Halifax L9489 was one of seven No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack the docks and shipping canal at Le Havre on 10th March 1941.
Its six-man crew comprised:
- Peter Alexander Gilchrist (Pilot)
- Reginald Lucas (2nd Pilot)
- Edward Rolfe Arnold (Observer)
- Stanley Broadhurst (WOP / AG)
- Albert Edward Cooper (Air Gunner)
- Ronald Godfrey Aedy (Flight Engineer)
The squadron’s Operations Record Book shows “On the return flight the aircraft was mistaken for an enemy machine and shot down in flames at Merrist Wood, Normandy, Surrey at 22.40 hours. The Captain, PA Gilchrist and the Flight Engineer, RG Aedy, escaped by parachute, but the remainder were killed in the crash. Gilchrist suffered only bruises and returned to duty; Aedy was admitted to the County Hospital, Guildford, with bullet injuries”
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) records show the following burial details:
- ARNOLD, EDWARD ROLFE, ‘77908’, LEATHERHEAD (SS. MARY AND NICHOLAS) CHURCHYARD Near South Boundary
- BROADHURST, STANLEY, ‘550817’, MANSFIELD WOODHOUSE CEMETERY Sec. B. Grave 3193.
- COOPER, ALBERT EDWARD, ‘77963’, COGGESHALL BURIAL GROUND Sec. C. Grave 243.
- LUCAS, REGINALD, ‘741992’, MANSFIELD (NOTTINGHAM ROAD) CEMETERY Grave 1998.
AM Form 1180
The AM Form 1180 (Accident Card) shows “Shot down by British fighter. Starboard outer engine failure due to machine gun bullets. Starboard inner caught fire due to bullets. Two members of the crew unable to leave aircraft because front escape hatch failed to open”
AM Form 78
The AM Form 78 (Movement Card) shows that the aircraft was struck off charge of the squadron
P4 Casualty Branch File
The following Casualty File is available at the National Archives:
AIR 81/15372 Pilot Officer A RE Cooper, Pilot Officer E R Arnold, Sergeant R Lucas, Sergeant S Broadhurst: killed: Squadron Leader P A Gilchrist, Sergeant A G Aedy: injured; Halifax L9489, 35 Squadron, shot down by British night fighter returning from an operational flight over Le Havre, France, 10 March 1941.
PA Gilchrist and RG Aedy did not participate in any further operational sorties with the squadron
Memorial to the crew at the site of the crash [Courtesy of IBCC Memorial Database Project]
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Article from the Surrey Advertiser
The night a crew’s home thoughts were shot out of the sky .
They were home safe. The enemy coast and the bitterly cold English Channel were behind them. Halifax L9489 F-Freddie was on course for its base at Linton-on-Ouse near York.
The crew was more relaxed now, though still alert. As they approached the skies over Surrey, the thoughts of flight engineer Ron Aedy were probably on Kingston upon Thames, where he was born. Teddy Arnold, the Observer, may have glanced down and wondered about his family in Leatherhead, where he was brought up. Wireless Operator/Air Gunner Stan Broadhurst was another member of the crew with links with Surrey . He had been at school at Witley .
Peter Gilchrist, having handed over control of the aircraft to 2nd Pilot Reg Lucas, was enjoying a flask of coffee. The mission to Le Havre was accomplished. Soon they would be landing at their home base.
Suddenly, a devastating burst of gun fire set the starboard outer engine of the Halifax on fire. Soon the fire spread to the inner engine, engulfing the wing. The aircraft was doomed.
Gilchrist ordered the aircraft to be abandoned. It crashed in Minty’s Field in the grounds of Merrist Wood Agricultural College. Only two of the crew of six survived .
The tragedy of it all was that F-Freddie, on its first operational sortie, was not shot down by an enemy aircraft but by one of our own, possibly an RAF night fighter which had mistaken the Halifax for a He111 or a Ju88 .
The incident, blandly recorded in S/Ldr Gilchrist’s log as “Shot down by night fighter (RAF) Aldershot – Guilford area. Sgt Aedy wounded, crew killed”.
A rather sad beginning has inspired retired headmaster Dennis Hoppe, who lives near Farnham, to write a book about the incident, about those who survived and those who were killed. It is a superbly researched story of a tragic accident, one of many during WWII, in which airmen died as the result of what became known as friendly fire .
In the attack on F-Freddie, Sgt Aedy was severely wounded by shrapnel. Having given the order to abandon the aircraft, S/Ldr Gilchrist left through the escape hatch above the pilot’s seat. At the same time, the injured Aedy was assisted by his fellow crew members and bundled out of the main fuselage door, ensuring his rip cord was pulled as he left.
In doing so, 2nd Pilot Sgt Lucas, Observer P/O Arnold, WOP/AG Sgt Broadhurst and Rear Gunner Sgt Cooper left it too late to save themselves and sacrificed their lives to save their crew mate.
F-Freddie hit the ground in a corner of Minty’s Field in Normandy at 22.40. Peter Gilchrist landed in a field of cattle, opposite the Duke of Normandy pub , about a quarter of a mile from the crash site. Ron Aedy’s cries for help brought rescuers to him and he was soon in hospital in Guilford. Reg Lucas was critically injured in the crash and died in Guilford Hospital the next day . His three companions perished in the crash .
The port inner engine and much of the forward section of L9489 remained in the ground until unearthed by Croydon Aviation Archaeology Society.
Today , a corner of Minty’s Field remains a shrine to the memory of those who gave their lives in the cause of freedom and peace .
A Rather Sad Beginning (The Story of Halifax L9489]
A booklet entitled “A Rather Sad Beginning (The Story of Halifax L9489)” has been produced by Dennis Hoppe
Extract from booklet produced by Dennis Hoppe
An original version of this booklet is held at Marham Aviation Heritage Centre