RAF Defford Halifax Accident – 75th Anniversary

The 7th June 2017 was the 75th anniversary of the worst accident, in terms of casualties, in the history of British military test flying.

On the afternoon of Sunday 7th June 1942, a Handley Page Halifax bomber, V9977, took off from RAF Defford in Worcestershire. This aircraft was equipped with an experimental radar, code-named ‘H2S’.

Halifax V9977

Halifax V9977

The aircraft was operated by a five-man RAF crew from the Telecommunications Flying Unit, based at Defford. Their captain was Pilot Officer Douglas Berrington, an experienced pilot. Also on board were Geoffrey Hensby (a TRE scientist in the H2S radar team led by Dr Bernard Lovell), two RAF liaison officers attached to TRE, and three engineers from EMI at Hayes, including the distinguished electronics engineer Alan Blumlein.

EMI had been granted the production contract for H2S, and Blumlein, who had pioneered stereo sound recording and the 405-line television system used by the BBC, was leading this radar work at the Company.

The Halifax headed to the Bristol Channel area to provide the EMI engineers with a demonstration of the H2S radar, but at 4.20pm the bomber was seen over the Forest of Dean, trailing smoke from one of its four Rolls-Royce Merlin engines. A servicing error a few days previously had led to a catastrophic engine failure which resulted in a fire that spread to a fuel tank.

Just two minutes later the starboard wing detached and the aircraft crashed in a field north of the River Wye, at Welsh Bicknor, Herefordshire. All 11 on board died instantly.

A few days after the accident Dr Lovell was informed personally by the Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, that H2S radar development must retain its priority status. H2S went into action with Bomber Command in January 1943 and provided crews, for the first time, with a means of navigating accurately to targets as far afield as Berlin.

The sacrifices made in furtherance of radar test flying are commemorated in the stained glass of the Radar Memorial Window in the chapel at Goodrich Castle, close to the crash site of Halifax V9977. This window was dedicated on 7th June 1992, the 50th anniversary of the crash.

Memorial Window in Goodrich Castle Chapel

Memorial Window in Goodrich Castle Chapel

Defford has its own RAF memorial on the Village Green. This was unveiled in 2002 by Sir Bernard Lovell OBE FRS, Emeritus Professor of Radio Astronomy at the University of Manchester.

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New book now available – Defford Airfield 1941-57: A Pictorial History

Defford Airfield 1941-57: A Pictorial History, by Dennis Williams, is now available for purchase in the RAF Museum at the National Trust at Croome.

Defford Airfield 1941-57: A Pictorial History, by Dennis Williams, 2017.

Defford Airfield 1941-57: A Pictorial History,
by Dennis Williams.

This tells the fascinating history of RAF Defford from when part of the Croome Estate was first requisitioned in 1941 through the early days of Bomber Command training and on to when the airfield became the secret home of the Telecommunications Flying Unit.

Highlighting the lives of those who made such an important contribution to the development of airborne radar up until the airfield’s closure in the 1950s, the publication is packed with photographs and illustrations and is priced at £5.00.

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Museum visitors in May

On Bank Holiday Monday 1 May, a milestone was reached in the RAF Defford Museum with our visitor numbers reaching, and exceeding, 150,000 since the museum was opened at the end of September 2014.

RAF Defford Walk, May 2017. Lewis Parry introducing the walk to visitors outside the Museum.

Last Sunday 7 May, 16 visitors enjoyed a 90-minute walk around the Park on the first RAF walk of 2017, led by museum volunteer Lewis Parry. The weather was perfect and the Park was looking at its best in the Spring sunshine. Promoting the walk had been very successful, thanks to the efforts of Tracey Blackwell and Victoria Cronin, and we look forward to meeting more visitors on future walks on the first Sunday of each month up to 1st October. [more details here]

RAF Defford Walk, May 2017. Visitors in the Park listening to Lewis’s talk.

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RAF Walks 2017

The first RAF Guided Walk of the year took place on Sunday 7th May 2017 at 11.30, departing from RAF Reception, Croome, and returning around 13:00.

RAF Walks in 2017 are scheduled every month until October for the following dates:

  • Sunday 4th June
  • Sunday 2nd July
  • Sunday 6th August
  • Sunday 3rd September
  • Sunday 1st October.

Walk through Croome Park with trained guides who will describe the extent of the World War II RAF Defford base, while telling a fascinating story of the people & events connected to it.

Visitor Reception, Croome

Visitor Reception in the former RAF Defford Sick Quarters, Croome

On the RAF Walk, looking towards Croome Court, June 2013

On the RAF Walk, looking towards Croome Court

Getting to Croome: information via National Trust website.

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Michael Barnard exhibition in Croome Court continues

The Michael Barnard exhibition in Croome Court is still open. It is proving very popular. No date has been fixed for closure of this exhibition.

Find out more at the NT Croome website: here.

Michael Barnard's portrait of a WAAF appears at the 'Women of RAF Defford' Exhibition. Photo: Peter Young

Michael Barnard’s portrait of a WAAF at the ‘Women of RAF Defford’ Exhibition. Photo: Peter Young

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Autumn Volunteering at the Museum

Can you help us share Croome’s wartime story at the RAF Defford Museum? Find out more at the National Trust volunteering website.

The entrance to RAF Defford Museum at Croome, April 2016

You can also Contact DAHG or National Trust Croome on 01905 371006, email: croome@nationaltrust.org.uk to find out more about volunteering roles at the RAF Defford Museum at Croome.

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Michael Barnard Exhibition in Croome Court

A display celebrating the life work of local artist and historian Michael Barnard – shown earlier this year as part of the RAF Defford Heritage Day 2016 – is now on view in Croome Court.

Find out more at the NT Croome website: here.

Michael Barnard in his studio in the Vale of Evesham

Michael Barnard in his studio in the Vale of Evesham. Photo: Peter Young

 

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