For The Fallen
Double Hills Memorial 2018
On the 2nd June 2018 I represented RAF Blakehill Cricklade, in joining the commemoration vehicle parade and service for the first casualties of Arnhem, when 21 Airborne Soldiers of 9 Squadron RE and 2 Glider Pilots who died when their Horsa glider crashed near Paulton. I understand that the section of 9 Squadron RE that died, billeted at Blakehill Farm, the night before of the 16th/17th before enplaning onto Horsa RJ113 at Keevil.
On Sunday, 17th September, 1944, at 10.25 a.m., RAF tug-aircraft, Stirling LK 148 from RAF 299 Squadron, 38 Group, took off from RAF Keevil, Wiltshire. In tow was Horsa Glider Mk1, RJ113 (Chalk No. 389) piloted by S/Sgt. L. (Len) J. Gardner and his co-pilot, Sgt. R. (Bob) A. Fraser with the complement of 21 Royal Engineers.
They took a course northwest towards Gloucester to form up with a stream from RAF Fairford. Some Horsa Gliders towed by C47 aircraft had already left from RAF Blakehill Cricklade.
At approximately 11.05 a.m. over the village of Farrington Gurney, the Horsa glider broke up in mid air, breaking its tow rope. It crashed in pieces in the field called Double Hills, killing all on board. They would be the first to die on Operation Market Garden. They would never even leave the UK.
Members of the crew on board the RAF Stirling tug-aircraft described the scene. Wally Simpson was watching the Horsa glider trailing behind. Horrified, Simpson shouted to the Stirling Captain: “My God, the glider’s coming apart!” The front of the Horsa glider sank to earth like a falling rock.
Worse still, explosions occurred after the glider had hit the ground as the ammunition and explosives carried by the Royal Engineers on board detonated. Local people who rushed to assist the stricken glider on the ground were injured from these blasts.
After circling, the RAF Stirling crew were able to log the crash site before returning to RAF Keevil, where the crew grabbed a jeep and drove the 22 miles back to Paulton. Upon arrival back at the crash site, RAF Flt. Sgt. Ken Crowther said: “I saw a scene of carnage, the likes of which I hope never to see again.”
To hear first hand eye witness accounts still being recalled, and to imagine the sound of exploding ammunition echoing around the field is something that will stay with me for a long time. It was an honour to assist in helping to lead the parade of veterans and serving personnel behind a piper and RBL standard bearers in the company of Nick Nicholls GPR, and Jacob Rees-Mogg MP. I held it together until the local children laid poppies to the fallen; then I had to turn away.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we WILL remember them;
(From D Squadron Glider Pilot Regiment)
Staff Sergeant Leonard J Gardner
Sergeant Robert A Fraser
(From No 1 Platoon 9th (Airborne) Field Company Royal Engineers)
Lance Sergeant Roy H Allen
Sapper Joseph Charles Beale
Lance Corporal William H Burrows
Sapper Cyril W Calvert
Sapper Robert Carney
Corporal Arthur L Clampitt
Sapper Alexander Cuthbertson
Sapper Frederick A S Davis
Sapper John Evans
Sapper John Fernyhough
Sapper Edward James Godfrey
Sapper Arthur Hall
Sapper Douglas E Holtham
Sergeant Arthur F Oakey
Lance Corporal Edward Valentine Pickburn
Sapper Edward Eric Sheppard
Sapper Arthur Raymond Street
Sapper Cyril Turner
Sapper Arthur George Watt
Sapper Jack Westfield
Sapper John S Williamson