1961 Percival Provost crash
When my father was 14, an aircraft crashed near to Great Witley. He and a friend cycled to the site of the crash a day or two later, after the wreckage had been recovered.
There was a fairly deep hole in the ground where the aircraft had impacted, in which he found a small piece of Plexiglas from the aircraft’s cockpit canopy. I remember Dad showing me the piece of Plexiglas when I was a child and I still have it today. Having recently rediscovered the small piece of cockpit canopy glazing, I decided to see if I could find out more about the crash.
Dad could not recall the precise location, and the reports I had been able to find merely state the crash was “at Great Witley”. However, former Great Witley resident David Williams has kindly added a lot of detail regarding the location. The aircraft actually crashed some distance from Great Witley at Prickley Green Farm, Martley. At the time Prickley Green Farm was farmed by David’s father in law, Evan James and his brother Llyn.
David recounted that Evan well remembers the crash. He was at a Lord Ednam Airgun league match in the Crown at Martley at the time and recalls rushing home concerned about the safety of his family.
The aircraft came down in their apple orchard near to Laugherne Brook about 150 -200 yards from the lane which runs from Prickley Green towards Witton Hill. The site is now within the Bulmers Orchards which were planted in the early 1970s.
The aircraft concerned was a Royal Air Force Percival Provost T.Mk1. The Provost was a piston-engined, two seat, basic training aircraft, which served the RAF in the 1950s and 1960s. The Provost T.Mk1 in question was serial number XF893, assigned to No.6 Flying Training School at RAF Ternhill, near Newport and Market Drayton in Shropshire. On the 7th February 1961 Provost XF893 was on a night training flight, being flown solo. The student pilot is believed to have been performing their first solo night training flight without an instructor on board. Unfortunately I am unable to find any record of the pilot’s identity, which is unusual as such details are normally recorded in reports of RAF crashes. However, once again David Williams was able to cast some light on the issue. He advised that his father in law was under the impression that the student pilot was Lebanese. Subsequently I have been able to confirm that the pilot was in fact Lebanese, although I have been unable to find any record of their name. It was not uncommon for the RAF to train pilots from friendly foreign air forces, and the fact it was a non-RAF pilot also explains why there is no record of the pilot’s identity in the records that I have been able to locate.
The Lebanese pilot lost control, or more likely became disorientated in the dark (possibly also in cloud). Such disorientation is not uncommon when flying in the dark, especially for inexperienced pilots; the motion of the aircraft can fool your inner ear (without any visual cues to reference the motion against) into thinking you are the right way up when you are actually upside down, for example. So it is essential for pilots to monitor their instruments for confirmation of their aircraft’s actual attitude. Provost XF893 dived straight down into the ground, tragically killing the pilot. The vertical dive would also explain the fairly deep, but not very wide, hole in the ground that my father later found. David Williams’ father in law Evan also apparently recalls a strong smell of aviation fuel for a long time afterwards in the orchard.
The wreckage was recovered by the RAF and taken to No.71 Maintenance Unit at RAF Bicester for investigation and components recovery.
1943 Avro Anson crash
There was also another, earlier, RAF training aircraft crash in the area that my father was told about when he was in his teens by neighbour Richard Moore. This one took place in Abberley.
Again David Williams has been able to give detail of the location. David has been advised by several people over the years that its point of impact was “very near the Abberley to Clows Top road, between the first two council houses on the left as you travel towards Clows Top and The Bell Public House at Pensax”.
David went on to say, “A friend of mine worked those fields for Trevor Knot in the early 70s and says they regularly used to plough up small items of wreckage. I also recall reading in a local aviation book that a prop blade had been recovered from the bottom of the hedge in fairly recent times.”
This was another tragic crash of a training aircraft, on this occasion with the loss of all five crew members. It took place on 25th November 1943, the aircraft being an Avro Anson, serial number N9790, of No.6 (Observer) Advanced Flying Unit from RAF Moreton Valence (located 6 miles southwest of Gloucester), and which “dived into the ground near Abberley” according to one account. There is a plaque commemorating the crew in St Mary’s Church, Abberley, which states that, “Control of Anson N9790, on a Navigation Training Flight, was lost in a hail-storm, and icing caused it to fly into the ground at Abberley”. Sgt Glyn Miles (Pilot), Sgt Thomas Forrest (Wireless Operator/Air Gunner), Sgt Clifford Wheeldin (Navigator), Sgt Harry Deans (Navigator/Air Bomber) and Sgt Gerald Mills (Navigator/Air Bomber) were all killed.