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Rob's appeal over wartime crash tragedy

By Toby Neal | Nostalgia | Published:

A Telford-based Bomber Command historian is appealing for Shropshire Star readers' help in shedding more light on a wartime air tragedy which saw a Wellington bomber crash not far from the Lilleshall Monument.

The incident on November 20, 1944, claimed seven lives – those of the crew of six in the bomber, and the pilot of a Seafire fighter with which it collided.

Rob Davis said: "As an RAF historian specialising in Bomber Command I frequently receive inquiries – mainly by email – from family or relatives of airmen, but this particular one came personally from a colleague who had heard of the incident from a witness, but didn't know any details.

"My massive database soon found the loss record, but I only had the basics of information, so I thought that a local appeal might help."

Anyone who has information can contact him by email at rob.davis@blueyonder.co.uk.

Rob's database has shown that the bomber involved had the serial number LN428 and was flying from RAF Market Harborough on a training mission.

"During a cross-country flight the aircraft crashed at 14:55 as a result of a high speed dive near Lilleshall," he said.

A rather grim letter to the Shropshire Star in 2008 from a G.E. Oliver of Trench did provide an eyewitness account of what is obviously the same crash.

It read: "Three of us were working in a field near the Red House pub and the Lilleshall Monument.

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"A large plane came over the monument, lower and lower, and crashed and exploded, spreading parts of humans and sheep all over.

"Bits of bones and wool spread out, it also made a large crater. I have never seen or read any details of it published."

Investigation

And a book by Shropshire air crashes researcher Tom Thorne, called "Pancakes & Prangs," adds an important extra element which was unknown by Rob – that the bomber was in a mid-air collision with a Seafire, a naval version of the famous Spitfire.

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Both aircraft crashed out of control and the bomber came down near the Red House Inn at Brockton, between Lilleshall and Newport.

The Seafire was on its way from RAF Mona on Anglesey to the Royal Naval Air Station at Lee-on-Solent, and came down at Ketley Brook, killing the 19-year-old pilot.

This too was recalled a few years ago by John Doley of Wellington: "I was six years old, living in 8 Ketley Brook, in Malt House Row, when this big bang shook our house. We thought we were being bombed. On further investigation I found it was a plane which had crashed down the side of a pylon on the tip on Lower Sands. I was in the house and was not yet ready for school. We walked up there.

"An Army lorry came and there was a fellow standing guard with a bayonet. He was talking to us and said: ‘There’s nothing left of him.’ All there was to see was smoke coming out of the ground. He had gone straight down in the ground, out of sight.”

He could still pinpoint the spot and drew a map showing it.

The victims on the bomber were aged between 19 and 30.

Rob said: "I certainly didn't know that a Seafire was involved. Perhaps a local resident can identify the location. If it was near the Red House, it was fortunate that the railway line wasn't the crash site.

"Out of the 16,951 aircraft loss records on my database I have email inquiries on 1,680 of them.

"I attend various events with my stand, most recently at the Michael Beetham Conservation Centre Open Week at RAF Cosford, where I sponsor the annual Apprentice of the Year Award – soon to be announced – and also at East Kirkby for some of their Lancaster Taxy run events."

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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