Trevor White remembers witnessing the crash, in Stortford, of a De Haviland Mosquito in 1944.
I am an Old Stortfordian who was at Bishop’s Stortford College (BSC) from May 1942 to March 1950 and have just seen your Stortford History and Guide.
You mention the crash of a De Haviland Mosquito on 1 July 1944. I was an eye witness to this event as two or three of us were in the woods just behind the New Pavilion on BSC’s top field. We heard the screaming of aircraft engines and looked up to see an aircraft diving out of the sky. It appeared to be coming straight at us.
The aircraft missed us by about half a mile. It came down just north of the Hadham Road missing a house by about 200 yards. I can best describe the crash as being about 400 yards to the West of where Cricketfield Lane joins Hadham Road and then about 300 yards north. A BSC master (George? Cartwright) and a number of the BSC senior boys rushed to the crashed aircraft but, although on the scene within a few minutes, could do nothing as it had caught fire and a plume of black smoke went about 100 yards into the air. It was rumoured at the time that one of the crew was a former BSC pupil.
A short while later a number of us boys were in the BSC Sanatorium with chicken pox, and three nights running we got under our beds due to V1 “doodle bugs”. You were OK provided you could hear the jet engines. They passed over us with engines still going, much to our relief.
I also witnessed from a classroom overlooking Maze Green Road, Dakota aircraft towing gliders to Arnhem on 17 September 1944. There was a constant stream which took some 15-20 minutes to pass over.
Pete Young contacted me a few years ago to tell of his return visit to Stortford and relate some his childhood memories of what it was like here during the Second World War. I recently contacted him again to see if he could add more memories for this WWII project, which he has kindly done.
I was born at Rye Street hospital in 1933, at the same time as the ‘Queen Mum’ came to officially open a new wing of the maternity unit there. In later years my mother told me I was held by the Queen Mum during her visit, the story then becoming a bit of a family joke whenever I got in a strop – ‘There he goes doing his royalty bit’ they would all say.
My family lived in Stortford, but before the war we moved to London where my father was a policeman. When war was declared many thousands of children were evacuated from London to the countryside but I stayed with my parents, probably until the summer of 1940 when Hitler began bombing us and threatened invasion. My father was still a policeman at that time and my mother drove a London ambulance out of Berkeley Square depot, so I was evacuated back to Bishop’s Stortford to live with my Grandparents. They lived in a bungalow in the grounds of Bishop’s Stortford College. Because my parent’s work made it difficult for them travel to Stortford to see me, I would often return to London to visit them instead.
Though Bishop’s Stortford was my birthplace I still got treated as an evacuee and attended Northgate End School at Northgate End. In fact, being an evacuee had its rewards – one of which was being invited to the 1943 Christmas party held at the *American Red Cross Services Club in Apton Road. I remember this as being a smart grey building, quite large, that stood virtually opposite the pathway linking Apton Road and Windhill via St Michael’s churchyard. The Goverment or town council had doubtlessly requisitioned the property for use by the Americans, alongside which stood a brick-built raid shelter.
*Without any certainty (on my part) it would appear the building that once housed the American Red Cross Services Club is still standing as No 13 Apton Road. Naturally, it has been altered, modernised and refurbished but it’s clear to see why this sizable property was given for use as a Services club.
Another brick-built air raid shelter stood in the road near to the entrance gates of New Cemetery at the far end of Apton Road. The site is now that of a small roundabout. The shelter, about the size of a single garage, had a flat concrete slab roof and held very few people but would have given some protection especially to those visiting the cemetery during an air-raid. Adjacent to the shelter, between Batholomew Road and Jervis Road was a grassed piece of land accommodating a garage and large house that stood behind a shop fronting Apton Road. Owned by my Uncle, this shop was basically a corner store for the residents of New Town, selling groceries, vegetables, fruit, sweets, paraffin oil, firewood etc. After he gave up the business the properties stood empty for many years, finally being sold and demolished around the mid 1990s to be replaced by modern terrace houses named Stacey Court.
During the war I vividly remember the regular gas mask testing for school children that took place in the rear yard of the *council offices, which at that time were sited across the road from the Causeway and Castle mound.
*The property used by the council before and after the war was built by *Sir George Jackson in the early 1800s, though he never lived there permanently (See Guide 9). When war started the town council held their meetings in the courtroom of the new police station at High Street, and throughout the war years the council offices became headquarters of the local Civil Defence.
The Causeway at that time was a large open area dressed with clinker. (It would have made a suitable car park had there been any cars!) It was here that airmen of the USAAF, who were stationed at what was known to us kids as ‘Takeley’ airbase but later Mount Fidget, then Stansted, brought sweets (candies) for all the local children at Christmas time. Children would line up, each holding a bucket or pail, and then file past a large open-backed army lorry in which two US airmen (one on either side) stood knee deep in sweets. Each child would then use their bucket to scoop out as many sweets as possible. It was here also that during ‘Aid to Russia’ week, Cossack horsemen attended and gave a fantastic display.
I remember an airplane crash north of the Plantation – the name we children used for the area approximately where now the tennis club is sited in Cricketfield Lane. There were a couple of asphalt tennis courts there at the time but both were wildly overgrown and unplayable. I also remember a really large mound of clay there, which I never could find out its origins.
The plane that crashed, a British fighter, was flying north and hit the ground on a slight incline just south of Dane ‘O’ Coys Lane. The RAF were quickly on the scene and fenced off the area with wooden poles.
*The plane crash Pete talks of was recorded as being a Hawker Hurricane that dived vertically into the ground in Stortford on 30 April 1941, killing the pilot. The exact location of any crash was never publicly disclosed.
Another plane I remember that crashed in that area was a twin engined Mosquito. Already on fire, it passed low over our heads and trees flying along the top of Cricketfield Lane, and came down just past the western end of Silver Leys setting fire to cereal crop.
*This was very likely one of two De Haviland Mosquitos recorded as crashing near Bishop’s Stortford – this particular one crashing in April 1945.
Cricketfield Lane was our play area during the war, with none of the houses that stand today being there. The northern end of what is now the sports field behind Northgate End school was a half mown field, the other half being left to become waist high grass and weeds. This, I later gathered, was to be used by people as cover should any German fighter planes make an aerial machine gun attack on them. I remember an incident such as this happening on a pathway that led from a pedestrian railway crossing through to the Causeway.
In the centre of the northern perimeter of what we called the Plantation was the cricket Pavilion, and a stream ran alongside Cricketfield Lane behind the Hedge. The pavilion had always been secured, so one day when we went there we were surprised to find soldiers all around it. After some caution and hearing the sound of vehicles, which of course was a rarity in Cricketfield Lane in those days, there arrived six Bedford (?) canvas sided box ambulances each with a large white circle and Red Cross painted on the sides, rear and roof. These were then parked facing west along the south edge of the road. We local children soon became friends with the soldiers, doing their shopping and giving any help we could. They had a pet cat and were there for weeks, but one morning when we went to see them they had gone. They left a note with the cat’s cage asking us to take care of it and clear up any mess, and also asked us to post some letters which had become a regular job for us.
The date they left was 6 June 1944, because later that morning we heard the now famous report on the radio that Allied troops had landed in France. Of course, it was revealed years later that a lot of southern England was used to ‘park’ the invasion troops and thousands of vehicles needed for the invasion to be successful. All the local children were saddened by the soldiers’ departure, but at least we had ‘our’ field back to play in and the cat lived on for many years.
Long after the war I was watching a film of D-Day and onwards, and there heading towards land along the ‘Mulberry Harbour’ were many canvas sided box ambulances, identical to ones that had been parked in Cricket field Lane. I decided to visit Arromanches and scour the local museums to find any further information about them, wondering if some might have been those that were parked in Cricketfield Lane. Unfortunately I could find out very little so will never know.
In the summer of 1944, after D-Day and a long period of relative calm so far as air raids were concerned, V-1s began falling from the sky. They were, of course, an obvious danger but many people treated them with some disregard – watching them ‘chug’ along until the engine finally stuttered and cut out, then listening to the distant explosion. V-2 rockets were somewhat different. Because they hit without warning the public were not initially given a great deal of publicity for fear of panic.
I vividly remember one morning in late 1944, while I was getting ready for school between 7am and 8am, hearing a noise that can only be describes as ‘like snow sliding off a high roof and hitting the ground.’ From indoors there was no way of telling which direction the sound came from, so to try and find out I chose to go to Northgate school that morning via Westfield Road.
Near the top of the hill my route was to turn right along the edge of a playing field and into a narrow tree and scrub lined alley that eventually joined with Chantry Road. However on entering the alley I was stopped by a local policeman, who told me not to enter the allotments that stretched as far as Cricketfield Lane and ran alongside the playing field. Despite what the policemen told me, a short way into the alley I went through the hedge and saw a huge crater with great clumps of earth smoking and steaming. Soldiers, presumably from nearby Silver Leys camp, arrived on the scene soon after and were surprised by the size of the crater and of the heat coming from it. In discussion they concluded the crater was far too small to have been caused by a V-1 or an aircraft that would have left surface wreckage and the smell of aviation fuel. It was felt, therefore, that the crater had been made by a V-2. I then raced off before I was late for school.
*The tree and scrub lined alley is still there – though perhaps not now as wide as it once was – as is the playing field, which is still a playing field but now belongs to the new Northgate school. The allotments have long since been replaced by Willow Close development, the houses and gardens at the top of this cul-de-sac, which face Cricketfield Lane, built on the site where the V-2 crater was.
My sister attended Northgate for all her school days but after I passed the 11 year-olds examination in 1944, I was sent later that year to Barnsbury Central school in London. By that time, though, the school and all its pupils had been evacuated to Hitchin in Hertfordshire, and so I too was evacuated to Hitchin to attend the school. I often travelled back to Stortford at weekends using a London Transport country bus service. This was pretty unreliable, though, and so I sometimes returned to Hitchin by train from Stortford via Cambridge. After the war, Barnsbury Central school returned to Islington in North London. I then lived at Victoria in central London and so had to travel to school by tram and underground trains.