With thanks to Richard Amphllett for the following research. Richard left Didcot in 1969, having served in the Post Office as a Postman and then the Berkshire Ambulance Service, with a short spell with Wiltshire, he then ended up in Hungerford for 37 years before retiring to Dorset, where he now helps as a volunteer at the Tank Museum.
If you use any of this information, please credit Richard Amphllett.
If you have any comments or corrections, please use the comment option at the end of the page, or email Richard direct.
[See also the details of those commemorated on the Harwell War Memorial]
This is an account of the deaths of those buried in Harwell Cemetery who were killed whilst serving at the RAF Station. It is not intended to be a history of RAF Harwell, neither does it cover all the fatal accidents, air or ground, that occurred there during WWII.
At this time RAF Harwell was a training base used by 75 and 148 Sqds, then 15 Operational Training Unit (15 OTU), which had a satellite station at Hampstead Norris, as well as a Middle East Ferry Unit, ( 1443 and 310 Ferry Training Flight ). Consequently most deaths were as a result of flying accidents.
These young men were flying aircraft that had, in many cases, previously been used by operational squadrons, but were considered too old for that use. The aircraft had mostly flown many hours, some over enemy territory, and probably required above normal maintenance to keep them in good flying order. One entry in the Operational Log Book records that training for that month was not up to full quota and flying hours were curtailed because of the need to service so many aircraft.
The instructors training these crews, were experienced pilots being rested from operational flying, probably having flown their first tour of 25 flights on bombing raids.
When the war started, on 3 September 1939, 75 and 148 squadrons were the units flying from Harwell.
The first burial at Harwell was that of Pilot Officer W. R. Ross ( 90913 ) who died on 14 November 1939, aged 27 years. His Bristol Blenheim, L1286, crashed at Blewbury at 1130 hrs while he was ferrying the Blenheim from 5 Maintenance Unit from Kemble in Gloucestershire to 145 Sqd at Croydon in Surrey and was forced to land at Harwell due to low cloud and very bad visibility. He took off again immediately but crashed on the hills which were in low cloud. The Operational Record Book shows that P/O Ross crashed 1 mile from Harwell and was killed instantly.
Records also indicate that he served with 604 Sqd, and was the son of Lt.Col.Henry and Mrs Betty Ross.
His funeral took place on the 17 November 1939.
On 28 November Sgt.G.R.C. Talbot (580855) and A/C. F.C. Overall (632442) were part of the crew of Avro Anson N5084, of 148 Sqd. The aircraft was flying a night cross country exercise in bad weather when it crashed into a hillside on Exmoor, about 15 miles west south west of Minehead.
Frederick Overall was the 23 year old son of Mrs E Piper of Shiplake near Henley, Oxfordshire.
I have no details of Gerald Talbot’s home town or next of kin.
On 18 January 1940 another Anson of 148 Sqd N5024 crashed during a night cross country exercise in a snow storm. It crashed on Yolland Marsh, 7 miles west of Totnes in Devon. Those of the crew buried at Harwell are Pilot Officer B.O.C. Stevens (33415), A/C W. Heron (6318901) and A/C L.J.Wakely (551324). Barry Stevens was the 22 year old son of Wing Commander & Mrs James Stevens of Sheerness in Kent. William Heron was also 22 years and came from Blackhill Co Durham the son of William and Minnie Heron. Leslie James Wakely was the 19 year old son of James and Violet Wakely of Faversham, Kent.
In April 1940, 75 and 148 Sqds were amalgamated to form 15 Operational Training Unit (O.T.U.). Two new squadrons were then formed as 75 Sqd and 148 Sqd and became operational from other bases. 75 Sqd at Feltwell in Norfolk and 148 Sqd at Stradishall in Suffolk.
13 May 1940 saw the death of Pilot Officer W.M.A. Davies (74669) who was a crew member of Wellington N2901 which crashed near Axminster. The crew were engaged in navigation and bombing practice when engine failure occurred and the aircraft crashed at about 1140. The Operational Record Book shows that his funeral took place at 11.00 on 16 May 1940. William Davies was the son of Willoughby and Mary Davies of Kensington, London and was 21 years old.
On 5 August, Wellington L4264 crashed at 14.45 hrs ½ mile south of the airfield when it stalled coming into land. Pilot Officer E.J.Lester was one of three officers killed. Eric was the 25 year old son of John and Hilda Lester of Kenton, Harrow, Middlesex.
On 13 August 1940, Sgt H.W.Sabin (741765) was killed when his Wellington L4308 crashed 5 miles off Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel. The crew were on a navigational exercise flying from Harwell to Salisbury, Barnstaple, Lundy Island and back to Harwell. At about 1125 hrs the aircraft was seen diving towards the water with flames streaming from the port engine. None of his five companions were found.
On 23 August, 391341, Sgt R.H. Clifford died as the result of a traffic accident the previous night. He was seriously injured when he was hit by a truck, probably as he was crossing the road near the camp. It is worth remembering that Black Out precautions were in operation and may well have been partly to blame for the accident.
He was taken to the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford where he died of his injuries. Robert Henry Clifford came from Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand and was age 23.
On 17 October 1940 a fire in the port engine resulted in Wellington L4259 crashing at Hampstead Norris, causing the deaths of Flying Officer W.S.Munday and Sgt G.T.Watt (516242) on 17 October 1940. Wynton Munday was the 26 year old husband of Hilda Munday of Lee-on Solent, Hampshire but came from Australia.
There are no details of George Watts home town or next of kin.
At 1515 hours on 26 November 1940, Wellington L4326 crashed at Hampstead Norris due to an engine stalling. On impact the aircraft burst into flames, resulting in 3 airmen being killed, with F/Lt. G.E.Langdon (70381) being buried at Harwell.
It is worth mentioning that not all deaths resulted in burials at Harwell and it would seem likely that relatives of crews arranged for their internment nearer to their homes.
From 25 July 1941 until 12 February 1942 the establishment at Harwell moved to Mount Farm, Berinsfield, while the airfield was rebuilt.
There were no more burials at Harwell until September 1941, On 16 September 1941 Wellington L4262 crashed killing Sgt A.R. Patrick (1019210). The Operational Record Book shows that the aircraft crashed at Hampstead Norris after overshooting the flare path (an aid to night landings) following an error of judgment. The aircraft crashed into some bushes at the end of the runway and burnt out. Sgt Patrick died of his injuries whilst being conveyed to hospital. Arthur Patrick was 29 years old, came from Low Fell, Gateshead, Co Durham and he was the son of Robert and Dora Patrick .
As previously indicated, not all the deaths were as a result of air accidents. Ground crews did dangerous work. On the 28 September 1941 Aircraftsman (A/C) G.W.McLeod (1179883) was killed at 1515 on duty at Mount Farm airfield near Berinsfield. The record book states that he walked into the revolving propeller of Wellington L7816, captained by Pilot Officer J.R.Ramshaw of ‘B’ Flight 15 OTU. No evidence is available as to why the deceased walked into the air screw and at the time the aircraft was stationary. No blame is attached to any personnel and there was no apparent reason for the accident. George William McLeod was the 32 year old son of John and Jeannie who lived in Middlesborough.
On the night of 24/25 September 1941, Wellington Z8354 took off between 2304 and 2319 hrs and 3 other aircraft. However, Z8354 returned with engine trouble and whilst attempting to land at RAF Abingdon, crashed at Jarn Mound on Boars Hill at 0320 hrs. The aircraft was burnt out and all 6 crew were killed. Pilot Officer R.A.McConnochie, (66573) captain of the aircraft, Pilot Officer H.M.Walsh (402581) and Sgt M .W.Foxon, (930360) are buried at Harwell. Robert McConnochie was the 23 year old son of William and Sarah, and came from Clacton-on-Sea, Essex. Harry Walsh was a 24 year old Australian and the son of William and Nellie Walsh of Korgarah Bay, New South Wales.
I have no personal details of Marten Foxon
October 1941 was a bad month with 9 airmen being interred at Harwell cemetery.
As a result of a crash on 17 October, Wellington N2808 of ‘B’ Flight, on a local training flight, was seen flying low at 1600 hrs and crashed after hitting a tree near the old canal at Kingston Common Farm, Kingston Lyle, near Wantage. All the crew were killed. These were Sgt L.A.H.Saul (1257669) Sgt P.J.Masini (1376762) Sgt. L.G.Cockram (1066470) Sgt R.F.Whittington (125899) and Sgt S.E.Sales (520346). Leslie Saul, aged 21, was the son of Albert and May Saul of Barking in Essex. Peter Masini also 21 years, was the son of John and Mabel Masini of South Tottenham, Middlesex. Leslie Cockram was the 20 year old son of Charles and Winifred Cockram who lived in Wilmslow in Cheshire. Richard Whittington, aged 20, was the son of John and Winifred from Brighton, Sussex.
[Also, see comment below 28 June 2019 from William Bessell about Alfred William Bissell]
One of the two tasks of the two stations was to ferry aircraft out to the Middle East, either direct to North Africa or to Gibraltar, where they would then fly on to their destination.
These aircraft probably flew with a fully trained crew, who would join a squadron once they arrived in the Middle East.
On 25 October at 0355 another ferry flight took off from Hampstead Norris bound for Gibraltar. This was Wellington X9989, which collided with tree-tops 600 yards from the end of the runway, killing 5 and injuring one. According to the accident report it is possible that the flap setting was wrong for take-off. Four of the five killed were buried at Harwell. Pilot Officer A.E.Mackie( 101081 ) F.Sgt C.A.Bergsten (R.74011), Sgt K.S.Turner (1177246), Sgt L.C.Rowe (R.70455). Alexander Mackie aged 26 was the son of James and Annie Mackie came from Kennethmount, Aberdeenshire. Carl Bergsten was a 28 year old American from Far Hills, New Jersey who was serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force. Kenneth Turner, aged 21, was the son of Frank and Maggie Turner from West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire. Lawrence Rowe was a Canadian from Guelph, Ontario, married to Shirley Rowe (nee Bell) and was the son of Herbert and Pearla.
10 December saw the death of Pilot Officer S.G.A. Hamburger, who was one of 4 airmen killed when Wellington Z9100 crashed at 1530 hrs hitting a haystack at Barracks Farm, Little Stoke, Wallingford. Two other airmen were injured. Samuel Hamburger was the 27 year old son of Elizabeth and the late Joseph Hamburger who was killed during the First World War whilst serving with the Royal Fusiliers. Samuel’s home is recorded as the City of London.
Another ground accident involving an aircraft occurred on 12 December when A/C N.J. Abdee (1274161) was killed instantly after being struck by an Avro Anson R9811 flown by Sgt Canton (741728). The airman was crossing the flare path at Hampstead Norris at about 2300 hrs and was hit by the aircraft which was taking off for a night cross-country exercise. The aircraft was not damaged. Norman Abdee was 19 years old and was the son of John and Elizabeth Abdee who lived in Cinderford, Gloucestershire.
On 28 December 1941 all the crew of Wellington Z9109 were killed at Mount Farm when the aircraft crashed at 0215 and was completely burnt out. Among those killed was Sgt C.E.Gilmore (402654) who was the only airman buried at Harwell. Charles was a member of the Royal Australian Air Force from Cremorne, New South Wales and was the 26 year old son of Charles and Dorothy Gilmore.
1942 started with another ground incident on the 9 January, when A/C E A Riley was seriously burnt when a petrol container exploded and caught fire. He died of his injuries in hospital the following day. He was the 19 year old son of Arthur and Ruth Riley of Middlesborough.
What started as a treat for two Air Training Cadets cost them their lives when Wellington HF855 crashed on 26 April 1942. The accident happened in the north-west corner of the airfield at about 1720 hrs and all the crew, except the rear gunner, were killed.
Second Pilot, Sgt W F G Hughes (1272205), Observer Sgt W J A Smart (1379256), Wireless Operator/Air Gunner Sgt C McAllister (66573), all are interred at Harwell.
William Hughes, aged 29, was the son of Frederick and Agnes Hughes of Radyr, Glamorgan. Walter Smart was the 19 year old son of Walter and Emma Smart and came from Morecambe, Lancashire. Cecil McAllister, a South African from Durban, Natal, was the 27 year old son of John and Florence McAllister.
The two Air Training Corp cadets from 922 Sqd, Wallingford County Grammar School, were Cadet Sgt W A Hughes, aged 18 years, who was the younger son of William and Nellie Hughes of Didcot, who were sadly to loose their elder son, A/C 2 Vivian Hughes, on the 12 February 1945 and was buried with his brother in All Saint’s Churchyard, Didcot.
The second cadet was Richard Ayres, aged 16 years. He was the son of Mr and Mrs P J Ayres who owned a local removal company in Wallingford and is buried there.
Failure of the port engine caused the crash of Wellington DV739 of ‘A’ Flight when it crashed on 12 July 1942 whilst taking off at 1827 hrs on a training flight. Two of the three crew were killed, one was Flying Officer A J Leslie (649545). Alan was another Australian from Manly, New South Wales. He was the 26 year old son of Ronald and Elsie Leslie.
A/C Woman K F Seacole (420092) WAAF, although not stationed at RAF Harwell, is buried in the cemetery and she should be included since she was serving with the RAF at the time of her death. Sadly, she died 21 July 1942 of tuberculosis at the age of 22 years at the sanatorium near Henley.
Her parents, Joseph and Elsie Seacole lived at The Orchard, Wantage Road, Harwell.
August 25 1942 saw another crash during a night training flight when Wellington DV595 crashed in flames ½ mile south of Uffington, near Odstone at 0105 hrs. It is believed that it collided with another Wellington N2755 from Hampstead Norris, as the captain of this aircraft reported that something had struck his aircraft at about this time, shattering one of his propellers. He succeeded in landing at Stanton Harcourt but all the crew of DV595 were killed. They were the captain, Pilot Officer N Falkinder (122380), Pilot Officer A S Walmsley (120645), Sgt R J Coombs (933684), Sgt F J T Cannon (1376754), F/Sgt F H Rathjen (416283) and Sgt D Greet (149762).
Nicholas Falkinder was 22 years old and the son of Charles and Gertrude Falkinder who lived in Burgh, Lincolnshire.
Arthur Walmsley was also 22 and the son of Arthur and Mabel Walmsley, from East Ham, Essex.
Robert Coombs, also 22 years old, came from Balham in London and was the son of Robert and Florence Coombs. His father was a Chief Petty Officer with the Royal Navy.
Francis Cannon, another 22 year old, from North Finchley, Middx, was the son of Christopher and Dorothy Cannon.
Frederick Rathjen, an Australian, was the 23 year old son of Friedrich and Olga Rathjen, who lived in Renmark, South Australia.
Dennis Greet was the son of F/Lt Clifford and Eveline Greet, who lived in Middlesborough, Yorkshire.
On 2 September 1942 Wellington X3192 struck a tree on approach to the runway at Harwell . The pilot tried to climb but stalled and crashed 400 yards short of the runway, killing Sgt J E Wilkinson (907210) and Sgt B J Foster (1232596).
No details are recorded as to Jack Wilkinson’s age or where he came from.
Brian Foster (pilot) was the 20 year old son of Harold and Winifred and came from Seaton in Devon.
On 5 September, Sgt T B Burrowes (414239) died as the result of a traffic accident in Reading when he was hit by a bus outside the Great Western Railway Station at about 1805 hrs. He died of his injuries the next day. He was the 19 year old son of Clement and Mary Burrowes from Papanui, Canterbury, New Zealand.
The death of Sgt L R Johnston (1287332) occurred on the 29 November 1942, when the aircraft in which he was an Air Gunner crashed whilst on a night cross-country bombing exercise. The aircraft was Wellington R1466, which flew into the ground and caught fire near Moss Hill, Seven Barrows, Lambourn. It is thought that the likely cause was that the pilot unknowingly lost height and crashed into the high ground. As a result of this accident, a local flying order restricted night bombing exercises to a minimum of 4000 feet.
Leo Johnston was the 27 year old son of Richard and Katherine Johnston who lived in Sandymount, Dublin.
On 5 December Wellington DV724 crashed and burst into flames near Ardington just after take off at 2112 hrs for a night cross-country exercise. Those buried at Harwell are Sgt G A Griffith (1306000), the Navigator, Sgt L H Harper (1378742), Wireless Operator/Air Gunner and Sgt R Craven (1245834), Air Bomber.
Gerald Griffiths, who came from Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, was the 18 year old son of George and Frances Griffiths.
Leslie Harper was the 35 year old son of Benjamin and Isidora Harper who lived in Sutton, Surrey.
Ronald Craven, was the 22 year old son of Arthur and Beatrice Craven from Weoley Castle, Birmingham.
On 8 January 1943 Wellington BJ836, an aircraft belonging to 1443 Ferry Training Flight, was on circuits and landings, when it crashed on a hill 2 miles SSE of the airfield, killing Wt/Off II. R V Bridgeman (R87243) who was the wireless operator/Air Gunner.
All the other crew were seriously injured.
Robert, a Canadian, and the 21 year old son of Reginald and Mildred from Turtleford, Saskatchewan.
I had difficulty in discovering the details of F/Lt Walter Nicholson’s death, as no record was found in the Operational Record Book. It transpired that he had served with the RAF Regiment who were probably responsible for the airfield defence.
However, a visit to the County archives to look at the Register of Deaths showed that his death was recorded by the Wallingford office, who were able to supply a copy of his Death Certificate which showed that he had killed himself with a gunshot wound to the head, inflicted whilst the balance of his mind was disturbed.
I will not seek any further history with regard to this sad case.
At the time of his death he was married and living in Harwell.
Engine failure to Wellington HF906, resulted in a terrible crash at Common Barn Farm, Hermitage on 3 March whilst the aircraft was on a cross-country training flight.
It returned soon after take off and after one overshoot, crashed on the second approach into two farm cottages and burst into flames, killing all on board , two civilians in the cottages and several animals around the farm.
Three of the crew buried at Harwell are Sgt B C Lock (1271461), Sgt R H Millar (927578) and Sgt L N Abercrombie (42284).
Unfortunately no details are listed for Benjamin Lock.
Robert Millar, the 21 year old pilot, was the son of Max and Mary Millar from Saunderstead, Surrey.
Laurence Abercrombie, a New Zealander, 29 year old and the navigator, was the son of Frederick and Elsie of Kohimarama, Auckland, New Zealand.
Although not buried at Harwell I feel I should mention the two civilians killed, these were Mrs E A Chiverton aged 60 and her companion, Miss A Playle aged 68.
Only one member of the crew of Wellington X3874 killed on 11 March was buried at Harwell. The aircraft crashed during a familiarization exercise at 1115 hrs east of the Police Station in Didcot, an area now know as Fleet Meadow.
Sgt C A Chipman (658368) was 2nd Pilot and it was thought that the cause of the crash insufficient speed being maintained on one engine. The port engine was reported as idling at the time the aircraft crashed and burst into flames. Charles Chipman was 23 and the son of James and Beatrice Chipman from Hale, Cheshire.
On the 14 March, F/Lt W A R Nicholls, aged 34 years and married, was found dead at the RAF camp at Combe Farm on the Farnborough Road having shot himself.
Only people who served during this period will understand the pressures of war that would lead to someone taking their own life in this way. William Nicholls’ home was in Framlingham, Suffolk.
New Zealand pilot (NZ.413859), Flying Officer R L Jones, and his crew were killed on the 18 March when his aircraft crashed on the Odstone bombing range. His aircraft, a Bristol Blenheim IV (N3612) of 140 Sqd, flying out of Hartford Bridge crashed in flames.
Ralph Jones was aged 21 and his parents, William and Ellen, came from Palmerston North, Wellington.
On April 3, Wellington DV833 returned to Hampstead Norris early from a cross-country training flight and after two overshoots both engines cut out simultaneously. The aircraft glided straight ahead, when the port engine picked up, running at full revs and full boost, the aircraft spun into the ground and burnt out. None of the crew survived.
One member of the crew, Sgt L E Ayres (656976 ) was interred at Harwell. He was the 25 year old husband of Beatrice Ayres and lived in Truro, Cornwall.
After taking off from Harwell on 23 September, Wellington R1325, on a cross-country exercise, stalled at low altitude about 6 minutes after becoming airborne and crashed North West of the airfield, ½ mile north of Aldfield Farm, at 1945 hrs, killing five and injuring one. Sgt D S McDonald-Hunter (1502383) was one of those killed.
He was the 23 year old husband of Irene Joan and the son of Daniel and Irene all of whom lived in Bamber Bridge, Lancashire.
On 2 March 1944, F/Sgt W R Goodwin (912395) was killed after Wellington LN614 crashed. The aircraft was returning from a cross-country exercise and had asked permission to land. Nothing further was heard from the aircraft until the following morning when it was reported as having crashed 2 miles south-west of near Lollingdon Hill Farm, Cholsey, at approximately 0300 hrs.
At a Court of Inquiry it was felt that there had been a catastrophic electrical failure
William was the 32 year old son of William and Daisy Goodwin and the husband of Phyllis from Barnet, Hertfordshire.
This was the last fatal accident to befall 15 OTU before it was disbanded 13 days later.
On the 15 March, 295 and 570 Sqds took over at Harwell to prepare for the invasion of Europe later in that year. These two squadrons were part of 38 Group which were glider towing and parachute dropping units.
The last RAF burial at Harwell was that of A/C l A L J Wilkins who died on 8 June, just two days after D-Day. Alfred Lyddite Joffre Wilkins, to give his full name, died of his injuries in the Radcliffe Infirmary having been taken there when the tractor he was driving overturned and crushed him. He was the 28 year old son of Alfred and Sarah Wilkins of Hayes in Middlesex.
This concludes over two years’ research into how all those buried in the nearby cemetery, died on active service at what was RAF Harwell.
I hope it serves as a reminder of the debt we owe to the thousands who had their lives taken from them at such an early age, at what was probably the blackest time of the 20th century, and yet is still within living memory of many.
Sadly their loss has not brought wars to an end. Since WWII we have seen war in Korea, Malaya, Suez, Aden, Cyprus and, of course, Northern Ireland and still the sacrifice continues even in Europe with the division of Yugoslavia and the break-up of the Russian Empire and now the Middle East.
Since revising this booklet there has been considerable interest in the aircraft that crashed near Ladygrove Farm north of Cow Lane, Didcot.
Although not connected with my research into RAF Harwell and the burials in the village cemetery, there is sufficient interest to include it at the end of this book.
The aircraft was a Handley Page Halifax serial number JP199 which was being flown by 428 squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force, based at Middleton St George in Yorkshire.
Royal Air Force records confirm that the aircraft took off at 21.15 hrs for operations in French waters, probably mine laying.
At 20,000 feet an engine caught fire and due to control difficulties all but two of the crew abandoned the aircraft, which crashed at 00.30 hours about a mile NE of Didcot near Ladygrove Farm. This was 22 April 1944
The two crew who died in the crash were, S/Leader F.R. McGugan RCAF and F/Officer G.A. England RCAF, both of whom were buried at the Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey.
[See also the details of those commemorated on the Harwell War Memorial]