but when the flames had been extinguished the pilot was found to be dead. Squadron Leader N C Pleasance, Officer Commanding No.82 Squadron, said that Wells had been in the Air Force about two years. He last saw him alive at about 6.25pm on Tuesday. Wells had been up and had made one landing. Witness asked him to make another landing, in accordance with the instructions. He went up at once, made a circuit of the Aerodrome, and came round to land in the flare path. He came in at a very low altitude, wide of the flare path, and witness thought it was an error of judgment on his (Wells’s) part. He turned to his left, still at low altitude, and hit a tree about fifty feet high. The machine then fell to the ground and caught fire. He and other people rendered all the assistance they could.

DANGEROUS TREES? The Coroner asked if there was any trouble about the first landing, and the witness replied that there was not. The instructions were to fly forty minutes and make two landings. In reply to another question, [the] witness said that the flare path was to one side of the trees. ... A verdict of accidental death was returned. The jury added a rider to the effect that any trees which impeded landing ought to be removed.

How long it was before the trees came down is not known but just a few weeks later there was another dramatic accident involving Hinds. On 5th November, as three 82 Sqdn Hinds were coming in to land, flying in a 'V' formation the wing tips of the central and right hand aircraft touched and their wings locked together. Out of control they crashed at the airfield boundary and were completely wrecked. Thankfully, and rather incredibly, the accident summary cards for K6822 and K6825 record that there were no fatalities or injuries.

Ghosts from the past ... thanks to photo manipulation software, Hinds fly at Cranfield again.  

The Hawker Hind was to be the last light bomber bi-plane to operate with the RAF. Although the type had entered RAF service just two years earlier its small payload and lack of speed meant that it was rapidly becoming obsolete. By the time of the Munich crisis in September 1938 No.108 had moved to Bassingbourn and the Hinds of the other two squadrons had been replaced by
Blenheim Mk.1's. In August 1939 No 62 Squadron were sent to the Far East and Singapore and No 82 moved to Watton in Norfolk.. Nos 35 and 207 Squadrons then arrived from Cottesmore, with Fairey Battles, to take their place in the lead up to WW2.

Local Hero : Vivian Hollowday GC
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The George Cross is the UK's highest award for bravery by a civilian or a military person where the award of the Victoria Cross (VC) is not applicable.

It was instituted by the Royal Warrant of King George VI on 24th September 1940 and intended as an award of equivalent status to the VC, superseding the Empire Gallantry Medal, the Albert Medal, the Edward Medal and several other awards that existed for acts of great heroism performed in circumstances other than battle. To date 155 have been awarded directly, with a further 244 translated from other medallists.

One of the earliest awards of a George Cross was to an airman stationed at RAF Cranfield. He was AC1 Vivian Hollowday, a member of 14 FTS (Flying Training School), who in July and August 1940 performed two acts of exceptional bravery. One version of the citation reads:  “Planes taking off and landing at Cranfield aerodrome in August 1940 were a common sight, for this was wartime. Aircraftsman Vivian Hollowday, off duty and strolling back to camp, was paying no particular attention to the evening’s air traffic – until, suddenly, a bomber crashed on the airfield! The plane burst into flames as Hollowday rushed to the rescue. He was first at the scene and though alone, he tried to get into the blazing bomber. But the fierce heat and exploding ammunition forced him back. By this time, an ambulance had arrived, but there was still no equipment to stage a rescue attempt. Wrapping himself in some blankets from the ambulance and borrowing a gas mask, Hollowday returned to the inferno. With this slight protection, Hollowday managed to enter the plane and bring out one of the crew. Twice more he entered the blazing wreckage and brought out two more crew members. This was bravery of the highest order, but Vivian Hollowday had done it all before! By a strange coincidence, he had figured in an almost identical rescue on the same airfield only a month previously. On that occasion he had entered the blazing cockpit of a crashed plane, and beating out the flames with his bare hands, had brought out the body of the trapped pilot.”

I was unaware of this local hero until coming across the following brief entry in the Operations Record Book for 14 FTS ... “21/1/41 935282 AC1 Holloway V awarded the George Cross for conspicuous gallantry in attempting to rescue the crews of two aircraft which had crashed and were burnt out at Cranfield on the nights of July 2nd 1940 and August 7th 1940.”

This prompted me to look for details of the incidents concerned. The first, it appears, was almost certainly Miles Master N7695 (Mk I) of 14 FTS, which hit the ground after a night take-off and was damaged by fire. The 14 FTS ORB entry reads ... 2/7/40 Cranfield. Master N7695, 754516 Sgt Davies (pilot) crashed on airfield boundary during night flying. Pilot fatally injured.”

754516 Sgt (Pilot) Noel Francis Lloyd DAVIES, RAFVR, 20, of Barnoldby le Beck is buried in Cleethorpes Cemetery, Lincolnshire. 

 Identifying the second however is more difficult as there is no record of an aircraft crashing at Cranfield on 7th August 1940. It is possible the date is wrong ( - the person who wrote up the ORB entry incorrectly spelt Hollowday’s name -) and if so the second crash might be that involving Miles Master N7177 (Mk I) of 14 FTS on 9th August, which turned after a night take-off, dived into the ground, and caught fire ... “9/8/40 Master N7717. 742084 Sgt Newcombe captain of a/c crashed during night flying; the pilot was killed.”

While this is consistent with the “almost identical” part of the citation it is at odds with the description of the aircraft as a bomber with three on board. The Master was a dual seat training aircraft and although it could be fitted with a .303 machine gun it is unlikely that Cranfield’s aircraft would have had these and ammunition for night time flying training. The second incident therefore remains a mystery to me.

Vivian Hollowday served with 14 FTS at a number of UK locations and in Algeria, Scilly and Italy before and after the events of summer 1940. He was born in Ulceby, Lincolnshire, on 16th October 1916 and after the war (he was demobbed in 1946) lived in Bedford where he worked for local grain merchants Quenby Price. He was a leading member of the VC & GC Association. A quiet and unassuming man he was, during his service, apparently reluctant to wear his medal ribbon. In 1971, while staying at a hotel in London his medals were stolen and a duplicate was eventually issued after the necessary authorisation process. He died in April 1977, aged 61, and was cremated at Bedford where his ashes were interred. In 1986 his widow put his medals up for auction at Sotheby’s and they were purchased by the Royal Air Force Museum, where they are now on display - an fitting repository for the one of the first George Cross’s to be awarded to a member of the RAF.

the George Cross
Aircraftsman Vivian Hollowday 

With thanks to Derek Hollowday and Ruth Portus Craig (see the Craig Family website which includes several  pictures of Vivian Hollowday GC).

Part 2  ...

Vivian Hollowday GC – research update.

At the time of  putting together the article above I had been unable to positively identify the second aircraft crash near Cranfield mentioned in Vivian Hollowday's  award citation. Many versions of these exist and differences and inconsistencies made accurate comparison with the details in my own records difficult.  A few weeks later however there was a breakthrough when I spotted an incident in my Buckinghamshire records that seemed a perfect fit. Thanks to Derek Hollowday (his nephew) I had the text of a BBC broadcast made on the 22nd January 1941. This seemed one of the more reliable account and reads...

“A new list of awards of officers and men ot the Royal Air Force is published today. It includes three George Crosses, eleven George Medals and five Medals of the Military Division of the Order of the British Empire.

One night last July Aircraftman Vivian Hollowday, who received the George Cross, was returning to camp when he saw and aircraft crash and burst into flames. Making his way through burning debris which had been scattered over a vide area by the force of the impact, he hurried to the wreckage. After finding the pilot, whose clothing was on fire, Aircraftman Hollowday put out the flames with his bare hands. Unfortunately the pilot had been killed instantly by the crash. A month later Aircraftman Hollowday repeated this act of heroism when he saw another aircraft crash to the ground and explode. Even as he went to the crash a second explosion occurred. But in spite of repeated bursts of exploding ammunition he dashed into the flames four times and succeeded in releasing the first occupant of the machine. He then re-entered the burning wreckage and successfully removed the second. Unfortunately Aircraftman Hollowday’s heroism was once more in vain as the occupants of the plane had been killed in the crash.”

This second crash is therefore almost certainly that of 17 OTU Blenheim MkIV P4902 that stalled on a nigh navex and spun into the ground near Cranfield on the evening of 7th August 1940. At the Public Record Office is the following abridged Accident Report:

Mertlands Farm, North Crawley, Bucks, at 2235hrs on 7th August, 1940.

The pilot’s instructions were to fly from Upwood to Bicester 53 miles, Bicester to Northampton, 25 miles and back to base 33½ miles. At a time when the aeroplane should have been near Northampton it was seen flying in an easterly direction 20 miles SE of the scheduled course and close to Cranfield aerodrome where night flying was taking place. When opposite the wireless telegraphy station the machine was seen to stagger. Five seconds later at about 1500 ft and while still in flying position it lost speed and spun to the ground.

The aeroplane struck the ground at a moderate speed and came to a stop pointing east, the engines were not at the time. From its position and the proximity of trees immediately behind it could be judged to have been flattening out, probably in a left hand spin. Fire occurred immediately and destroyed all the centre of the machine. All safety belts were burnt. One body was found in the navigator’s compartment and one in the gunner’s cockpit. The third, that of the pilot, was lying face down 72 yards east of the wreckage and he had evidently fallen from a considerable height. His parachute was unopened and was on the ground 4 ft away; the harness was free. The rip- cord had not been pulled. No parts broken or otherwise were found to show the circumstances under which he left the machine.

The engines were extensively damaged by fire were stripped but appeared to have been in good order at the time of the accident.

Examination of the pilot’s parachute harness showed that the release ring had not been turned and while in the locked position had been driven back by direct impact on the front. This had forced the spin- loaded plunger out through the aluminium casing and had released the catches and then the harness. From this it may be seen that the harness was in position on the pilot’s striking the ground.

The investigation concluded that the pilot may have lost his way, was trying to identify Cranfield aerodrome and on suddenly becoming aware of the risk of collision with the night flying machines stalled the aeroplane while climbing. Alternatively it was thought possible that on loosing sight of the aerodrome flares he lost control in the “black-out”. There is no reference to the heroic actions of Aircraftsman Hollowday, but in respect of date, aircraft type, number of casualties and other details, it is consistent. 


The men killed were :

Flt Lt (Pilot) Edward Patrick MORTIMER RAF

Sgt (Air Gnr.) Dennis Frank ALVES RAF, aged 21, son of James and Ethel Alves, of Walsall, Staffordshire 

Sgt (Obs.) David Allen GIBBS RAFVR, son of Frederick Henry and Kathleen Ethel Gibbs, of Paignton. 

Gibbs is buried in his home town while Mortimer and Alves were buried in Bury Cemetery near RAF Upwood.   

34 RAF headstones at Bury Cemetery, Cambridgeshire  
Turvey Airmen
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Almost every village and town in Britain has a War Memorial to the fallen of the two ‘World Wars’, and on many of them you will see the names of RAF men who did not return home. On Turvey’s War Memorial near the Church are the names of two such men with local connections who served with the Royal Air Force during World War 2 - ‘G TRUPHET A/C R.A.F’ and ‘C A WOOD S/Ldr R.A.F’.

1196674 Aircraftsman George Jennings Truphet, aged 36, was serving with the 5003 Airfield Construction Squadron when he died. The  Operations Record Book (ORB) for his unit, now held at the Public Records Office at Kew, gives the following details for that day:

“RAF Ashford, (Kent). Bomb Damage: On the night of 21-22 May 1944, at 0035 hours (12.35am), a 1,000lb HE bomb was dropped on the tented site, accommodating the reserve flights, M&E, MT, and Plant flights. Total casualties were 30, 14 proving fatal. 26 tents were damaged beyond repair, and a further 14 rendered unserviceable. The camp field kitchens were demolished and 2 water bowsers and 2 items of MT were damaged. Primary Conclusions: The vital necessity of a medical orderly and first aid staff complete with medical supplies, stretchers etc. on each site not covered by, or within reach of RAF Station or USAAF Station medical facilities.”

He was the husband of Lillie Truphet (née Woolston), of Turvey, and when she died in 1986 (aged 83), was laid to rest with him in the cemetery on Carlton Road. The RAF crested Portland stone headstone is to the right from the entrance gate.

In contrast Squadron Leader Charles Ainsworth Wood has no defined grave. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission record gives no family details, simply stating that he died on the 30th August 1941 and is commemorated on panel 29 at the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede, near Windsor - a building that contains the names of over 20,000 airmen lost without trace during operations from bases in the United Kingdom and North and Western Europe, during WW2. Fortunately, however, there is reference to his unit and so it has been possible to put together the following brief details based on entries in the Squadron ORB: 

On the 8th August 1941 Squadron Leader Wood arrived at RAF Martlesham Heath, near Ipswich, to take over command of 258 Squadron, his predecessor leaving two days later to take up an overseas posting. The squadron was equipped with Hawker Hurricane Mk IIA’s and he must have been something of a taskmaster for in that month they were credited with flying more hours than any other unit in 11 Group. Unfortunately, on the 30th August, following a Convoy Patrol, he failed to return. Entries that day read - S/Ldr Wood missing from operation. Nothing definite but bits of wreckage picked up by a nearby destroyer” and “ ‘B’ Flight : Aircraft (coded) ‘V’ S/Ldr Wood. Patrol. Up at 0750. S/Ldr Wood reported missing and believed killed.” Six aircraft from ‘A’ flight carried out an air & sea rescue search but nothing more was found. Two days later a new Squadron Leader arrived to assume command.

Thanks to a number of longstanding local residents I have established that his family lived in Holmwood House, a magnificent ‘mansion’at the Bedford end of the village, but beyond that I too have found little more.

Three Nights in October 1941  

Saturday 11th October 1941

One of the most problematical parts of my research comes when trying to discover the circumstances and details behind the many local aircrew war graves. Some, of course, are directly related to the operation of nearby former active airfields and local crashes, but it is those who were brought back for burial in a home town or village that are the most difficult to find out about. Fortunately the Commonwealth War Graves registers sometimes make reference to a Squadron number and this, added to the date, narrows down the search considerably. A particularly useful reference is the excellent Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War series of books by W R Chorley, and from this source come the following tragic circumstances behind an otherwise anonymous headstone in the village of Moggerhanger, east of Bedford.

Airman buried at Moggerhanger (St John) Churchyard.  
TOTHILL, Sgt. (Pilot) FRANK HUGH NEVILLE, 927548. RAF(VR). 12 Sqdn. 11th October 1941. Age 25. Son of Charity Wish Tothill, of Moggerhanger. NE of Church. Bomber Command Losses 1941; page 156; entry for 10-12 October: 12 Sqn. Wellington II.  s/n Z8397. Coded PH-. Op. to Köln.  Took off from Binbrook in Yorkshire at 2352 hrs. Crash-landed 0130 hrs on the beach 200 yards south of California Gap, Ormesby, 1 mile NW of Caister-on-Sea, Norfolk. As the bomber slid to a halt it touched off a mine and exploded. The bodies of the crew were taken to nearby Bungalowe Garage for formal identification.  Along with Sgt F H N Tothill, the pilot, five others were killed - Sgt L S Dunlop, Sgt R H Todman, Sgt A E Cosgrove, F/S A A Nordon’ and Sgt A Pilkington.

… they had so nearly made it. 

Sunday 12th October 1941
The next night, an accident closer to home, showed that there was no guarantee of safety by being near an airfield either.

In the early hours of Sunday morning Sgt Phitidis, a South African training with 51 OTU (Operational Training Unit) at Cranfield, was carrying out local flying experience in Blenheim IV L4849. It was a moonlit night and at 0345 hrs, as he approached to land, it is thought he suddenly realised that he had failed to lower the undercarriage and decided to go around again. In doing so it appears he pulled the aircraft up too steeply for the amount of flap deployed, and stalled. Despite an extensive night time search involving the Home Guard the aircraft was not found until daylight when Cranfield resident Ivy Bettell, while out exercising her dog, came across its crumpled wreckage lying across the boundary hedge and ditch to Coleman’s Orchard.  It was just a few hundred yards from the perimeter of  the airfield.

1317492 Sgt.George Platon Phitidis, son of Constantine Haralambou Phitidis and Alexandra Gabriel Phitidis, of Johannesburg, was a relatively experienced pilot with over 1200 flying hours logged on a variety of aircraft types. In this instance however just 22 hours experience of the type together with the added complications of night time flying proved to be a fatal combination. He was buried at Kempston (Rural) Cemetery and his grave lies beside those of 23 other airmen and one airwoman from this period.

In the late evening of the next day another of 51 OTU’s Blenheim’s was lost in very different circumstances …

Monday 13th October 1941

From September 1942 until June 1944 Beaufighter FI’s were the principal training aircraft of 51 OTU based at Cranfield, and were a common sight in local skies.  The task of the unit was to train night fighter crews.

Propaganda postcard depicting a Beaufighter F1 despatching a Heinkel 111. 
At around 2120 hrs on the night of Monday 13th October 1941, in a reversal of the fortunes depicted above, one of 51 OTU’s own aircraft was attacked by an unidentified aircraft and shot down in flames near Sherington, Bucks. The aircraft was Blenheim IV R3617 and its pilot, and sole occupant, Flight Sergeant Francis Filmer of Liverpool, died. Official records state that he was killed by enemy action and indeed this is consistent with activity around this time – a Stirling of 7 Sqn. having been shot down by a Ju-88 near Bourn airfield, 15 miles west of Bedford, just a week earlier. However, to this day, local opinion persists that he was the victim of ‘friendly fire’ from a British Havoc night-fighter, and so unfortunately this introduces a degree of uncertainty (which can probably never be removed) over what really happened that dark night in October 1941.
back to top With thanks to Alan Perrin of Cranfield for details behind the accident involving Blenheim L4849 above.
Vagaries of Fate
One of the principal sources of information for any particular RAF Unit are the daily diaries they were obliged to keep throughout their existence. Copies of these operations record books (ORB) are kept at the Public Records Office, Kew, and can be accessed by the general public on request (visit http://www.pro.gov.uk/ for more information on the registration process and index of records held). Although these vary considerably in legibility, accuracy and level of detail, those of the training units based at Cranfield (14 FTS and 51 OTU) give and fascinating insight into the busy wartime years, unwittingly mixing humour and pathos in their diligence to record details as diverse as sports fixture results, misdemeanours, and the flying accidents and personnel losses. In working through these you generally seen peoples names appear just once, but on occasion they do re-appear, as in the case of a trainee pilot noted pranging two Blenheim's in two days, going on to apparently survive the war! Not all were as fortunate however.

When I first read the following entry for a Beaufighter's forced landing at Wavendon on Monday 30th November 1942 I can still recall the feeling of relief followed by slight amusement at a connection between the navigators surname and the mental picture of the damaged aircraft ... 51 OTU ORB : "30/11/42 12.30 hrs, Wavendon. Sgt Goodwin (pilot) and Sgt Dent crashed Beaufighter after engine cut. Aircraft cat 'E'. Crew escaped with cuts and bruises."

A few lines on however - the very next accident to a unit aircraft - and any amusement was gone ... "5/12/42 14.15 hrs Beaufighter R2204 caught fire in the air, pilot crash landed on the aerodrome. Sgt Goodwin got out suffering from lacerations of scalp, face and legs. His observer 1389090 Sgt Dent suffered a fracture to the base of scull and fractured vertex of scull. Died at 18.00 hrs in spite of all efforts to save him." It was just five days since their earlier accident!

From the accident card summaries for these incidents it appears that on the first occasion the engine (both engines?) on Beaufighter (Mk IF) R2097 had stopped due to fuel starvation, the pilot having failed to change tanks in time. Sgt Goodwin, a New Zealander, had retracted the undercarriage and glided into the nearest field but in the course of doing so the port wing of the aircraft hit a tree, the aircraft swung and hit the ground. It was written off. The second emergency had occurred 2hrs 11minutes into a practice aircraft interception flight when the starboard engine of Beaufighter R2204 caught fire and smoke filled the cockpit. Subsequent investigation by the manufacturer ascertained that a fatigue fracture had lead to the failure.

1389040 Sgt (Nav) Clifford Leonard Dent, RAFVR, 19, of Enfield is buried at Edmonton Cemetery, Middlesex. He was the son of Leonard S. Dent and Edith E. Dent, of Enfield. It is thought that Sgt Goodwin survived the war - his name does not appear in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records - though whether he flew again is not known.

Two years later and another extraordinary entry in the Operations Record Book for 51 OTU again underlined how fickle fate could be.

 “1/11/44. Near Cranfield. Mosquito II W4097 spun after a tight turn (... diving when a piece came off the port wing, inboard of the engine), but made a successful landing when the machine was getting unpleasantly near the ground.” (... the machine presented some interesting features and was later seen by an Officer of the Accident Investigation Branch and a Civillian Official of The Royal Aircraft Experimental Station at Farnborough. It was struck off charge the following month.) The entry continues ...

“Most unfortunately, the French Pilot - Capitaine De Goujon de Thuisy, was killed the same night together with his Belgian Navigator F/O Marchal, when they flew into the Elephant Mountain (Craig Cum Bychan) in Wales, while on a night Navigation exercise. The wreckage was strewn over a wide area and nothing may be known about the cause.” (Mosquito W4088, MkII)

Footnote: James and I visited the crash site on 28th May 2003. Very little now remains ... one small patch of exposed gravel in the heather with many screws of various sizes (evidence of the aircrafts extensive wooden construction), struts from one undercarriage leg and some thick and heavy sections of armour plating. It appears that the aircraft struck the hill roughly 1900 feet above sea level while heading west or south-west;  pictures in Out & About Photographs

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By 1944 most Wellington aircraft had been retired from front line service with RAF Bomber Command in Europe and were serving with Operational Training Units throughout the country, giving crews experience of cross country navigation, night time flying and working together in preparation for active service. Many OTU’s equipped with Wellingtons were based in Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire and they must have been a common sight in our area. Although an inherently safe aircraft they were not immune to the myriad of mechanical and human factors that were to cause so many accidents during the war years, and in March that year there was one particularly black week for the type.

Monday 20th March 1944

At around 22.50hrs Wellington LN181 (Mk X), of 82 OTU based at Ossington, was on a night cross country exercise when its port engine cut. The aircraft was in cloud when the failure occurred and its pilot 22 year old Flying Officer Charles Richard (Dick) Floyd lost control. It came down near Yardley Gobion killing the crew of eight who were all Canadians serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force. In the subsequent technical investigation a piece of piston ring, and piston top were found in the engines sump, evidence of internal failure in flight. F/O Floyd had a total of 180hrs solo flying experience, 39 of these on the type, 9 of which were at night.

The crew were all laid to rest at Brookwood Military Cemetery. They were:

F/O (Plt) Charles Richard (Dick) Floyd, of Ontario.
F/O (Nav) Ronald Frank Calnan (25), of Vancouver, BC
F/O (Air Bomber) Melville Lloyd Fullerton (20), of Toronto, Ontario.
Flg Off (Nav) Daniel Louis Jacobs (30) also of Toronto, Ontario.
Sgt (W.Op/Air Gnr) Lorne Herbert Johnston (20),of Moncton, NB.
P/O (Nav) Ralph Northcliffe MacGillivray (23), of Antigonish, NS.
P/O (Air Gnr) Harry Charles Millen (36), of Mattawa, Ontario.
F/O (Air Gnr) William James Mohring (21), of Calgary, Alberta.

Thursday 23rd March 1944

At 15.55hrs Wellington HF732 (Mk X) of 22 OTU based at Wellesbourne Mountford started its take-off run from the grass airfield at Sywell near Northampton. The pilot did not appear to make full use of the take off run available, and as he fully opened the throttles the aircraft began to swing. Unfortunately he appeared to overcorrect and as the fully laden aircraft become airborne its wheels struck Wellington MP718 (Mk XIV) of 22 MU parked at the airfield boundary. In the following crash four of those on board were killed instantly and four others severely injured, two of them dying later in Northampton General Hospital.

F/L (Plt) Gerald Bernard Leddy, DFC (23) of Calgary, Alberta; F/O Walter (Nav) Mansell Rawbone (27) of Ontario; and P/O (Air Gnr) Thomas William Dimma, DFM was buried in   Brookwood Military Cemetery.
LAC (W/Op) Owen Joseph McGowan (25) was buried in his home town of Accrington, Lancashire.
AC2 Sydney John Brandon (41), who was a passenger, lies in St Ippolyt Churchyard, Ippolitts, Hertfordshire.
LAC Cyril William Hugh Brook (32), also a passenger died on the 26th, and was buried at Bristol (Arnos Vale) Cemetery.
Two crew members, 955482 W/O R F Ladkin and 1142120 A C Goodall, appear to have survived.

F/O Leddy had won his DFC while flying Wellingtons with 424Sqn. He had survived crashes in Italy in October 1943 and another in the desert November 1943.  

Later that day, just two miles away from Sywell airfield, Wellington LP258 (Mk X) of 26 OTU at RAF Wing dived vertically into the ground and blew up. It had been on a 4hr 10min cross country training run when at 23.20hrs, it is thought the pilot stalled the aircraft while picking up position for a bombing exercise. The six crew members, identified from service documents, were:

Wing Cdr (Pilot) Henry Augustus Simmons (33).
Sgt (Nav) Donald Murray Smith, RCAF (29) of Ottawa, Ontario.
F/O (Air Bomber) Ronald Edward John Thornton.
Sgt (W.Op[Air]) Elwyn Crosland (29) of Longwood, Huddersfield
Sgt (Mid-Upper Gnr) Joseph William Day (37).
Sgt (Air Gnr) John Marsden (34).

Friday 24th March 1944

A Wellington Mk III of 26 OTU was flying out of Wing when, around 10.00am, ‘at low altitude’, the starboard propeller disintegrated. One of the blades entered the fuselage killing the rear gunner Sgt Noel Block. The pilot managed to retain control of the aircraft and make a belly-landing at RAF Little Horwood, the rest of the crew being uninjured. The court of inquiry concluded that the failure was the result of a defective joint and considered that the handling of the aircraft by the pilot was creditable.

Sgt Noel Herbert Block, RAAF, 21, of Prospect, South Australia, is buried at Oxford (Botley) Cemetery.
Old Bedfordians
back to top An on-going part of my research is to try to establish the circumstances behind locally connected air force casualties, and recently this has focused on Old Bedfordian's killed while serving with the Royal Airforce in World War Two. The names of these former pupils of Bedford School are commemorated on its Roll of Honour however, unlike Bedford Modern School which compiled a comprehensive memorial book shortly after the end of the war, no other details are recorded. Beryl and Stuart Blythe of Kempston recently presented to Bedford School their comprehensive record for WW1 casualties, and in helping them with WW2 aircrew losses I have come across many details about lesser known aspects and moments of the war. For example, one incident that highlights the high losses the RAF suffered in early 1940 as German forces invaded Europe came to light with the search for information on Squadron Leader James Michael Wells. He was the son of Sir Sydnet Richard Wells Bt. DL. MP. & Dorothy Wells of Sharnbrook, and he attended Bedford School between 1925 and 1929. The background to his fate, and details about a particularly black day for his Squadron are given by the following extracts from the unit's Operations Record Book:

600 Sqn ORB : RAF Manston, Kent

Monthly Summary -
14/2/40 In the morning there was a very cold wind blowing which had caused drifts by removing the snow from the high ground into the dips. The Commanding officer took off in the morning and did a circuit of the aerodrome. He did not consider the conditions safe enough for flying. Squadron Leader Viscount Carlow notified the Squadron that he had been posted to the air ministry and attached to the Directorate of Intelligence, and would be leaving on Saturday. This news was received with sorrow on the part of all who were informed, officers and NCO's. He said that Flight Lieutenant Wells, who was well known to the Squadron, had been appointed Commanding Officer in his place, and that he would arrive next day to take over.

16/2/40 A signal arrived to the effect that Flight Lieutenant Wells would not arrive until next Saturday, and Squadron Leader was not to leave the Squadron until Wed. 21st inst.

18/2/40 Flight Lieutenant Wells arrived to fulfill his post as commanding officer to the squadron.

10/5/40 The day was fine and the news came through that Germany had invaded Holland and Belgium. At1200 hours the Commanding officer with Flying Officers Moore, Rowe and Hayes, and Pilot Officers Anderson and Haine were sent off to attack Rotterdam aerodrome which had been taken by German parachute troops and to destroy enemy aircraft in the air or on the ground. Arriving there they dived over the aerodrome attacked and destroyed a JU82 on the ground and climbing were immediately attacked by 12 Me110 which had apparently been patrolling above. There was a fierce fight the exact effects of which on the Me's cannot be stated and it is not certain how much the rear gunners were able to fire. Flying Officer Haines was very ably directed by Corporal Holmes as to how and when to turn and succeeded in shaking off his pursuers. The machine was severely damaged in the starboard wing and the petrol tank was pierced. He made for home but almost immediately encountered 3 He111's which he immediately attacked with his remaining ammunition and succeeded in breaking up the formation. Before bringing his aircraft back safely. Neither the pilot nor the air gunner was wounded. The remaining five machines were reported missing and further news is awaited. The crews of the missing aircraft were Squadron Leader Wells, Corporal Kidd (gunner), Sergeant Davis (observer); Pilot Officer Haine, Pilot Officer Kramer (gunner); Flying Officer Rowe, pilot Officer Echlin (gunner); Pilot Officer Anderson, LAC Hawkins (gunner), Pilot Officer Moore, Cpl Isaacs (gunner).

13/10/40 Another fine day, but the few serviceable aircraft were devoted mainly to train the new pilots. It was learnt at mid-day that we were to be relieved by No.604 Squadron at Manston and then were to go to Northolt to recuperate; the move to take place after No.604 Squadron had moved in 'B' Flight the next day and 'A' Flight the day after.

Daily Operations Summary -  

9-10/5/40 0540hrs.
Blenheim 'R' S/Ldr Wells, Sgt Davis, Cpl Kidd (up 1230; down -) Operations. Missing
Blenheim 'K' F/O Rowe, P/O Echlin (up 1230; down -) Operations. Missing
Blenheim 'O' F/O Hayes, Cpl Holmes (up 1230; down 1425) Ops.
Blenheim 'W' F/O Moore, Cpl Isaacs (up 1230; down - ) Ops. Missing
Blenheim 'L' P/O Anderson, LAC Hawkins (up 1230; down -) Ops. Missing
Blenheim 'N' P/O Haine, P/O Kramer (up 1230; down -) Ops. Missing

It is known that James Michael Wells, Sqdn Ldr. 600 Sqdn RAF (Auxiliary Air Force), died on the 10th of May 1940 aged 31, and that he is buried in Rotterdam (Crooswijk) General Cemetery, Netherlands.


Of the 106 airmen who’s names are on Bedford School's Roll of Honour for WW2, six lost their lives in the month of October, in a wide range of aircraft and circumstances...

On Tuesday 29th October 1940 Sergeant John Power Ryland (BS 1932-1937) died when the 22 Sqdn. Beaufort he was piloting crashed on take off from North Coates near Grimsby. 4 aircraft carrying torpedoes took off around 5.30am for an operational sortie but his was seen to crash into the sea approximately half a mile offshore with the total loss of the aircraft and crew of four. He was the Son of Ralph Paul Kirkland & Elsie Margaret Ryland of Bedford and, as his body was not recovered, is remembered on Panel 19 of the Runnymede Memorial. He was 22 years old.

A few hours later the same day Aircraftsman 1st Class George Allan Nangle (BS 1931-1934, also 22 years old) was killed when Sunderland P9266 (coded “W”) of 201 Squadron based at Sullom Voe in the Shetlands, crashed SE of Wick during local flying practice. The reasons for the crash are not recorded in the unit operations record book, but it is known that three others were killed, five injured and two escaped unhurt. He lies in Dalziel (Airbles) Cemetery, Lanarkshire.

On Sunday 19th October 1941 Pilot Officer Peter Norman Hewitt (BS 1934-1940)of 601 Squadron based at Duxford lost control of his Airacobra while carrying out aerobatics over his old school. (details of this crash in the October 2001 MKAS newsletter article). He was 19.

the the wreckage of Airacobra AH582 in the back garden of a house in the centre of Bedford (via. N Perry).  

On Saturday 24th October 1942 aerobatics were also the downfall of 21 year old Sergeant Derek Dundonald Audley. For 266 Sqd. at Warmwell in Devon it was a fine day, with good visibility but a strong wind. Six anti-Rhubarb (anti-intruder) patrols were carried out without incident. Non-operational flying included formation practice, tail chasing and aerobatics. Unfortunately, during these aerobatics, Sergeant Audley’s Typhoon was seen to break up at 18,000ft, scattering pieces over 5 miles. He was buried on the afternoon of 27th October in the Churchyard of Holy Trinity, Warmwell, Dorset. The son of William & Constance Elizabeth Dundonald Audley of Durban, South Africa, he had attended Bedford School from 1934 to 1939.

A few days later and another old boy, Squadron Leader Cyril Dampier Palmer (BS 1931-1935) who was also based in the South West of England, failed to return from an operational sortie in Spitfire Vb BM527. The operations record book for 234 Sqdn. describes events on Tuesday 27th October 1942:

27/10/42 At 14.00 hours today, the squadron flew to Perranporth to join 19 Squadron on an offensive sweep. 19 and 234 Squadron including W/Cdr O’Brien up Perranporth 15.40 hours. Down Perranporth and Portreath 17.00 hours. Rendevouz made at Lizard at 10,000ft, at 15.45 hours. When climbing through layers of cloud off Lizard the squadrons became separated. No.234 Squadron climbed to 23,000ft and patrolled for three minutes 15 miles north of Ile-de-Batz (five miles north of intended patrol line due to 19 Squadron becoming separated). Then received warning from Controller bandits were climbing above. The Squadron turned right into the sun at the end of the patrol. When three or four FW 190’s dived on them from behind and above carrying out one diving attack, S/Ldr Palmer (sup) was seen by F/Lt Drinkwater to go down in flames and bale out 15 miles north of Ile-de-Batz. At the same point F/Sgt Drayton was seen by F/O Denville to go into a spin. Formation broke up (the 190’s flying well above). The Squadron returned to base. Three of our pilots had a crack at the hun but no claims were made pending developing of cine camera film. (S/Ldr Palmer and F/Sgt Drayton and 2 Spitfires missing).

Sdn.Ldr. Palmer was not found and his name is recorded on panel 165 of the Runnymede Memorial. He had been posted to the Squadron (as supernumary) on 6th October 1942. Prior to this he’d had an eventful operational career having been shot down three times whilst flying Hurricanes with 1 Sqdn; on the 23rd November 1939, 2nd April 1940 and 17th May 1940.

Finally, on the 3rd October 1943 in a different arena of war, 33 year old Sgt (Observer) Timothy John Barrett lost his life when Beaufighter JM760 (coded “B”) was shot down whilst attempting to prevent the invasion of the Greek island of Kos. The operational report gives the following graphic account ... 

227 Sqdn. Nicosia (Laketamia). A/c airborne at 0510 hrs on shipping strike of enemy shipping invading Kos. Formation proceeded around the N of island and in position 3655N 2700E two M/V’s were located of 2000 tons, along with 5 small escorts, and a tug towing a long line of barges also observed disembarking troops on beaches. All a/c attacked MV’s with cannon fire with good effects. One a/c carried two 250lb bombs one of which hung up – result of dropping second bomb unobserved. One JU88 was seen bombing the Island from 8000 feet. AA was intense and heavy, medium and light accurate. A/c “B” was seen to be hit whilst making its attack. The hind fuselage was ablaze and a/c was seen to climb to 300 feet, roll over and dived towards the sea. At 0730c W/T message sent in plain language “Kos Invasion”. A/c landed at 1000 hrs. Weather good – vis. 20/30 miles.

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The vital contribution made by the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) in WW2 is sometimes overlooked. While the crews were classed as civilians they played a soldiers role throughout the war, delivering operational aircraft to squadrons, in fair weather or foul. The wartime strength of the ATA was 1,152 men and 600 women including 166 pilots and flight engineers, and by the end of the war they had been responsible for delivering over 300,000 aircraft. Through this organisation came the rare opportunity for women to fly in wartime. They performed exactly the same duties as the men flying with equal skill the range of more than 200 aircraft types involved. Unfortunately, like the men, they too had casualties amongst their numbers.

In 1992 the name Janice Harrington was brought to my attention by a friend who knew of my interest in local aircrew. Her name was recorded on the Goldington War Memorial in Bedford and it was know that she had been a Flight Engineer with the ATA and had been killed in a Mosquito landing accident on Thursday 2nd March 1944. Wanting to know more about the circumstances I looked up a number of sources and from these the facts and emotions surrounding it emerged …

There is a picture of Janice in the book Brief Glory [1] and according to its author E C Cheesman, Janice was "quite unusually attractive" - so much so, that in 1943 her portrait hung in the Royal Academy Exhibition. Janice is buried, along with many other ATA personnel, at Maidenhead, Berkshire, not far from White Waltham, the ATA's HQ airfield. She was 23.

In response to a request for information published in the Beds Times & Citizen I learned that she was a former pupil of Bedford High School for Girls and that the Harrington’s (large) house had been Putnoe Lane, Bedford. A road called Harrington Drive exists nearby today.

Of the crash, the Form 1180 accident investigation summary card held at the RAF Museum, Hendon gave the following details:

2/3/44 Mosquito VI HP932 15 FPP ATA. Lasham, Hants. Cat.E. 2K. 1600hrs. Delivery flight. 50min duration.
Pilot LANG Mrs D 1st/O (k). 832hrs tot. solo, 10 on type. A/c on approach – undershooting slightly – opened up, climbed to 150’, stalled, spun into the left. / A/c crashed out of control. / Erratic correction on approach caused stall – pilot had been sick – had accident 4hrs earlier – had not been passed as medically fit since illness. / ASI may have been faulty – no proof. / No definate evidence.

Finally come the following extracts from the book Golden Wings [2]

Chapter 18: To Wail Friends Lost: 
Came a sunny day in 1944 with the programme not weighty, but full enough – the weather good – a reasonable leisurely day – a happy day. Veronica had taken the Anson, Anna and five others were flying Spitfires to Shawbury, Dora and one of the women flight engineers had taken a Hudson to Cosford, with a Mosquito back to Lasham, and Grace the American had a duplicate trip. We were getting through well, the first trips had been made, and the pilots were well on with their second deliveries, lunch was over and a few were sitting round, preparatory to starting on their new job. A visiting male pilot or two were sitting round looking as out of place as they somehow did in a women’s Mess.

I was checking some papers as Rachel stretched her arm out to answer the phone. Not really listening, nevertheless I heard a desultory conversation and in perceptively a change of voice. I looked up quickly to see Rachel with a face grown old and grey. “Dora,” she mouthed at me, while still listening. So apparent was the tragedy in her face that I knew so much, but not quite all. I steeled myself for the necessary question. “Dead?” I whispered. She nodded. “And the flight engineer – and Janice?” I asked. She turned again to the phone and asked this question, then with a curiously helpless twist of the hand, she turned back to me. “Both,” she mouthed. Sickness welled in the pit of my stomach. …

Later we learnt that the first Mosquito having landed, the second, which was very close behind, had made a circuit and started quite normally on its approach. Then, when it was only about twenty feet over the runway, it suddenly reared up, turned on its back and dived into the ground. There was no hope at all and the horrified onlookers could do nothing. It was never really discovered exactly what could have happened to make a brilliant pilot and a beautifully designed aircraft perish almost at the point of a normal landing. The Accident Investigation people never produced any particular finding, although there were many theories. …

Grace, who had delivered the other Mosquito, came back from Lasham in Margot’s Fairchild and, much later that afternoon, she came quickly into Operations and stood by the window, looking out. It was as though she had to get away from the others, but could not yet bring herself to leave the airfield.

I had already altered the huge blackboard that hung down one side of the room. It bore the names of the pilots and their leave for the month. If someone was killed no gaps were left, the name was erased and everyone else moved up – quickly. …

We will remember them – Amy, Dora, Honour, Margie, Janice and some of those others – Leslie who stalled on a conversion course at White Waltham, Susan while taking off in a Wellington bomber, Tania while flying with the RAF, and Bridget and Betty, passengers together in a stalling Fairchild in which the pilot himself died. They were all our friends and they were killed doing their vital job.

In St Paul’s Cathedral to the undying memory of the 158 men and 15 women are inscribed the words:


ATA graves at Maidenhead

Janice Harrington &
Wing Commander Pauline Gower
from 'Brief Glory'.


[1] Brief Glory: the Story of the Air Transport Auxiliary by E C Cheesman. (Reprinted by the ATA Association, 2001).
[2] Golden Wings: The story of some of the women ferry pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary by Alison King. 1954.

also RAF Form 1180 Accident Summary Cards (RAF Hendon), + Commonwealth War Graves Commission (‘Debt of Honour web site);

Friendly Fire
back to top Some time ago I came across an operations record book entry for an incident in which an RAF Blenheim was damaged by ‘friendly fire’ from Hurricane’s off NE Scotland. It read …

(310 (Czech) Sqn.) Dyce 20.9.41 “A” Flight sent up five sections between 1145 and 1910 hours, four of these flights being convoy patrols over Peterhead. The other was a scramble, F/O Zaoral and F/Sgt. Trejtnar taking off from base at 1620 hours. They were ordered to take a certain course to intercept an enemy aircraft off Kinnaird’s Head (QK 5388,) they overtook what they presumed to be an E/A and engaged it from the rear - F/Sgt Trejtnar fired a burst of about 20 rounds from about 600 yards but on overhauling the aircraft discovered it to be a British Blenheim and broke off the engagement. F/O Zaoral was on the point of firing when he too recognised the aircraft to be a British plane and broke away. One engine of the Blenheim was put out of action and the aircraft landed safely at Dyce the crew uninjured. The Blenheim belonged to No.21 Squadron stationed at Lossiemouth.”    One can imagine the ear bending the CO of 310 Squadron received from his counterpart! This aircraft was relatively lucky in that the mistake was spotted in time. Earlier that year, in Northamptonshire, another crew were less fortunate.

On the night of 21-22nd June 1941 seven Avro Manchester’s (forerunner of the Lancaster) of 207 Squadron, based at Waddington, Lincolnshire, were detailed to bomb the docks at Boulogne. Each carried 12x500lb general purpose bombs and they took-off between 01.00 and 01.42hrs. Approximately three hours later, at around 04.20hrs, six aircraft returned. The squadron operations record book records the fate of the missing aircraft: 

Waddington. 22/6/41 It was learnt that an aircraft that had been shot down by a Beaufighter at approximately 01.55 hrs. near Wollaston, Northants was our missing Manchester L7314 (‘Y’). Traces of five bodies were found and the identity tag of Sgt James. The aircraft was outward bound on track at about 6000 ft. It crashed in flames after the attack and some of the bombs exploded.”

The nightfighter involved was from no.25 Squadron based at RAF Wittering. The accident investigation card (Form 1180) notes that its pilot had been convinced the aircraft intercepted was hostile, and that this had resulted in his failure to correctly identify it. He had been influenced by the sector controller who had informed him that a bandit was in vicinity, and subsequently a portion of the blame went to ground control for the part they played in the identification process. Certainly the sector had been busy with intruder activity that night - another Beaufighter from 25 Squadron shot down a Ju88 near Market Deeping - so it was L7314’s misfortune to have been passing during the alert. The Manchester’s seven crew members were: Captain Flying Officer John D G Withers (25) of Bromley, Kent; 2nd Pilot Sgt Alick M James; Observer Sgt William Brown (29) of Waleswood, Yorkshire; Ist W/Operator Allan Malone (22) of Wyke, Yorkshire; 2nd W/Operator Stanley Veitch (22) of Fulwell, Sunderland; Mid Upper Gunner Sgt J A Maville (23) RCAF, of Dalhousie Station, Province of Quebec; Rear Gunner Sgt Michael V Browne of Withington, Manchester. Sgt Veitch was laid to rest in Sunderland (Mere Knolls) Cemetery. The others were interred in a joint grave at Lincoln (Newport) Cemetery.

Unfortunately, even with sophisticated communications and identification systems, as recently as the Gulf War it was seen that accidents like this are still likely to happen under the confusions and stresses of war.

Low Flying 
back to top Despite standing orders that low flying was only to be carried out if authorised, many wartime trainee pilots must have felt they had every excuse to practice this important skill that might later be called upon in their combat careers. The thrill and sense of speed in flying close to the ground was a lure in any case to those who felt confident that they could control their machine and react in time to any obstacles that might arise. Undoubtedly a lot of ‘unauthorised’ low level flying was carried out during the war years without incident, and much valuable experience gained. In some cases there would have been close calls, but where no damage occurred (- other than to the nerves of pilot and crew! -) they were unlikely to have been reported. Unfortunately when things went drastically wrong it was not possible to avoid the official line and where the pilot survived, the disciplinary consequences.

Although this part of the country has relatively gentle contours and appears ideal for low level flying, the records show that one particular feature brought down more pilots than any other. Telegraph wires and HT cables were difficult to see even with experienced eyes, and near Turvey one early stretch of National Grid line erected in 1939 brought down two aircraft, with skilled crews on authorised exercises, within a mile of each other during the war. Even when their presence was noted they could still cause disaster, as can be seen in the following accidents:

Friday 4th April 1941. At 18.15hrs Acting Leading Airman (A/LA) V Morley was flying Magister N3799 of 24 EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School - based at Luton) when he collided with trees in an orchard at Cheapside Farm, near Sandridge, Herts. He was killed instantly. From the evidence of an eye witness it appears that he was low flying and had passed under some telegraph wires some 400 or 500 yards before hitting the trees. He had completed a total of just under 20 hours solo flying, and on that day had completed his elementary training.

FX.84718 Ldg Airman Vivian Lapone Morley, RN, HMS Daedalus, 20, of Fulham is buried at Fulham Old Cemetery, Surrey.

Tuesday 16th April 1941. Pupil pilot A/LA H A Foote in Magister L5977 of 24 EFTS, whilst attempting to fly between two hangers and under electric wires which were attached to them, struck and damaged the roof of the NAFFI with the port undercarriage which was also damaged and collapsed on landing. He was uninjured and the Officer Commanding of the unit diagnosed the primary cause of the accident as being due to a breach of flying discipline. He was placed under open arrest. On 12th July 1941 Acting Leading Airman H A Foote was tried at a district Court martial at Luton under Section 39A(I)(a) of the Air Force Act and Section II of the Air Force Act. He was found guilty of the offence of unauthorised low flying and sentenced to undergo detention for a period of eighty-four days.

Thursday 26th April 1945. At 16.55hrs Lancaster PD339 (Mk I, Coded ‘J’) of 50 Sqn (based at RAF Skellingthorpe, Lincolnshire) was in low flight just to the south of Northampton when it struck a tree in the course of banking steeply to avoid cables and slipped in on the turn. On crashing it burnt out and of the seven crew only two RAF air gunners survived, one seriously injured (Rear G), the other only slightly (M/UG). This aircraft was one of eight 50 Sqdn Lancasters on detachment for the first day of ‘Operation Exodus’ - a large scale 12 day airlift to repatriate some 75,000 recently liberated British prisoners of war to Britain. It is believed that PD339 was returning to its base after transporting one of the first batches of prisoners from Brussels to Wing and was just 15 minutes into its flight home.

Those killed were 425740 Flg Off (Pilot) Cedric John Evans, RNZAF, 22, of Inglewood, Taranaki; 4215760 Flt Sgt (Nav) Thomas Richard Thwaite, RNZAF, 20, of Hamilton, Auckland; 1817207 Sgt (Flt Engr) Denis Harold Millichamp, RAFVR, 21, of Nottingham; 425688 Flt Sgt (Air Bomber) Ralph Franklin Carrodus RNZAF, 23, of Hastings, Hawkes Bay; 425580 Flt Sgt (W.Op/Air Gnr) Ian James Loveridge RNZAF, 24, of Rongotai, Wellington.

The four New Zealanders were buried at the RAF Regional Cemetery at Oxford (Botley), and the RAF Flight Engineer in his home town.

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Collision in the Air 
During the War years 1939-45 there were many accidents on, and around RAF Cranfield. Causes were wide ranging - from burst tyres and collapsed undercarriage to major mechanical failures; minor taxiing collisions to the more serious consequences of misjudgements when flying.

The danger of mid air collision has probably never been higher than in those busy, and less regulated, wartime skies. When it occurred it was a particularly gratuitous loss of working aircraft and valuable personnel, coming unexpectedly out of the blue, sometimes only minutes away from take-off or landing. This was what happened when Dominie (Mk 1- military version of the de Havilland Dragon Rapide biplane) X7368 and Beaufighter (Mk 1F) R2252, both of 51 OTU, collided on the afternoon of Thursday 11th November 1943.

A Court of Inquiry Report vividly describes the events : “At about 14.49 hrs. on the 11th November 1943 Dominie X7368, piloted by F/Lt Fitzrandolph was returning to Cranfield from Hucknall and was making a normal approach from the East on runway 26, having received permission to land by R/T.

Beaufighter R2252 piloted by F/Lt M.W. Kinmonth arrived from Twinwoods at about the same time. The Beaufighter, which was not in R/T communication with Flying Control at Cranfield, had been sent round again about 2 minutes previously by a red signal cartridge from the Airfield Controller for cutting in on another Beaufighters approach in a dangerous manner. After completing a tight circuit, the Beaufighter R2252 turned towards the runway with undercarriage and flaps down in a steep banking turn, cutting in on the Dominie, which was now in a straight approach.

The Airfield Controller, seeing that both aircraft were approaching to land, shone his red Aldis lamp at the Beaufighter to indicate that he should go round again. This warning was either ignored or not seen by the Beaufighter pilot. A dangerous situation had now arisen, and the Airfield Controller fired a red signal cartridge towards the Beaufighter; at the same time the Flying Control Officer gave R/T instructions to the Dominie to go round again. This instruction was not acknowledged. The Dominie opened up and started to make height in a gentle turning climb to port. The Beaufighter opened up also, but by reason of its attitude continued in a steep banking turn, and the two aircraft collided at a height of about 100’, just outside the perimeter of the airfield. The Dominie hit the underside of the Beaufighter with its starboard wing. The Dominie disintegrated and caught fire, crashing in flames on the edge of the airfield. The Beaufighter went into a steep dive, and crashed at the beginning of the runway in use, and caught fire on impact with the ground. All occupants of both aircraft were killed instantly with the exception of 2nd Lt. Peters of the USAAF who died a few minutes later on the way to sick quarters.”

Both aircraft crashed just within the barbed wire perimeter of the airfield next to Merchant Lane, Cranfield, at the end of a now disused runway locally called ‘The Policeman’s Runway’ (due to the proximity of the Police House).

Tragically eight people had died. Unusually the Beaufighter was carrying two passengers on the short trip from Twinwoods  - WAAF Cpl Jose Cecilia Hayes, 22, of Paddington, London, and Flt Sgt (Plt) Lionel Maxwell Amesbury, 25, of Weston-super-Mare. Its pilot, Flt Lt Michael William Kinmonth, 21, of Mount Meirian, Co Dublin, Irish Republic, was a holder of the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). In the Dominie were five airmen - pilot Flt Lt Archibald Menzies Fitzrandolph, 47, and passengers Flt Lt Ian Haper Courtney and  Sgt. Eric Povey, 22, of the RAF, and Americans 2nd Lt. M Schenker and  2nd Lt. J K Peters.

Sgt Povey is buried in his home town of Smethwick, Staffordshire and Flt Sgt Amesbury at Weston-super-Mare. The other four RAF personnel are buried at the RAF Regional Cemetery in Cambridge City Cemetery.

Fortunately this was to be the last collision in the air in the vicinity of Cranfield. 3 months earlier, in August 1943, Oxford LX304 (Mk I) of 18 PAFU (Church Lawford) had collided with Whitley BD221, near Stagsden while orbiting Cranfield at night, resulting in 3 lives lost. Three years before that Oxford P1834 (Mk I) and Oxford P8827 (Mk I) of 14 FTS had collided near Cranfield with one pilot losing his life and, three years earlier, in November 1937, two Hinds of 82 Squadron had collided on approach.  

D-Day Rembrance
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With the recent commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings it should also be recognised that many airmen also contributed to this gigantic effort in a wide variety of ways, and some too were casualties on June 6th 1944.

In the course of tracking down the circumstances of loss of the many former Bedford School pupils killed as aircrew during WW2 I came across the following information for Alan Boyle (BS.1940).

88 Squadron’s Operations Record Book:  Hartford Bridge. June 6th 1944. “D” Day. Squadron was called at 0130hrs and Navigators briefing was at 0200hrs. Main briefing 0230hrs. 88 Squadron were to screen the landing craft from Le Harve Costal batteries and 342 Sqn to screen landing craft from east side of Cherbourg Peninsular. 88 Squadron were away first. First detail was W/Cdr Maher who carried W/Cdr Reynolds from Group as passenger in Gunners Cockpit. Smoke was laid OK but drifted away quickly owing to strong wind on surface. First detail on target at 0500hrs. A/C followed at 10 minute intervals. Light flack was experienced from Le Harve and French Coast up to Etretat and from some enemy surface vessels proceeding into Le Harve. W/O Boyle and crew failed to return from sortie – no news available.

19 crews were on this first detail. Aircraft were re bombed with Smoke and 14 crews stood by, but no further call was made.

Boston IIIA Coded ‘N’ S/n BZ243  W/O Boyle A J; P/O Chalmers J C.

24 year old W/O Alan John Boyle (promoted to Pilot Officer after death) was the son of John Lewis & Florence Isabel Boyle of Jersey. His name appears on the Runnymede Memorial, panel 1210, as does his Navigators, 21 year old New Zealander James Chute Chalmers (panel 263). Just two of many.

'Brothers In Arms'
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In the lead up to D-Day, Costal Command continued their lonely task of traversing hundreds of miles of featureless ocean in search of U-boats and enemy craft. On the 21st May 2004 I had the privilege of attending a memorial gathering at Runnymede to remember the 10 crew members of one Liberator that failed to return exactly sixty years previously. This mark of respect had been organised by Terence Bowman and his brother Geoffrey from Co Down. Their uncle, who they never knew, Flying Officer Geoffrey Bowman, had been the Captain of the aircraft – Liberator (Mk.V) BZ873 of 53 Squadron based at St Eval in Cornwall.  Lost with him were Flt Sgt Kenneth Richards RAAF, Flt Sgt Robert Christie, Flt Sgt Walter Moore RAAF, Flying Officer  Herbert Watkins RAAF, Flt Sgt George Harrison, Flt Sgt John Kerr RAAF, Flt Sgt Alan Johnson RAAF, Warrant Officer William Atherton, and Flying Officer William McTaggart DFM.


the Runnymede Memorial, 21st May 2004

Bowman’s loss was a particularly hard one for the family. On Christmas Eve 1941 his older brother Eric had been killed when Stirling N6066 clipped a tree and crashed near Bedford (see MKAS Newsletter December 2001 + January 2002).  Just a few days before the Runnymede gathering I had by chance discovered that one of the others killed in this crash had also been one of two brothers lost while serving with the RAF. In visiting the tiny village of Combust Bradfield in Suffolk to locate the house where the Savoy family had lived, and around which the Stirling had reputedly made a low pass on its way to Bedford, I learned from the local landlady that a war memorial plaque existed in the church. Here the names of the 4 local men killed in WW2 were engraved in marble.

Plaque in All Saints church, Combust Bradfield

21 year old Sgt Gerald Savoy had been the Flight Engineer on the 26 Conversion Flight (mainly 15 Sqdn. Crew) Stirling out of Waterbeach, Cambs. His brother Sgt (W.Op/A.Gnr) Derek William Savoy was in the crew of Lancaster ED819 of 106 Sqdn lost on operations to München on the night of 6-7th September 1943.

For some families, and brothers, the sacrifice in the cause of freedom, was high indeed.

Remembrance Projects Around the World

In trawling the net for aviation history related web sites I recently came across a number of ‘remembrance’ projects. Four stand out and have a similar aim, which is to create an on-line photo library of headstones and memorial commemorations of the fallen from Canada, Australia and New Zealand. These are the Maple Leaf Legacy Project; The Australian Wargrave Photo Archive; and the New Zealand Armed Forces Memorial Project.

Prompted by these I visited Cambridge City Cemetery for the first time just a few weeks ago. It contains an Air Force plot set aside in 1942 to accommodate casualties from the Air Force stations set up in Eastern Counties during the war. These included Bomber Command bases in Lincolnshire and Fighter Stations in Norfolk and Suffolk. A stone of remembrance, bearing simply the words "Their Name Liveth for Evermore" stands near the centre of the plot and to one side is a small pavilion. Among the mainly Commonwealth burials here are a number of airmen, and one airwoman, killed in flying accidents in our region; they are:

Wellington X9922 at Preston Deanery, Northants : 20.9.41
Sgt (Plt) William Robert Dil (22)
Flt Sgt (W.Op/Air Gnr) David Gifford Chattell (25)
Plt Off (Obs) William Rand Lugar (21) died 21.9.41

Oxford LX305 at Stagsden, Beds : 7.8.43
Flt Lt (Plt) William James Smith (27)

Beaufighter X7545 at Sherrington, Bucks : 27.8.43
Sgt (Nav/Radar) William Edward Seckington

Beaufighter X7821 at North Crawley, Bucks : 24.10.43
Plt Off (Nav) George Denis Mason

Dominie X7368 & Beaufighter R2252 collision at Cranfield : 11.11.43
Flt Lt Ian Haper Courtney
Flt Lt (Plt) Archibald Menzies Fitzrandolph (47)
Cpl Jose Cecilia Kathleen Hayes (22)
Flt Lt (Plt) Michael William Kinmonth DFC (21)

Beaufighter R2239 near Cranfield : 29.11.43 
Flt Sgt (Plt) William Connell Thomson (28)

Lancaster DS839 at Ridgmont, Beds : 23.1.44
Sgt (Air Gnr) Stuart Allan Carr (19)
Flt Sgt (W.Op/Air Gnr) James Joseph Farrell (21)

Flg Off (Air Bomber) Roy William Grosser (27)
Flt Sgt (Air Gnr) Leonard Ignatius Hogan (20)

Flt Sgt (Nav/Bomber) Fred Whitten MacDonald (31)

Halifax LW510 near Cranfield : 24.3.44 
Flg Off (Plt) Michael Arabin Wimberley (21)
Flt Sgt (Nav) William Harold Shields (21)
Flg Off (Air Bomber) Reginald Stanislaus Kelly (21)
Sgt (Air Gnr) Dennis Horace Albert Brignell (19)

Beaufighter R2069 at Easton Maudit, Northants : 24.3.44
Flt Sgt (Plt) John Henry Roberts (27)

Hudson FK767 at Arlesley, Beds. : 28.3.44 
Flt Sgt (W.Op/Air Gnr) Eric Clive Brewer (23)

Beaufighter X7587 at Westoning, Beds : 22.4.44
Flg Off Stuart William Legge Richins (23)

Wellington LN536 near Lavendon, Bucks : 16.10.44 
Sqn Ldr (Plt) Arthur Lushington Vipan

Stirling LK207 of 161 Sqn at Potton, Beds : 19.10.44
Flt Lt (Plt) Ross Victor (Allan) Levy (21)

Wellington MP523 at Cranfield : 1.12.44
Flg Off (Nav/W.Op) Gordon Hugh John Smith (23)

Mosquito KB397 at Hatley Park, Beds : 5.1.45 
Kpt Let (Flt Lt) Bohuslav Eichler

Stirling LK236 near Tempsford : 14.2.45  
Flt Sgt (Nav) Peter Norman Carr (21)
Sgt (Air Gnr) Peter Norman Ellis 
Flt Sgt Cyril William Saunders (25)
Flg Off George Colin Wiggins (28)

Mosquito HK227 near Cranfield : 9.3.45 
Stábní rotmistr (Sgt) (Nav/W.Op) Karel Hájek (32)
Rotmistr (Wt Off) (Plt) Fraktisek Raska (28)

Mosquito HK245 at North Dean, Bucks : 30.4.45 
Flg Off (Plt) William McCabe, DFM (25)

Mosquito TA282 at Cranfield : 21.6.45 
Wt Off (Plt) George Gregory Kendall (20)

Liberator KN736 near Cockayne Hatley, Beds : 18.9.45
Flt Lt (Plt) Patrick Joseph McNulty, DFC (22)
Wt Off (W.Op) James Raymond Potter (22)

Typhoon JR390 near Little Staughton, Beds. : 19.10.45
Group Capt (Plt) John Raymond Jeudwine (32) DSO, OBE, DFC

Cambridge is one of the three main UK regional collections of wargraves that are directly maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (the others being Brookwood in Surrey, and Harrogate, Yorkshire). The immaculately maintained plot is well worth a visit (see map for location) and few will fail to be moved, to some degree, at first sight of the 800+ headstones.

Remarkably de Havilland Tiger Moths, the aircraft that many of these men will have first learned to fly in, still putter overhead from nearby Cambridge airport, just as they did 60 years ago when No.22 Elementary Flying Training School was based here.

Location of Cambridge City Cemetery which contains the RAF Regional plot for WW2.
back to top update 2004:  The UK now has  'The British War Memorial Project'  - A Volunteer Project to build an online International War Memorial to British Service Personnel from 1914 to the present day, including those killed in recent conflicts and peacekeeping operations.
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In 1947 Handley Page began design work on a long-range four engined medium range bomber that would be able to carry conventional and nuclear weapons fast and high above all known defences. Named the Victor, it became the last of the three V-bombers (following the Valiant and the Vulcan) to enter RAF service as part of Britain’s nuclear deterrent. Later versions took the original design on to a strategic reconnaissance role, and finally as the K2 refuelling tanker, it remained in service until the early/mid 1990’s. 

Two Victor prototype aircraft were constructed for the Ministry of Supply to specification B.35/46, and with their ‘crescent’ wing shape and all swept ‘T’ tail configuration were technically highly advanced for the time and arguably more elegant than the offerings from Vickers and Avro.  

Coded WB771 and WB775 respectively, the maiden flight took place on 24th December 1952.  WB775 was eventually dismantled at Radlett in January 1961. WB771 however had a much shorter life, lasting just over a year and a half and ending in a horrific crash at Cranfield on the 14th July 1954. 


Beds Times & Standard; 16th July 1954: NEW JET PLANE CRASHES AT CRANFIELD. The Crescent-winged Handley-Page Victor, Britains latest four-jet bomber, crashed on the College of Aeronautics, Cranfield, on Wednesday while carrying out instrument tests in conjunction with technicians at the College. The test pilot and three flight observers, all Handley-Page employees were killed.  The aircraft was the only one of its type yet made and this type is one of three of V-class four jet bombers in “super-priority” production for the R.A.F. The Victor was believed to be the only bomber with the crescent wing. 

SEEN OVER THE TOWN.  For about an hour and a half at Wednesday mid-day the plane had been seen flying over North Bedfordshire, and shortly before 1 pm was seen by thousands in Bedford as it flew low over the town. Eye-witnesses of the crash said that after 1 pm they saw the plane travelling low over the main runway at Cranfield. The nose suddenly dipped towards the ground, the tail dropped off, and the plane crashed. An explosion was heard and a huge plume of smoke was seen rising in the air.   The airfield was sealed off by Police, and staff at the College were ordered not to speak about the crash. Police patrolled the near-by roads and kept all traffic moving.  All that remained of the plane was wreckage, none of it very large, strewn for about 400 yards across the airfield. Following the explosion the plane seemed to have partially disintegrated in the air and the ground surrounding the point of crash was burned. The plane was barely a quarter of a mile from the village of Cranfield to one side and the main buildings of the College to the other.  The inquest on the four men will be opened at the Shire Hall, Bedford, to-morrow (Saturday) morning. Only formal evidence of identification is to be taken and the inquest will be adjourned to a later date. 

The aircraft had been making a low level calibration run at  high speed over the airfield when the tailplane failed. The Captain – Squadron Leader Ronald Vivian (“Taffy”) Ecclestone DFC (31) from Aldershot was a graduate of the Empire Test Pilots’ School No. 8 Course in 1949 and had recently joined Handley Page as a test pilot. He had accepted the task to fly the Victor on this sortie so that the senior company test pilot could carry out a rescheduled demonstration of another aircraft to a foreign sales delegation. He had been awarded the DFC following a tour with 218 Squadron. Handley Page Flight Test Observer Ian Kenneth Bennett (29) of St Albans had been one of the two man crew who made the first flight in a Victor in December 1952. Also killed were Handley Page Flight Test Observers Bruce Heithersay (28), an Australian living at St Albans, and Albert Bernard Cook (24), of Edgware, London.

On the 20th July 1954 The Bedford Record & Circular reported some of the details from the inquest.  Titled “Their Deaths Will Save Others …” Inquest Held on Bomber Crew " it concluded with an emotional statement from the deputy Coroner for North Bedfordshire who said the men had died doing, no doubt, what they considered their daily work. “These men’s lives will not have been wasted”, he said. “Their very deaths, will, I am sure, save many lives.”

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Did UFO Cause F-111 to Crash at North Crawley?

This was the serious question raised by a UFO investigator who analysed the dramatic sightings made by some on the morning of 11th January 1973. One, labelled ‘The Cuddington Incident’, was captured on film by a Building Surveyor on his way to work just after 9am. Pulling over in to a lay-by on the A418 he filmed a strange ball of orange light travelling through the sky for 23 seconds before it suddenly vanished. In his own words "The object moved neither up, down nor sideways - it was just not there any more." On calling the Thame Gazette to tell them about the object a reporter informed him that other witnesses, including children at Chilton primary school and a teacher, had seen the object too, but that the mystery had already been solved. It had, he was told, been caused by the dumping of fuel by a military jet in trouble. Not convinced by this he approached the military or Ministry of Defence with his film but met a similar wall of disinterest.

24 miles to the east from the lay-by from which the film (‘Fire In The Sky. Case History Two. The Buckinghamshire UFO Movie Film’) had been taken, an F-111 deposited itself in two parts at 9.35am. The following account appeared in the papers the following day:

Pilots Escape as Fighter Crashes / by staff reporter Grahame Butterworth / Two American Air Force pilots parachuted to safety yesterday morning when their jet fighter exploded and crashed in flames near North Crawley, narrowly missing a farm. / The plane – an F111 swing wing fighter – plunged down only yards away from where farmer Mr Mike Fountaine was working at Hurst End Farm, and blocked the North Crawley – Wharley End Road. / Children at North Crawley primary school had a grandstand view of the plane as it crashed, and Bedford police received numerous complaints from the Kempston area of low flying aircraft. / Children at Up End primary school flung themselves to the floor of their classrooms as the plane, with another jet fighter, went overhead, and it was seen over Bedford with its after burner spitting flames. / North Crawley school head Mr David Lewry said: “We heard a bang overhead and we all rushed to the window. We could see this plane coming down surrounded in flame and we watched it crash into the ground about half a mile away. / The children, aged between seven and nine were very worried, but immediately set to with crayons to draw pictures of the spectacle” he said. / Another eye-witness, pensioner Mr Walter Read, told how “an almighty bang” made him look into the sky as he dug his garden at his home in High Street, North Crawley. / “I never heard such a bang.” said 70 year-old Mr Read. “I looked up and could see nothing for a moment. Then suddenly coming through the clouds I saw a ball of flame – it was the plane. / A second later it crashed down and then I saw the pilots coming down on their parachutes. I saw them land safely and then I grabbed my bicycle and raced down to the plane. But it was just a mass of flames. There was nothing I could do.” / Firemen from Bedford and Bletchley rushed to the scene to douse the flames and within minutes of the crash three helicopters from different airfields were circling overhead. / Police cordoned off the wreckage and American Air officers started and immediate on-the-spot inquiry. / The two pilots ejected and landed safely in a garden in the centre of the village. / It is thought that the plane, from the American Air Force base at Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire, developed rudder trouble and was circling over the M1 trying to burn up fuel so that it could land at Upper Heyford. / The pilots were named as Major Robert J Kroos, aged 36, and Captain Roger A Beck, 31.

The F-111E was 68-024 of the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing, call sign ‘Sewn 11’. Just after take-off at 08:56 an engine fire melted the rudder linkage and with it frozen hard over the crew had ended up flying around in circles trying to get back to Upper Heyford. It was the fuel dumping procedure that gave rise to the (several) UFO sightings! The crew abandoned the aircraft at 09:47 after Kroos finally lost control of the aircraft. They were exonerated from any blame.

Despite the full facts, several were still adamant that “no plane on fire could stay in the air so long”, and one final straw was grasped by an investigator reporting to the British UFO Research Association. She argued that there could still have been a link between the two incidents. It appeared that last frame of the film showed the hedge in the foreground in sharp focus but the trees below the vanished ‘UFO’ as being smeared and out of focus. Her theory for this inexplicable effect was the possibility that a force field emerging from the UFO as it vanished, moving at the speed of light, would create a warping of light rays too brief for the human eye to notice but captured by the camera. Had this caused the plane to crash? (!!)

pictures that appeared in The Beds Times; 12/1/73


UFO report at ‘Strange Thame’ (www.cleaverproperty.co.uk/strange/thame/ufo.html)

Technical info at F-111.net,  and Newspaper Report from the Friday 12th January 1973 edition of The Bedfordshire Times.

Postscript (or rather ‘prescript’): In reading through the Operations Record Book for 8 (Coastal) Operational Training Unit based in NE Scotland I came across the following entry :

2/1/44 Flying: W/O Able (Pilot of Mosquito DZ557) reported that while flying in the Alnwick area at 22,000 ft at 1200 hours, he had sighted “four rectangular black objects stationary in the sky.” This was reported to 13 Group.

Now explain that one ....

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