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- John Benson
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- John Benson
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- 17 April 2004
There were about half a dozen airfields in Lincolnshire at the start of the war. By the time it ended there about 50. The flat landscape and the proximity to Germany made it ideal for Bomber Command.
Nowadays there are world headlines if a plane crashes, but during the war crashes within Lincolnshire were an almost everyday occurrence. These were sometimes caused by flying accidents, but were also due to crippled machines trying to return home. German aircraft were also shot down over the county.
In 1940 I was 11 years old when in the early hours of Saturday morning 28th September I awoke to the sound of a terrific crash, followed by machine gun bullets going off. We had an army officer billeted on us but he had been called for duty that night at nearby Lincoln barracks because Hitler's invasion was expected imminently. My first thoughts were that the Germans HAD landed and were coming down Yarborough Crescent but were being held up by men in the trenches which had been dug at the corner of Burton Road. My parents came into the front bedroom which I shared with my younger brother - they thought that the house had been hit. They drew the blackout curtains and we saw that a Hampden bomber had crashed into St Matthias church opposite our house. There was a terrific blaze and machine gun bullets were popping off in the fire. My father rang the fire brigade and I went downstairs to the back room (to be out of the way of the machine gun bullets), had a cup of tea and then fell asleep again.
The next morning I went to school as usual (we went to school on Saturday mornings in those days) and was somewhat surprised to find that the sound of the crash had awoken most of Lincoln. I went home at lunchtime to find that the area had been cordoned off and that the local residents had been told to go to air raid shelters. Apparently the Hampden had returned from a raid on U-boat bases at Lorient in France with a bomb still on board - and it was still there in the wreckage! Fortunately it was soon dealt with. Later that day I found remnants of ammunition belts - still with live ammunition - at the bottom of our hedge, but to my intense disappointment the RAF came and took them away.
The south side of St Matthias church, including the vestry, was destroyed, but it was patched up with corrugated iron until the damage was repaired after the war. It continued to be used every week by the soldiers at the barracks for their Sunday morning church parades.
The Hampden was from 83 Squadron, based at nearby RAF Scampton (later to become famous as the home of the "Dambusters".) It had flown home on one engine and had probably still got quite a large amount of high-octane fuel on board. The crew of four had baled out, but the pilot - Pilot Officer Dudley Snook (20) probably left it too late. His parachute failed to open and he landed less than 100 yards away from the crash. He is buried in the churchyard at Scampton. The air gunner later became a pilot and he survived the war.
On Tuesday 22nd July 1941, a Hampden very nearly crashed into Lincoln Cathedral. Returning from operations, it crashed into the boarding house of the Girls' High School on Greestone Stairs, only a hundred yards away from the cathedral. A member of staff of the High School was killed, together with all the crew.
Five days later, on a sunny Sunday evening, the pilots of two Spitfires were doing aerobatics and mock attacks on each other over Lincoln. I watched them with a friend and we were horrified when one of them crashed into the other, slicing off the tail section. That plane immediately went into a spin and crashed in the centre of Lincoln - opposite the LNER railway station - killing four people. The other kept going and circled until it too lost height and crashed into a house near the racecourse. Both pilots baled out safely.
In March 1945 - only a few weeks before the VE Day -the Germans carried out large-scale intruder operations. Cruising around, waiting for Lancaster bombers returning from operations, were Luftwaffe Junkers Ju188A-1 aircraft, each carrying a crew of four. One of them shot down a Lancaster near Langworth and then made off towards Welton. Flying low, it attacked a car on the Welton-Hackthorn road, spitting cannon fire and machine gun bullets. But it came too low and crashed into the car, flinging it across two fields. The driver was the only member of the Observer Corps to be killed on duty in the war. He was the father of two boys from my school. The Germans were buried in Scampton churchyard. Many years later, a farmer ploughing his fields found a German identity tag and it was thought at first that it must have belonged to one of the aircrew who had perished. But this was a NEW name. Checks were made and it was found to belong to a member of the squadron's ground crew, who had been reported as "absent without leave". He had evidently "hitched" a lift in the JU 188, probably for a bit of excitement. So one of the gravestones of the Luftwaffe crew now has TWO names on it.
Several incidents were not without humour. One plane mistook the signal lights on the King's Cross main line for landing lights and landed on the nearby A1 and another aircraft landed on the A46 at Swinderby between Lincoln and Newark. The control tower at RAF Cottesmore were amazed when the crew of a Hampden which had landed there one foggy night promptly set fire to their plane. They thought they had landed in Holland!
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