- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Bernard Heale
- Location of story:
- Stelling Minnis, Kent
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 06 September 2005
This is a story my mother tells of my grandfather. There may be some small inaccuracies and the tale may have grown slightly in the telling.
During the summer months of 1940 (although it may have been 1944, although this seems unlikely) a dogfight resulted in one of our fighters being shot down over the village. The pilot bailed out successfully but his abandoned fighter plane landed on a house. The plane had damaged the house severely but had come to rest on the roof, and was in danger of falling through. A group of people had gathered around the house and concern was expressed that no-one had seen anything of the elderly woman who lived in the house. It was believed by all present that she was home at the time it was hit by the aeroplane and therefore all present knew that she may either have been killed or be in serious need of attention. No-one dared enter the house to check however, due to the possibility that the plane might unexpectedly sink further into the house, causing further collapses.
My grandfather was in his lower field at the time doing some pruning work. It was a hot day and he was stripped to the waist. Seeing the fighter come down he hastened in the direction it must have landed, carrying the axe he had been using with him.
When he arrived at the house and saw the plane he decided that the best thing to do would be to get up onto the roof and chop the tail off the plane, so that the resultant halves would fall to either side of the house, thus relieving the pressure on the roof. Therefore, taking his axe, he climbed up onto the roof of the house and carefully made his way over to to the damaged area where the plane was. He then proceeded to chop the plane in two with the axe and before long he had to spring back out of the way as the two halves did indeed fall away to land on the ground either side of the house.
The danger now lessened, someone went into the house, where they confirmed that the woman had indeed been killed.
A week or two later my grandfather found himself in hot water over the destruction of the plane. Fighter planes were expensive objects and if possible the R.A.F. would attempt to recover downed fighters so that they could either be repaired or used for spares. By cutting it in half my grandfather had denied them this possibility. However, his discomfort came not so much from the fact that he had done it but from the fact that as the designated air raid warden for the village he had not been wearing his A.R.P. armband when he had done it!
My grandfather always said that the fighter plane he cut in half was a spitfire but my uncle disputes this. My uncle notes that it would be difficult to cut though a spitfire's steel frame with an axe, whereas the wooden frame of a hurricane would make it quite easy. As my grandfather, for reasons best known to himself, considered the hurricane to have been better than the spitfire and the spitfire to have been something of an upstart, I suspect my uncle is right.
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