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WW2 - People's War

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Contributed by 
Norfolk Adult Education Service
People in story: 
Johm Thurman
Location of story: 
Bourn, Cambridgeshire
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A3240415
Contributed on: 
08 November 2004

In April 1945 I was 4 years 5 months old, living on the family farm in Bourn, Cambridgeshire. The farm was about half a mile south of the main runway of the Bourn airfield a base for Mosquito bombers and, earlier, Lancasters. I was already able to tell the different sounds of these aircraft as they flew low over our farm on their way to and from Germany in the last months of the war.

The morning on April 4th 1945 was fine and sunny. I was in the kitchen with my mother when we heard a very low aircraft approaching and, immediately after, a loud noise. We went into a room called The Nursery and saw a sheet of flame outside the window; broken glass and curtains beginning to burn. The sight of fire left a much stronger impression than the noise made by what transpired to be the crashing of a Mosquito.

The next I remember is standing in the front garden on the opposite side of the farmhouse, with lots of people running and shouting. I later learned that RAF people had arrived almost immediately, as we were only a few yards from a sentry post and a few hundred yards from the airfield. My sister and one brother were in the garden with us, while my older brother had been helped out of an outhouse, where he had been cleaning his bike, by an airman (the door was blocked by a propeller) and dispatched to find my father who was working in the fields.

There was then an explosion (which, apparently, we had been warned about) caused by petrol leaking from the crashed plane. Glass was flying everywhere and parts of the staircase blew out through the front door as we watched. My mother’s face was cut by some flying glass and at that she cried a little, having been very calm up to that point.

My older sister remembers an airman asking my mother for a sheet, and the pilot’s body being removed on a covered stretcher, but I must have been shielded from this. The fire was quickly put out with foam from the RAF fire engines, leaving a wrecked house, a lot of debris and an all-pervading smell of petrol which persisted for years afterwards. The fuselage had come to rest with its nose just protruding into our dining room, where it tipped over a sideboard containing our ‘best’ dinner service.

No-one in the family was hurt, but we could not live in the house for 6 months and stayed with relatives. Compensation allowed the farm house and buildings to be fully rebuilt within a year, in the case of the buildings a restoration even of archaic fittings such as wooden hay racks for animals we no longer possessed!

Research much later, and information gleaned at the time, fills in the rest of the picture:

The aircraft had been repaired and was being test flown by Flight Lt. Pat Enderby when it crashed with engine failure. He was 22 and had been married for under 2 years. He crashed through farm buildings before hitting the farmhouse, and we always wondered if this had been deliberate on his part, in order to save the house. There is of course no way of knowing as sadly he died instantly, but we may owe him our lives.

Some 50 years later my sister traced the pilot’s family, exchanged letters with his niece, and visited his grave in Lincolnshire..

John Thurman September 2004

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