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Wartime Aircraft Crashes And Encounters In And Near Dry Drayton

In October 2021 we were contacted by a family historian, enquiring about the location of a WW2 aircraft crash in or near to Dry Drayton. We thought we knew the answer to this as there is a WW2 crash mentioned in “Gallows Piece to Bee Garden”, the Millennium History of Dry Drayton, p.109. A Stirling bomber returning from a bombing raid on Hamburg in May 1941 crashed into trees as it approached Oakington. All but one of the crew were killed instantly. We subsequently learned that the surviving crew member died later from his injuries. The location of the crash appears to have been at Crafts Hill Dry Drayton.

But this crash didn't match the details our enquirer listed. She was searching for information about a fatal war-time aircraft crash near the village a year later, in August 1942. A Stirling bomber, returning from a training flight to RAF Bourn, came down short of the runway with engine trouble "1.5ml NE of the airfield".

A bit of searching on the internet led us to a site run by Historic England which highlighted the extent of UK aircraft losses in WW2. https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/military-aircraft-crash-sites/milaircsites/. Between 1939 and 1945 RAF Bomber Command lost 1,380 aircraft within the UK whilst either outward or inward bound on operational flights and, along with its Operational Training and Heavy Conversion Units, a further 3,986 aircraft in non-operational accidents. The Luftwaffe is known to have lost 1,500 aircraft in and around the UK. Crash sites are an important reminder of the tragic extent of these losses, involving some 80,000 allied aircrew deaths. Crash sites can also provide a focus for commemoration and remembrance.

We decided therefore to try to pinpoint this second site by appealing to local residents for any knowledge they may have of the crash either directly or indirectly. We are most grateful to those who got in touch with information. We were amazed to find there were not two, but eight crashes in or near the village. In the interests of confidentiality we have not included the names of those passing on this information, but we thought this information should be listed here as an act of remembrance in the hope that even more about these tragic incidents might then come to light.

In addition to the two incidents mentioned above, the following are believed to be the local aircraft crashes of WW2 and later.

1. A Stirling bomber crashed on the wooded edge of what is now the village cricket field, somewhere behind "Solway" on Scotland Road. Date not known. All crew killed. This was mentioned by three people, one of whom was a small boy at the time scouring the crash scene for "bullets and bits of Perspex which might be useful to make things". This location is roughly in line with the SW to NE runway at Bourne and roughly 2.25 miles from the end of the runway. But two people who have mentioned this crash say that the Stirling was from Oakington. A third person believed that the aircraft was from Bourn. A witness remembered, some years ago, a visitor to the village whose family used to live in an old cottage on Scotland Road close to this crash site. The visitor was making enquiries because he believed his family had a very lucky escape living so close to the site of the crash. The visitor sought permission from the village cricket club and searched the crash site with a metal detector. (Location what3words: could.cello.surprise https://w3w.co/could.cello.surprise)

2. A crash, date unknown, aircraft unknown, at a field edge between Scotland Farm Dry Drayton and Childerley Estates. This is directly in line with the SW to NE Bourn runway around 0.9 miles from the end of the runway. The resident identifying this site had the location pointed out to him as a crash site by someone many years after the event. Location what3words: along.ascendant.hunches https://w3w.co/along.ascendant.hunches

3. A crash in the field behind the Dry Drayton Parish Church. Two US aircraft had been practicing a dogfight over the village and collided. One aircraft, described as a Mitchell, crashed straight into the ground, killing the pilot, the other managed to limp back to its base at Bassingbourn. Believed to have happened towards the end of the war. Our witness visited the scene shortly after the crash having seen both aircraft in the air beforehand. Location what3words: widgets.reclaimed.control https://w3w.co/widgets.reclaimed.control

4. A long term resident at Childerley, with over 70 years knowledge of the farm, recalls a Stirling crashing in 1942 in the field opposite the present BP garage at Childerley Gate, narrowly missing the old chapel at the entrance to the road to Childerley. This was just north of the St Neots Road. Location what3words: pursuit.blip.seasons https://w3w.co/pursuit.blip.seasons . This would have been about half a mile from the end of the runway at Bourn. The aircraft was returning to the airfield and crashed short of the runway. All the crew were killed. It is believed that the aircraft had some work done on it just before the crash. (This may be the crash site our original enquirer was seeking).

5. A Blenheim Bomber crashed in 1943/4 on Childerley Estate, near the centre of the farm in a field known as Boxer Ground, taking out the tops of three or four trees. The aircraft ran out of fuel trying to get to Bourn Airfield. The Australian Air Force crew of 3 all survived the crash.

6. A spitfire crashed after a dogfight over Boxworth, the pilot bailed out but his parachute failed and he was killed. Later, when drilling in the spring, one of the Childerley farm workers found the pilot's revolver.

7. Just after the war a twin boomed jet aircraft, a de Haviland Vampire, crashed in Dry Drayton up towards the Five Bells, Huntingdon Road, and local farmer Charlie Searle went to the aid of the pilot. It is believed that the crash site was on Charlie Searle's land

Please get in touch if you have any further information on any of these tragic incidents.


Other memories of the war in the air during WW2


Our enquiries about aircraft crashes brought back some other related memories, showing how the war in the air touched the lives of local people during WW2.


A Childerley resident recalled that on more than one occasion German bombs, directed at the runway at Bourn Airfield, exploded in an adjoining field at Childerley. Also remembered was a fateful night in 1944 when fog made landing at Bourn difficult. Five Lancaster bombers and 30 men are believed to have been lost that night; crash sites included Hardwicke, Bourn and Barton.


John Cole from Dry Drayton remembers a series of incidents:


"My brother and I were walking home along Oakington road. Just as we got to where Hill View starts (where the bungalows are now - they weren't there then, it was allotments) we noticed an aeroplane coming over the West of Cambridge, coming fairly low. We thought it was a German Dornier but as it got closer to us, probably a quarter of a mile away, we jumped in the ditch on Searle's field, A Bofors gun on Oakington Airfield opened up, firing shells in quick succession. We were still looking out of the ditch and smoke started coming out of the aeroplane. The plane suddenly banked left and carried on at 90 degrees and we noticed that it had a white star on it (it was an American Dakota). It was gradually losing height and went over Madingley Road. We heard later that it had crashed between Comberton and Barton".


"My Dad and I were sawing wood in our back yard in Hill View, when we heard an aeroplane flying very high. The air raid siren hadn't gone so we didn't expect it to be German. Suddenly there was a loud hissing noise. Dad and I ran indoors and there were two loud bangs. We could see plumes of smoke rising in the near distance. Dad and I went on his motorbike to Madingley Road and, just past Clark's Farm, we discovered two big craters, one either side of Madingley Wood, both still smoking. Rumour had it they were trying to bomb Short Bros' Aircraft Factory on Madingley Road."


"One afternoon my friends and I were playing outside at Hill View, when we heard this unusual aircraft noise. We looked up and saw this big doodle bug coming towards us. When it got right over the top of us, the engine stopped. We all dived into the ditch, expecting it to come straight down but it didn't and we heard later that it actually glided all the way to Gamlingay."


"My friend and I used to lead the horses between the stooks (wheat sheaths) during our school holidays. We used to pick up the horses from Grange Farm and bring them along the Huntingdon road to the cart shed at Trinity farm Dry Drayton. A sterling bomber dropped a bomb 2 fields away from us, which caused a brilliant white flash, followed by a very loud bang. This greatly upset the horses and Mr Rice fell out of the tumble cart. The bomb either fell out of the plane or was dropped because the load was too heavy."


"My father used to drive a lorry for Watts Timber Merchants of Newmarket Road, Cambridge. On a Sunday the Ministry used to commandeer lorries to cart bombs. My father used to go to Lords Bridge railway sidings to pick up the bombs and then used to come home and park on the road outside of the house. On one occasion his friend parked his lorry in front of the house and joined us for Sunday dinner. Outside the house, on the lorries they each had only one bomb, which was called a Block Buster, which was like a big oil drum shape, 6ft long by 3ft high. They were roped and sheeted so that people couldn’t see what was on the lorry. I used to go with my Dad and one day we took them to Mepal airdrome. To get the bombs off the lorry they used to drop the side of the lorry and roll the bomb out, onto the forks of a forklift. While I stood watching, when they rolled the bomb off the lorry, which took several men, the forks on the fork lift dipped down with the weight causing the fork lift to shoot backwards and the bomb crashed onto the floor. I stood frozen and mouth wide open and dry as I expected it to explode, but the men just swore and carried on as though nothing had happened."




11 November 2021    

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