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Mursley Water Tower

Mursley water tower
Judging by the online response, the recent venture into the language of modern youth (Gayhurst, 11-11-10) seems not to have met with universal approval (!) But as stated, and no doubt to all our relief - not least the lady from the Citizen, who kindly types these pieces - this was definitely a one off. However, it proved gratifying to know that people do like to read about local history, and, as always, I am totally in awe of anyone who has the technical savvy to be able to post comments on this new fangled Internet. And so back to traditional English, albeit with one exception, for in my schooldays it was taught that beginning a sentence with ‘and,’ or ‘but,’ was a cardinal sin. But times have changed. And so to the theme of this week’s piece, the water tower at Mursley. Despite being almost as far inland from the sea as possible, in the skies around Mursley aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm were a frequent sight before World War Two, engaged on cross country exercises. However, on one occasion a Fairey Swordfish biplane tragically crashed in a local field, and the track of its last erratic movements was gouged into the ground by the under slung practice torpedo. Tragically all the crew were killed, and a few years later there would be a poignant reoccurrence when, on April 11th 1943, a Wellington bomber, from the airfield at Wing, crashed into a water tower, which had been constructed in an adjoining field. Eighty feet high, and with the foundations said to be as deep as the height, this had been built just before World War Two at a cost of £23,995, and the capacity of 500,000 gallons - supplied from the pumping station at Battlesden - provided a reservoir for a large area of North and Central Buckinghamshire. The R.A.F. airfield at Wing had been opened on November 17th 1941, and here No. 26 Operational Training Unit was formed in January 1942, predominantly equipped with ‘war weary’ Wellington bombers. Inevitably accidents occurred, and on one occasion whilst on a landing approach a Wellington had to be warned off by firing a flare, when another aircraft occupied the runway. The incoming pilot immediately opened the throttles, but on climbing away one of the engines lost power, and the aircraft crashed to the ground. Only 150 yards away a workman had been operating a dredger, and rushing to the wreckage he pulled the unconscious rear gunner clear of danger. In fact the gunner was the only member of the crew to survive, and after eight months of treatment and rest he returned to duty in November. Then on April 11th 1943 he was detailed as part of a Wellington crew scheduled for early morning dual circuits and landings, but in the foggy conditions the aircraft collided with the water tower, and all the crew were killed. A resulting fire greatly blackened the exterior, but although the engines of the bomber had gouged two large holes in the tower, apart from the distortion of some large diameter pipes there was no major structural damage, and repairs were carried out within a week. In fact the wartime scars would be visible until a general renovation in 1968, when during the work the crane driver decided to climb the jib of his machine to free a twisted cable. However, it would then be him who had to be freed, by the local fire brigade! In the grounds of the water tower, on May 8th 1995 (this date being chosen to coincide with the 50th anniversary of D Day) a memorial plaque, organised by Mr. Peter Abbey, was unveiled to those who perished in the crash, and their names are recalled in the wording.