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The Pilot and the Six Inch Rule

by West Sussex Library Service

Contributed by 
West Sussex Library Service
People in story: 
Albert Cooper
Location of story: 
Weybridge Station
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
10 January 2005

MODERATOR'S NOTE: This story contains a graphic description of the aftermath of a plane crash. Some readers may find it disturbing.

Written by Billingshurst Library on behalf of Albert Cooper.

It was November 1941, I was almost 19,a toolmaker working from 8am till 8 at night, in the Home Guard and due to go on machine gun training course at 9pm. I wanted to measure something on the gun so I took my 6 inch stainless steel rule with me which I put in my back pocket. I cycled to Weybridge station, a mile and a half from Vickers aircraft factory. I heard a German bomber using the railway lines to guide him up to the factory, I stopped and when the plane was virtually overhead I looked up and at that precise moment the aircraft struck a balloon barrage and caught fire immediately. The cable bent like a bowstring, and the aircraft spun slowly round the cable 180 degrees and at that point the cable broke. The plane went into a 30 degree dive flaming like a comet and it crashed the London side of the station bridge into the side of the railway cutting. Impetuously, I thought I should try to get the crew out of the plane which was only about a hundred yards away. The first thing I saw was a magnesium flare burning on the road casting an eerie light. Twenty feet beyond the flare was the body of the pilot lying across the pavement on his back with his knees and hands in such a position as to look as if he’d been flying the plane. His mouth was wide open in what looked like a scream. His hands were missing and the back of his head was smashed completely up to his ears by the kerbstone. There was a thick pool of blood in the road with pieces of plane in it. He was wearing a cheap looking gabardine flying suit, no parachute harness, very thin soled dancing shoes. I was standing surveying the situation when a policeman came up and I asked him if he would help me get the rest of the crew out of the aircraft, which was burning fiercely about a hundred feet away. He said “No, leave it to the fire brigade”! The policeman departed and a doctor arrived. He squatted down beside the pilot and I shone a torch into the airman’s eyes for the doctor . He pronounced him dead and asked me to stand by him until the body was taken away.
The heat was so intense from the fire that I turned my back on it, at which point the first bomb exploded. I had forgotten the bomber, the blast from the bomb blew me across the pavement, across a wide grass verge, through a thick hedge and came to a halt up against a board fence. I recovered and went back to stand by the dead pilot, at which point the second bomb exploded and I lost consciousness. When I came to, I was lying on top of the pilot cradled between his arms and knees, my hands on his shoulders and my nose touching his nose. I found I was having a one sided conversation with the pilot saying I’m sorry old boy, I’ll get up in a minute. He was absolutely rock rigid and as I tried to get up he rolled from side to side. When I finally did get to my feet I found I’d got his blood and brains in my mouth.
Next day when I got to work I found my 6 inch rule missing. At lunchtime I went back to the crash site to see if I could find it but I couldn’t. I carried on working to the end of the war and began to experience pains in my back, which I thought was perhaps a slipped disc. In 1995 I went to hospital for an operation and I had a scan and the first thing they scanned was my right kidney. There on the screen appeared the most beautiful picture of my right kidney with an opaque black shadow through the kidney from top to bottom, which must be my stainless steel 6 inch rule. If it could be removed without taking out the kidney they would find my name on it!

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Air Raids and Other Bombing Category
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