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Photographer's historic images capture air crash which claimed life of Queen’s cousin

By Mark Drew | Bridgnorth | News | Published:

The stunning images have been donated to the Express & Star Photo Archive.

Prince William of Gloucester tending to his plane shortly before taking off on the flight which claimed his life at Halfpenny Green, near Wolverhampton, on August 28, 1972

Dramatic photos of an air crash that claimed the life of the Queen’s cousin in 1972 have been added to the Express & Star’s digital photo archive.

Pictures of the fatal crash at Halfpenny Green airfield near Wolverhampton involving Prince William of Gloucester have been uploaded to the Express & Star Photographic Collection website.

Having been the Queen’s page boy at her wedding in 1947, Prince William was a glamourous society figure when he died aged 30 while competing in the Goodyear International Air Trophy competition.

A licensed pilot who took part in air competitions on a regular basis, Prince William was killed alongside co-pilot Vyrell Mitchell when their Piper aircraft crashed not long after take-off on August 28 1972.

In total 24 photos were donated by Ray Bradbury, the Express & Star staff photographer who captured the day on film.

The stricken plane about to crash. Picture: Ray Bradbury of the Express & Star

Ray, 76, had kept the negatives of the accident, which made headlines around the world.

He donated the photos, which appeared in newspapers worldwide, after reading about the launch of the Express & Star online archive.

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He said: “I was photographing the Goodyear air show for two days for the Express & Star, specifically to get photos of Prince William.

“I got close enough to talk to him at the beginning of the race as he polished his aircraft. There was an entourage of glamourous people around him as he was a very attractive character.

“He was very charming so I could see why he was so popular with women.”

Ray, who now lives in Macclesfield, followed the Piper aircraft with his camera as it took off.

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Photographer Ray Bradbury

He explained: “I watched him take off from my position in the control tower and then saw his aircraft veer off and hit a tree.

“I ran down and jumped on the fire and rescue vehicle which meant I was among the first to reach the wreckage.

“In those days I was working with a Nikon film camera so you were never sure what you had until it was developed.

“It was late afternoon so they held the presses to get the photos into the final editions. It was an international story which meant there was demand for my photos from all over.”

In total Ray worked for the Express & Star for nine years. He credits the success of the Prince William photographs with helping him to work at a national level.

“On the back of the crash photos I was offered a job at The Sun where I went on to work for 26 years,” he added.

Prince William on the right, with co-pilot Vyrell Mitchell tending to the plane, shortly before take-off. Picture: Ray Bradbury of the Express & Star

The Prince William photos are the first to be added since 3,000 historic photos of the Black Country and its surrounding areas were published on the website in March.

The Express & Star Photographic Collection partnership, co-ordinated with the University of Wolverhampton and council-run City Archives, received a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to digitise photographs dating back over the past century for future generations.

Chris Leggett, marketing and communications director for Express & Star publisher Midland News Association, chairs the project committee.

He said: “We were delighted when Ray got in touch to offer us his historic photos which sent shockwaves around the time.

“The aim of the project is to share local history with the widest possible audience online. We look forward to adding more images to the collection to ensure future generations learn about their past.”

After volunteers gave the equivalent of 260 working days, the launch realised the partnership’s ambition of making the photos available through a single web portal, allowing free on-line public access for the first time.

The partners are now fundraising for more images to be preserved.

To see the images go directly to visit the website at photo-archive.expressandstar.co.uk and search for Prince William.

Mark Drew

By Mark Drew
@MarkDrew_Star

Group Head of News

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