(December 1984) Crash of Wellington bomber

On Sunday December 7th 1941 at 18.30 hrs, during a freak snow storm, two R.A.F. Officers, Pilot Officer W.T.G. Gabriel and Pilot Officer J.A. Bright of R.A.F. Edgehill (Shenington Aerodrome), were walking on the main Banbury – Shipston road near Pitch Hill. They saw an aircraft fly over them, heading in a southerly direction, at very low altitude, only ten or twelve feet above the ground, with its landing lights on.

After passing over these two officers, the aircraft hit the top of a telegraph pole situated at the top of Pitch Hill. It then gained a little height before the starboard wing dropped, the plane spun in and crashed in a field about 500 yards away, owned by Mr James Scruby of Sibford Ferris (now owned by Major Asser). This field lies approximately half way between the Sibford Elm and what is now Dr Agnew’s Surgery. On impact, the aircraft burst into flames and broke in half, facing in a north-easterly direction, the rear half of the fuselage at right angles to the front.

P.O. Gabriel and P.O. Bright ran to the scene of the crash and saw a crew member trying to move in the front half of the fuselage, near the wireless operator’s position. As they drew nearer, the starboard petrol tanks exploded, setting the surrounding grass on fire.

After several unsuccessful attempts, P. Os Gabriel and Bright managed to drag the badly injured and burning crew member clear of the fuselage, just as the port petrol tanks blew up, spraying the whole area with burning fuel.

The two R.A.F. Officers were then joined by the local Police Constable, P.C. Leslie Simons of Sibford Police House. Together they extinguished the burning clothing on the airman and carried him to awaiting men who put him upon a hurdle and carried him to Dr H. Taylor’s house in Burdrop.

Whilst this was taking place, the ammunition, oxygen bottles etc. were exploding with the intense heat, the plane and surrounding area blazing fiercely, the sky was lit up and the glow could be seen for many miles around.

At about this time, another crew member was found wandering in the field, concussed and in a state of shock, not knowing what had happened. He too was taken to Dr Taylor.

As the telephone .lines had been broken by the crashing aircraft, a passing motorist was asked to go to Banbury for the ambulance and to inform the Police Station of the incident. At 19.40 hrs Hook Norton Fire Brigade arrived and eventually extinguished the burning aircraft.

Later in the evening, P.C. Simons, assisted by three other Police Officers and the Medical Officer from R.A.F. Edgehill, Flying Officer Barr, recovered four bodies from the wreckage, badl’y burned and unrecognisable. They were then taken to Mr James Scruby’s barn at Sibford Ferris, awaiting the visit of the Coroner, Mr Fortescue, the following afternoon.

An R.A.F. Guard from Edgehill arrived at the scene at 20.45 and remained on duty throughout the night.

On Monday December 8th 1941 official enquiries revealed that the crashed aircraft was a Vickers Wellington B1 twin-engined bomber, No. Z1089, a month 0ld, only flown for 75 hours, and carrying a crew of six. The aircraft and crew were all attached to 21 O.T.U. R.A.F. Moreton-in-Marsh, and had taken off at 18.00 hrs on December 7th on a cross-country operational training flight. It entered low cloud and, owing to the very bad weather conditions at the time, iced up, went out of control and crashed.

The crew members who died in the crash were:
P.O. Kenneth Wilfred Watson, Age 28, Pilot
Sgt. James Hubbard, Age 20, Pilot
Sgt. Edwin F.T. Medder, Age 26, W/OP Air Gunner
Sgt. Christopher George Tierney, Age 21, ditto

The injured crew members were:
Sgt. John Martin, Age 23, Air Observer
Sgt. Robert John Newton, Age 23, Rear Gunner.

It was noted at the time that the actions of P.O. Gabriel, P.O. Bright and P.C. Leslie Simons were instrumental in saving the life of Sgt. John Martin in the face of extreme difficulty and danger caused by the exploding aircraft.

The dead crew members were remembered at our Remembrance Day Service on November 11th this year in Holy Trinity Church, Sibford Gower.

Bruce Horn