From “The Waresider” – Wareside Parish Magazine
During the years of the 2nd World War, I as a schoolboy growing up in the small Hertfordshire village of Stanstead Abbotts had an immense interest in anything that flew, be it balsa wood and tissue models to the largest or smallest types of aircraft which the Allied or German airforces chose to fly my way, my ears and eyes were agog to seek out the unusual or unexpected sight or sound. Both came my way during the late afternoon of the 29th October 1942 as two North American P51 MK.l Mustangs roared at roof top height over my home, much to my delight, but little knowing that a tragedy was only seconds away for one of the aircraft. Both were flying on a Northerly heading along the Lea Valley where just a half mile ahead loomed the edge of Easneye Woods rising some 150 feet above the floor of the valley.
It was to spell doom to the starboard Mustang which at first clipped the treetops and then was dragged down further into the mass of trees until it disintegrated upon contact with the larger tree trucks.
It was stated at the time that the pilot was catapulted from the aircraft and impaled on the bough of a tree, although so far I have not been able to verify this, he was however killed when the aircraft impacted.
As soon as possible the next day, I went with a fellow school pal to visit the site of devastation to seek out a souvenir. When the guards were not looking, I managed to pick up the dial of the R.P.M.(Revolutions per Minute Instrument) and a pipe clamp, which I still have to this day.
My research over many years indicate that three Mustangs of No.2 Squadron Army Co-opereration out of “Blounts Farm” Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire had become disorientated in failing light when attempting to return to base, the specific mission from which they were returning is so far unknown, although as they were fully armed, it can be assumed that they had been on an offensive mission of some sort. What is known is that low flying photo-reconnaissances known as Rhubarbs were carried out by the squadron. “RHUBARB” being a code name given to mean: daylight intrusion raids over the Continent to seek and attack specified targets with machine gun and cannon fire at low level. Also “POPULAR MISSIONS” meaning:- low level daylight photo-reconnaissance of enemy coastal activities under cover of low cloud. Long distance patrols to the FRIESIAN ISLES to intercept the German Junkers Ju52 mine laying aircraft were also carried out.
Their rather late return resulted in the loss of the three aircraft, and one pilot, this being FLYING OFFICER WILLIAMS in AG 605 coded XV-A works no 73-3360 which just prior to crashing was flying alongside XV-B (AG456) flown by Pilot Officer Gordon Crosby who flew on to Bicester before baling out as by then his fuel was low and darkness setting in, with little hope of carrying out a normal landing anywhere. The Mustangs suffered from bad night flying capabilities, which hampered flying at dusk as well as complete darkness. The third aircraft flown by Pilot Officer Leap coded XV-E did manage to find the Sawbridgeworth base where he decided to carry out a “wheels up” landing to reduce the risk of a worse crash due to lack of night landing lighting system and adequate hard surfaced runways.
The crash site of AG 605 XV-A had remained untouched and unchanged over the past 50 years.
It was in 1990 that I first contacted the land owner for permission to investigate the site which he readily granted. The first visit yielded fragments of engine castings, having laid on the ground surface undisturbed for 48 years, they still retained the grey and black paint finish, one of which carried the embossed lettering 73 confirming it to be a Mustang, while just under the surface we found a bullet case marked (“RA” indicating the initials of American manufacturer) 1940.50 call Z, a green coded 303 bullet and a pipe with connectors, etc. A further visit in 1992 yielded more small items from the radio, some sections of battery casing and more small pieces of casting.
It was a weird sensation to be on the site again 50 years after picking up my first souvenir. I had changed and aged, but the area and the pieces of Mustang had changed very little in all those years.
The smashed tree still stands as a kind of cenotaph to Flying Officer Williams, although it too is dead. From its base has sprung a new tree, now some 40 feet tall, as if to signify that life must go on.
The gamekeeper on his rounds did not know that the smashed tree marked a 50 year old scene of devastation, time has healed the scars of war and nature has returned to it a scene of beauty and tranquillity once again.
Bird songs now fill the air where once the final roar of the Mustangs Allison engine was heard on its flight into oblivion.
Badgers romp around and pheasants bring up their young on the ground which was once the scene of devastation and carnage, while under the surface many interesting items must remain undiscovered, perhaps for ever.
The wildlife make it a restricted area and limited access is only available with prior permission of the estate gamekeeper, but it is hoped that access will be made available in the near future for further investigation, and maybe more missing pieces will come to light.
At Sawbridgeworth, very little remains to be seen at that wartime airfield, a few mounds of earth which were once air-raid shelters can be seen, otherwise nature has covered the area of wartime activity in a green veil.
To date I have found very little about the pilot concerned. If any reader can elaborate on this, or perhaps have photographs of No.2 Squadron Mustangs of that period along with any other details of the event I would very much like to hear from them.
So ends the story of a not to be forgotten day in the life of Leslie R Miller.
My thanks and appreciation go out to Mr Buxton the landowner and his gamekeeper Mr Knight for their help in my investigation of this crash site.
Leslie R Miller
Mrs Woodly writes in reply to Mr Miller’s letter in the last issue of The Waresider:
“Eric Woodly, the late Bob Webb and I found the pilot. We were first on the scene and found his aircraft in the wood. We then decided to find the pilot. We hunted the wood with no success and then decided to go back to the ‘plane. Being a damp wet night, I put my torch on and when I looked at Bob’s face there was blood running down it. I said: “Have you cut yourself?” and he said,”No!”
So I put my torch up the tree and saw the pilot wrapped around the branches. Then I climbed the tree and found the pilot was smashed and dead, but his watch was still going.
With that I think, my father phoned the fire service and they came and got the pilot down. Everything was guarded and no-one was allowed near. We were given to understand he was Canadian.