Anniversary of Downside Air Crash
This week marks the 74th anniversary of one of the saddest moments in Downside’s history when in 1943 a fighter plane crashed into the cricket pitch killing nine pupils and the pilot.
The event has long been remembered as a tragic time and the loss of the boys was felt keenly. Here in the Downside archives is a host of material relating to the event, some of which it seems pertinent to share as a remembrance.
Around 3 pm on Saturday 15th, May 1943 two Sea Hurricanes from RNAS Yeovilton were training in the skies above Downside during a cricket match. One pupil stated ‘the planes came over at just above tree-top height and they had been circling for 1/4 of an hour or so.’ After another pass, the second plane’s ‘…nose dipped and the plane came down on the left wing and it appeared the pilot tried to flatten out and then the right wing hit the ground.’
The archive material held here relates in the main to the experiences and eyewitness statements. One boy also drew two pictures of the accident, shown below. Perhaps the most poignant images are of the procession of mourners to the monastic cemetery where all pupils were buried. In one photo, a group of Dutch pilots based at RAF Yeovilton can be seen in the procession.
There was one story of heroism which stood out from the incident. Richard Kingsbury, a Downside pupil, was seriously injured during the crash but ‘bore his pain with fortitude and bravery exceptional in a child of his tender years.’ A member of the Scouts, Kingsbury was awarded the Scout’s VC by the Queen Mother, Queen Mary who travelled to Downside to award the medal in person. She also laid a wreath at the grave of the boys who died.
Although the incident is a sad moment in the history of Downside it is important to remember those who lost their lives on this anniversary.