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30th November - A Memorable Date in 1943

an article by Derek Ratledge

 


My name is Derek Ratledge, and from 1935 until 1948 I lived at Astwell Castle farm with my parents.

The following details are taken from official records and eye witness accounts of the air crash at Astwell Castle farm.

At the Poddington USAAF station 109 east of Northampton the time was 08:04.  B17 bomber number 42-3048 of the 327th bomb squadron, 92nd bomb group, 8th bomber command, had taken off on its way with the rest of the squadron on a mission to bomb the industrial complex at Solingen in Germany. As it passed near the village of Silverstone an explosion was reported in the nose compartment, no other details are recorded.

At Astwell castle farm the time was approx 08:18, dawn was breaking but sunrise was to be some half an hour away.  The weather was typical for November dark, damp and cloudy.   My father left our cottage after breakfast to continue the day’s work having earlier assisting with milking.   As he left he heard the not uncommon roar of a low flying formation of B17 bombers, he shouted back to the cottage, “They  are off again” then, “there’s one in trouble,  it’s on fire!”, he said.   After that he said he could only watch in horror as the tragic event unfolded before him; the plane was heading directly for the cottages, farmhouse and farm buildings, surely to demolish them.  He recalled later that in an instant when disaster appeared inevitable, the airplane banked away from the houses and farm -  immediately it crashed beyond the farm buildings in a huge explosion as nearly all the munitions on board detonated.  I am sure it is difficult for anyone not there to envisage the horror of those few seconds; the time was 08:19.

With a quick shout to my sister and I to stay in the  house he was with my mother,  and by this time joined by neighbours,  the Wheeler and Farrow families,  who rushed through the farmyard.  There they were to behold a terrible sight, the mass of tangled burning wreckage that was once an airplane exploding ammunition and small bombs, but far worse to behold was the human destruction.  After a very short time they could see there was little chance of anyone surviving the inferno so with rescue out of the question they all left the site, most of them in tears of despair.

The cruel irony in all this is that it is recorded the mission they had embarked upon was aborted soon after the rest of the formation left our coastline,  the weather over the target being  too bad for it  to continue.  Added to this I have recently found, although this is not confirmed, that most of the crew were on their last or penultimate missions (25 being the normal mission period with an option for 5 more missions I doubt if many opted for the extension) and were shortly to return home to America.

Many of you, both in Helmdon and also Wappenham,  will remember having seen the descent of the airplane from a distance or have been told of it by the older generation,  and  some of you may have visited the crash site when allowed by the RAF and USAAF guards after the bodies and most of the wreckage had been removed.

9th November, 2008

We will remember them.
Lt. Col. Terry Hayes, Deputy Commander of the American 422nd Air Base Group at RAF Croughton laid a special wreath and read out the names of the American airmen.
For many years my mother searched for names and information about the men on board the airplane without success.

Late in 2007,  I posted an enquiry on an American veterans’  internet website and by pure luck at about the same time a young American, Beth Pugh, having recently obtained the official crash report,  was searching the internet for details of her great uncle Richard who had died in an air crash.  The name of Astwell castle was recorded in the crash report.  After typing in Astwell she found and read my enquiry and responded.  After 65 years I now had the official records.  This allowed me, with considerable help from the vicar of St Mary Magdalene, the Revd Will Adams, to plan an inclusion to the memory of these young into the Sunday 9th November 2008 Remembrance Service, to honour them along with our own servicemen and the lives of the thousands of other American men who died in the conflict.

At the present time I only know the age of Captain Richard Pugh, Beth Pugh’s  great uncle whom she refers to as Uncle Dick; he was 24 years old.

The U.S.A.F base at Croughton near Brackley was represented at the service in St Mary Magdalene and at the Helmdon war memorial  by Deputy Commander Lt Colonel Terry Hayes, his wife Kathryn, son Coy and daughter Casey.  Also from the base was MSgt Keith Houin for Group Public Affairs who along with all who attended made it a very memorable day.

I have to thank the people of Helmdon for allowing me with my wife Christine to celebrate a milestone in a lifetime’s ambition with them.  Hopefully there is still more to learn.

The names of the young men are who perished on 30th November, 1943, are:

                  

Captain Richard W. Pugh

Co Pilot

1st Lt. William M. Holland

Pilot

F/O Leighton D. Paterson

Navigator

2nd Lt. William S. Munro

Bombardier

T/Sgt. Thomas D. Glaspell

Engineer

T/Sgt. Billy B. Freeman

Radio Operator

S/Sgt. Dean Landfear

Waist Gunner

S/Sgt. Charles E. Slayton

Waist Gunner

S/Sgt. Harry A. Scott

Ball Turret Gunner

S/Sgt. Henry P. Brannon

Tail Gunner


"They shall not grow old as we are left to grow old:  Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.   At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them."

Derek Ratledge

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Lt. Col. Hayes salutes the lost airmen.
 

Left to Right: Paul Stothard, Reader in the Benefice, Peter Burns, chair of Helmdon Parish Council, David Brookhouse, Lt. Col. Terry Hayes, MSgt Keith Houin & Revd Will Adams, Rector of the Parish. Click here for a larger image.
 
Over 200 people gathered for the Act of Remembrance
More than 200 people turned out for the special Act of Remembrance.

 
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