Bomber Crash

The property below mentioned by Peter was the shop and workshop of George Shakeshaft, builder, carpenter and undertaker.
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I recall vividly the night of the Wellington Bomber crash at Yardley Gobion.

At the time, late in the evening, seated in the kitchen of our cottage in Potterspury, my father was trying to instruct me in some mathematical equation, being somewhat annoyed finding that I was not paying due attention. I was listening to the sound of an aircraft more or less overhead or so it seemed. Father continued on with the subject but again noticed that I was not listening to him. “What is it?” he asked, I said that the aircraft was in trouble. “No, it’s probably the noise of the plane together with the wind noise”, he said. Just as he spoke there was an explosion, “That plane has ‘gone in’, crashed!”, I said. We made for the back door where looking out we could see flames in the distance.

It’s Yardley”, I said. Father disagreed but did agree however to getting our bikes out and to go at least part way in the direction to get a better view. At the top of ‘Meeting hill’ we could see the flaming backdrop lighting up the buildings in Yardley, so carried on in the direction. As we drew nearer we could see that the flames were near to the ‘Coffee Pot Inn’. Nearer still noted it to be on the other side of the road behind my grandparent’s home.

We dashed around the side of the house to find my grandmother together with an aunt filling bathtubs with water should it be needed if this and any of the surrounding property caught fire. At the bottom of the orchard behind the house was an inferno, flames lighting up the darkness of the night, ammunition exploding and trace bullets flying in all directions.

In hindsight I look back at it now but at the time I didn’t give it a thought that I could be any other than ‘One of ours’, but then, late in the War it would have been doubtful if it could have been an enemy aircraft. Venturing nearer but conscious of the bits of bright aluminium debris showing up in the light of the fire, I made my way over to the side wall near to the rick yard where two stacks were well alight. The fire brigade had not arrived yet, but an ambulance had.

I climbed over the wall at our usual spot we used to go into the ‘Leys’, a large field stretching down to the canal, when we went for walks. Lifting two strands of barbed wire as I did so. As I approached the ambulance, I saw the crew busy bringing out bodies into the ‘Leys’, then covered them with parachutes. As I made my way back to where I had earlier climbed over, father called to me to stop where I was, then changed his mind saying, “You just can’t wait to get into uniform, you might as well come back here and see what war is all about”! Returning I found an arm hanging from the barbed wire hooked-up in its uniform sleeve, a hand at one end and at the other a piece of shattered bone protruding above the elbow.

By this time the Fire Brigade had arrived and were dealing with the rick yard fire.

Returning to the crash, after work the following day, the scene was totally different from the night before. The fires of the previous night having been extinguished; now with an R.A.F. Recovery team in attendance I was restricted to our property. The engines, I was told, had partially buried themselves in the ground; the rear turret was nowhere to be seen. Smaller debris, parts of the fuselage with short twisted pieces of the geodesic air frame, littered the lower part of the orchard, much of which was being collected up by R.A.F. ‘Erks’ roaming the site, who seeing me thought it a good idea to kick away a small piece to expose a hand. Staying with our grandparents at this time was my cousin, she decided to walk over to me. I was concerned that these ‘Erks’ might try their gruesome prank on her so warning them off we both left the scene.

Over the following weeks I collected up quite an amount of ammunition, so much had come adrift from their original belts. There were those who wanted a souvenir so this necessitated removal of the cordite. How many of these remain, I wonder.

The site was quickly cleared, exposing however a large gap in the stone wall bordering neighbouring property. Later the Ministry of Defence were to supply wooden post and railings to secure the boundary.

Unfortunately this was not the end of this tragedy. On a warm day later, grandfather was excavating holes for the new posts when he was aware of an unpleasant smell coming from somewhere in the region. As we were visiting that day, he asked me to try and locate the source of the smell. Armed with a garden fork I prodded around in the area to find what I can only describe as pushing a fork through a piece of ‘lino’ about the size of a dinner plate. On lifting it up other pieces fell away from beneath!

Between us, father and I buried these remains nearby,
placing a small wooden cross above them.

Peter E. Munday
13th March 2008