NOSTALGIA: Second World War eclipses activity at Wilmington

A Boeing B17 ... 'The Flying Fortress'
A Boeing B17 ... 'The Flying Fortress'

A mere few weeks after the August meeting on September 3 1939, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain made his famous broadcast that the nation was at war again with Germany, writes Peter Longstaff-Tyrrell.

At Wilmington Aerodrome, the club secretary unceremoniously locked up the premises and passed the keys to the Ministry of Supply.

No notice for the need to the airstrip to be utilised by the Air Ministry had been forthcoming and the grass runways were blocked with obstacles, old vehicles etc, to hinder any landings.

The neighbourhood however witnessed a number of aircraft intrusions.

On Tuesday January 2 1940 the Fairey Battle of 90 Squadron crashed and was written off during a forced landing at Wilmington.

Although the state of the modest airfield was non-operational, it was attacked at 6.40pm on August 15 1940 and seven HE bombs were dropped between Wilmington and Berwick Railway Station.

Five of those bombs failed to explode but the once proud clubhouse was slightly damaged.

At 9.15am on Sunday December 22, a field at Old Park Farm, Arlington, was the scene of a Spitfire flown by a Sergeant Lee being seriously damaged. The airman landed with his machine that had suffered engine failure and he was injured in the accident.

On March 5 1042 at 2.12pm pilot Sergeant S Hammer 753049 perished when his Spitfire fell in mysterious circumstances into a field north of the Wilmington Flying Ground.

The Spitfire Vb of pilot Officer Edward Hall of 129 Squadron at Westhampnett was wrecked and burnt out on May 5 1942 at a location given as 400 yards south of Endlewick Farm buildings after being abandoned by the pilot due to vibrations and a glycol leak that blinded the cockpit.

The aircraft actually nosedived into pastures at Underwood Farm and the incident has been fully retold by Phil Wooller who was a teenager on his family farm at the time.

In 1968 Phil helped with the excavation of the wreckage and then the pilot revisited the scene in 1978. The wreckage of BM375 was found some 23ft into the ground by a mechanical digger.

In 1990 the Merlin engine was ferried some six miles overland by a Lynx helicopter of the Army Air Corps to the Redoubt Museum where it remains on display.

Phil also has memories of a Bristol Beaufighter landing near the Cuckmere close to his home and of a forced down Spitfire laying unattended in a field for a fortnight.

On Tuesday August 31 at 4pm, after being shot down over the Channel by three Fw 190s, French pilot M. Guilloux crashed and wrecked his spitfire BM301 100 yards north west of Milton gate railway crossing, close to the defunct Wilmington airfield.

That same day at 7.15pm at Hide Farm Lane, Wooton Manor, Wilmington, Flying Fortress of 91st Bomber Group USAAF force-landed and struck anti-invasion poles. The Boeing B17 named Spooks was returning from a milk run over France but it had sustained flak and engine damage.

The aircraft has been recalled as limping over the Downs inland seeking somewhere to land, coming down in a field close to Wooton Manor.

Captain Jesse Rogers’ B17 struck anti-invasion poles and trees as it spiralled a field. Some men had baled out over the Channel but eventually all 11 crew died of their injuries. Local people still recall the aftermath of the horrific incident.

On February 6 an RAF Dakota hit the top of Folkington Hill in cloudy conditions. The aircraft was bound for Belgium but all 23 airmen perished as the transport aircraft – lining up to clear the Downs near the Long Man struck the apex of the hill – lipped back and burnt out in a spinney at Folkington Bottom killing all four American airmen.

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