Beaufighter Crash in Edenbridge 13th Nov 1940..........
| This is the story of aircraft code number R2071
a Bristol Beaufighter which was based at Redhill Aerodrome during
World War II and belonging to 219 Squadron of the RAF. This Beaufighter
was a Mk 1F, a prototype which lead to four different fighter models.
fighter entered service in July 1940. It's main role was destined
to be as night-fighter, but it was also used as a long-range escort
fighter. It carried an early form of RADAR
DETECTION in it's nose cone. The Beaufighter was powered by 2
x 1400 HP Hercules X 1 engines, which gave the aircraft a top speed
of 323 MPH at 15,000ft and an operational ceiling of 29,000ft.
aircraft's performance was exceptional in combating the Luftwaffe
night bombers which were plaguing Britain during it's darkest hours.
The armament of the fighter was incredible, with 4 x 20mm nose cannons
and 6 x 303 wing machine-guns.
With a wing span of 57.83ft and a fuselage length of 41.33ft the
Mk 1F was capable of a range of 1,500 miles, it's ample internal
tanks enabled it to escort and protect heavy duty RAF bombers on
missions into Germany.
although secret at this time, proved it's self to be the most powerful
night fighter at the RAF's disposal, and was ready to take it's
place as an invaluable weapon in the fight against the Luftwaffe.
brings us to the story of the fateful day of the 13th November 1940,
when aircraft code number R2071 left Redhill Aerodrome on a mission,
the pilot P/O T. Birkett was at the controls and Sgt. Colin E.P Castle
was acting as observer. They rose into the skies above England, not
knowing what lay before them, this is the story of that day.......
have spoken to a few local residents, who were eyewitnesses, and I
have been to the local museum to listen to a tape recording from Mr
Dennis Leigh, who at the time of the crash was a schoolboy in the
Primary School in Church Street. His account
is as follows-.
"I was in school when the air-raid siren went off, the siren
was on the tannery building, just a short walk away, the teacher hearing
the whine of the siren, and fearing a German attack, ushered us all
into the air
raid shelter which was in the playground, there was no
electricity, only candles and a paraffin lamp. The shelter could hold
about 50 of us, and during the Battle
of Britain we spent many an hour in the cold, damp shelter,
listening to the battle above raging away, with the sounds of cannon
fire and planes screaming across the summer skies. When the"
all clear" sounded we left the safety of the shelter, and couldn't
wait to run down to the river and see the crashed aircraft. When we
got there, many people were rushing about, the local policeman Mr
Wiffen was keeping people away from the crash site, and Mr M. Budden
was shouting to all who were there, to keep clear. The plane was smoking
and the local fire brigade was in attendance putting out the fire.
Later, some of the boys took pieces of the plane home as souvenirs".
|I have unfortunately
not been able to access the archives of the local paper. According
to the local people, there were no photos in the paper, only the written
account of the crash.
As you appreciate during that time in 1940, there were so many crashes
around this area and all over Kent, that it was, sad to say, quite
commonplace to hear of, and see many aircraft shot down, In Edenbridge
alone I have been told of at least four plane crashes during the Battle
Beaufighter Mk 1F as used by 219 Squadron.
account is from Mr Don Wiffen -
"It was an overcast day and I was just leaving home at Four
Elms to go to afternoon school, it was about 2 p.m. Suddenly this
aircraft came out of the low clouds in a steep dive, there was no
sound, I assumed that the engines had stopped, the aircraft disappeared
below the treeline and shortly afterwards a column of smoke arose
from the direction of Edenbridge
. Later, I had found
that the aircraft had come down in (Town Field), next to the bridge
in Edenbridge the aircraft was shattered into small pieces. My mother,
who was in the local St Johns Ambulance Brigade, was on duty at
the first aid post (now the W.I.
Hall). She had to go to the crash scene to cover the bodies
that were found. (One book states that, it is believed that another
night fighter shot down this aircraft by mistake,) I do not think
this is true, as it was daytime and I did not hear any cannon fire.
It was not until some months later that this aircraft was declared
to be a Beaufighter,
as it was previously on the secret list. The rear wheel is on display
at the Eden
Valley Museum. The pilot P/O T. Birkett had previously survived
three forced landings in Blenheim
bombers, during his service in the R.A.F. in 219 squadron.-
July 30th 1940
Catterick August 5th 1940
Sywell August 29th 1940
death's head hawk moth - symbolising
the squadron's operational role.
to other eyewitnesses, the plane developed engine problems and was
seen coming from the village of Four Elms towards Edenbridge in a
north-easterly direction. The aircraft was in low cloud, and the engines
were making a high-pitched whistling sound. As the plane neared Skinners
farm, on the outskirts of Edenbridge it was heard to make spluttering
noises, indicating that the plane was now having serious engine failure.
As it came across the open fields towards Church Street, it was evident
due to the severe loss of height, that a crash seemed imminent. Many
residents of Church Street came out of their houses fearing a German
Luftwaffe attack, only to see the sight of an English bomber hit the
roof of a house in Church Street, and nose dive into the field by
the river. The impact of the plane hitting the ground, caused the
aircraft to break up.
Many people were quickly on the scene, Mr Wiffen the local policeman,
along with Mr M. Budden were trying to keep the onlookers away,
and shouting to them, to get some help, Mrs Wiffen the local St
Johns Ambulance nurse, arrived very quickly, as did the Edenbridge
Fire Brigade who doused the aircraft with water until it was safe
to approach it, and then they could search for the crew. No witnesses
saw anyone bail out, as the crash happened so quickly, so it was
certain that the crew were still inside the wreckage.
Unfortunately, due to the severe impact of the crash, the pilot
P/O T. Birkett and the observer, Sgt Colin E.P. Castle were found
to be dead. The nurse Mrs Wiffen had the sad task of covering the
bodies until the ambulance arrived to take the bodies away.
Some time later
the R.A.F. rescue squad came to remove most of the remains of the
aircraft, and to tidy up the area around the crash site.
eye-witness account is from Mr Albert Jeffrey,
who at the time of the crash was a schoolboy.
is his story
were in the school playground of what we called the Council School
in those days, which was the one up Croft Lane where pupils spent
their last three years , from the age of 12 to 14 before leaving school
and going to work. The day was Wednesday November 13th 1940, and we
had been home to lunch and were waiting to go back into the classroom
at 1p.m. These were exciting days, the Battle of Britain had not long
been fought overhead, and I for one had a great interest in the events
taking place in the skies. When a new type of aircraft put in an appearance,
we somehow found out what it was, usually with assistance from members
of the local Royal Observer Corps post, situated at that time up Hever
T Hunt and W Bishop. Members of
the Royal Observer Corps in action.
This is a post-war photograph.
|On this day in
question we had observed a Bristol Beaufighter, flying to and fro
as if on patrol, and were quite excited as it was a new type of aircraft,
still on the secret list.
This particular Beaufighter belonged to 219 squadron then based at
Redhill aerodrome, it was crewed by a pilot namely Pilot officer Thomas
Birkett, and an observer who was Sergeant Colin Castle who came from
Clarkston, Renfrewshire in Scotland, its serial number was R2071.
We were still in the playground watching this Beaufighter, when we
heard its engines spluttering as it came overhead, it's wing dropped
and it commenced a vertical dive twisting once as it did so.
The Beaufighter bore a close resemblance to the German Junkers Ju
88, and I thought, "My God it is'nt a Beaufighter after all,
it's a German plane, and it's going to dive-bomb Edenbridge"
Well it's dive continued and I could see that there would never be
enough time for it to pull out , disappearing from our view behind
the houses in Church Street. The aircraft had dived vertically into
the ground very near to the North Bank of the River Eden, between
Church Street and Hever Road, fortunately causing no damage or casualties,
apart from the ill- fated crew of two. .
At this time I lived in Hever Road, which from our viewing place lay
behind the Church Street houses, and I had a terrible feeling that
it had crashed there. There followed a loud explosion and a fireball,
then a large pall of black smoke and live ammunition exploding. With
no thoughts of school, there was a mass exodus from the playground
to see where it had crashed, the river bridge soon becoming packed
The Tanyard foreman Mr. Budden being one of the first on the scene.
Looking towards Church Street from the bridge, the fields were seen
to be full of tiny bits of wreckage, many of which were burning, and
it was obvious that there had been no time for the crew to get out,
and nothing of any size remaining on the ground, so all that could
be done was to collect the debris in sacks.
The Beaufighter crashed at 12.50 hours, and at 13.16 hours we had
an air raid warning, and at 13.41 a Junkers Ju 88 was seen twice.
The cause of the crash will never be known for sure, but in an article
published many years later in the Royal Observer Corps aircraft recognition
journal, it said it had been a case of mistaken identity, and it had
been shot down by friendly gunfire, the fact is no gunfire was heard
by me, and I am sure it would have been noticed if there had been
any, although it could have happened away from here.
The official version of the loss, from the R.A.F. records states that
it was probably shot down by another night-fighter. The large crater
where the nose and the two engines buried themselves, was full of
water the next day, as the river was well up.
It has been excavated more than once over the years I believe, and
some wreckage recovered.
For anybody that saw it go down, I am sure it lives in their memory
account from Mr George Carey
of Church Street, tells of him at the age of fourteen going to
school one day, and seeing in the field by the river a large lorry
and a J.C.B.digger, there were people around in the field near
the site of the Beaufighter crash of 1940.
On his way
home at lunchtime he saw the lorry, and loaded on the back was
the propeller from the Beaufighter, which he described as being
about 10-12 feet in diameter, despite the fact that the three
blades were bent.
Then the lorry
drove off, taking its cargo to an unknown destination !
years later a local boy David Leigh was told of the incident by
his father Mr Dennis Leigh, (he was the schoolboy at the time of
the crash, who collected some pieces of the wreckage). David interested
by the story, took a metal detector to the site called "town
field" when he was about 13 years old, and found a few parts
of the plane, including an oxygen mask which can be seen in the local Eden Valley Museum.
219 Sqdn., Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
who died age 26 on Wednesday
13 November 1940.
Pilot Officer BIRKETT,
of James and Doris Lilian Birkett, of Chew Magna. S.W. of church.
219 Sqdn., Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
who died on Wednesday
13 November 1940.
Compt. K. Main Cty.
It is a sad reminder
for us today, of these two brave men, who at that time were only "boys"
doing their duty for the freedom of this country.
may we forget all of those who served in the R.A.F. during Britain's
most desperate hours, and those who so young, so brave, so courageous,
sacrificed their own lives and futures for our freedom today.
few in number bravely faced the overwhelming might of the Luftwaffe
enemy aircraft, that were pitched against them, they were determined
to wipe the R.A.F. from the skies, and eventually overrun this land
All of us who live today in peace and freedom, on this small island,
that were it not for the courage displayed by the heroes of the
R.A.F. Such as pilot P/O. T.BIRKETT and SGT COLIN E.P. CASTLE,
and the many thousands of the "FEW" who were killed during
and after the BATTLE OF BRITAIN that this"
Green and Pleasant land" that we now dwell in, would most certainly
have been lost for all time, were it not for the courage and sacrifice
of those who we humbly and respectfully call "THE FEW"
I began researching this event I have been informed that Sgt Colin
E.P. Castle's Brother was also shot down and killed two months after
his brothers death, and his body has never been recovered.
gratitude goes to all those who kindly gave me their time and effort
in the compilation of these war time memories and accounts of the
tragic deaths of P/O.
T.BIRKETT and SGT COLIN E.P. CASTLE.
Wright (Curator of Eden Valley Museum) Mr Don Wiffen - Mr Alan Wiffen
- Mrs N. Wiffen - Mr Dennis Leigh - Mr David Leigh - Mr Cyril Mills
- Mr Henry Long-Mr Albert Jeffery.
Mr. Ian R. Bridle