Tragedy over the town recalled

MILITARY aircraft practising air to air attack over Ipswich is not something you would imagine could ever happen.

David Kindred

MILITARY aircraft practising air to air attack over Ipswich is not something you would imagine could ever happen.

The RAF now train with high-speed low level flights over remote parts of Britain and over the sea. Sometimes things go wrong and aircraft crash, but to practise over a town would seem beyond imagination.

This is what happened over Ipswich 59 years ago when two pilots engaged in a “dog fight” over Ipswich.

I was recently handed the official Ipswich Borough Police force report on this tragic incident. By today's standards the report by Pc Westcott is primitive. It is typed on to two sheets of foolscap paper, which has been reused.

On the reverse is an Ipswich Corporation duplicated contract for the supply of goods. The use of paper was still clearly restricted just four years after the end of the Second World War.

Most Read

Pc Westcott's report shows how basic the investigation into the crash was.

Today the site of an air crash would be closed for days while every detail was recorded. Members of the public would not get within a huge exclusion zone. Pc Westcott was presumably on foot and only a few hundred yards away from the crash site.

He says he understood that a '999' call had been made. In 1949 a police constable out on his beat did not have any means of contacting the police station other than using a private or public telephone or one in a police box stationed at points around the town.

This is Pc Westcott's report on the incident:

“Pc 23 Westcott reports at 5.40pm, June 29, 1949. I was at the junction of Fore Hamlet and Cavendish Street, Ipswich, when I saw two aircraft engaged in mock battle low over the town centre.

“I saw a De Havilland Hornet make a beam attack on a De Havilland Vampire which was making a turn to port.

“When the Hornet broke off its attack, the Vampire VE or VF 347 tightened its turn to port, and its starboard wing came over the vertical, and vapour trails appeared from the starboard wingtip.

“The machine then came back to a level keel quickly. As it was doing this, something, probably a long range tank on the starboard wing, appeared to sag, vapour or smoke came from this point on.

“The nose of the machine then dipped steadily and rapidly increased speed, the machine attempted to pull out of the resultant dive and the wingtips appeared to flutter as it came out of the dive.

“By this time the machine was at rooftop height and disappeared from my view. Immediately after this there was a crash close by and smoke and flames appeared after one or two seconds delay.

“I immediately went to the scene. En route I was told that a 999 call had been sent and saw that 56 Myrtle Road, a semi-detached house, had been hit by the crashing aircraft, VE or VF347, and set on fire, civilians were already at the house and dealing with the outbreak of fire.

“I followed the path of the aircraft through the wall of Holywells Park, which was knocked down and through burning undergrowth until I found the remains of the pilot which had been thrown clear of the scattered pieces of his machine.

“The body was dismembered and there were no means of identity.

“Two persons other than the pilot were injured.

“1. Barry Thirkettle, four and a half years, of 56 Myrtle Road, who was in the house and suffered from a lacerated thigh.

“2. Pamela Cooke, 13 years, of 41 Myrtle Road, who was outside 56 Myrtle Road, and suffered shock and severe burns.

“Both were detained in the East Suffolk and Ipswich Hospital.

“Damaged property amounted to:

“1. 56 Myrtle Road, severely damaged by fire and the crashed aircraft. The house is owned by Eric Thirkettle, who resides there, both the house and furniture are insured.

“2. 54 Myrtle Road was damaged about the roof and top floor. Householder is Stanley West whose house and furniture are both insured.

“3. A 34 foot electric light standard, the property of the Eastern Electricity board, was broken off at its base flush with the pavement.

“4. About 15 yards of the wall surrounding Holywells Park was knocked down, and the footpath at this point was also damaged. “Two trees in the park were uprooted, and others damaged by the aircraft and fire.

“The Chief Constable Mr Crawford, Inspectors Beaumont, and Lacey and other Police Constables attended.

“The ambulance service attended with three ambulances.

“The Suffolk and Ipswich Fire Service attended with one pump escape, one water tender, one major pump and one foam tender, under Assistant Chief Officer R J Smith and station officer Hurrell.

“Wing Commander Cliff, officer commanding RAF station, Martlesham, attended in person and fire tenders from that station and RAF Security Police. The RAF guard took over at 8.10pm, June 29, 1949.

“The body of the deceased pilot was taken to the mortuary of the RAF station at Martlesham.

“The town clerk and borough surveyor attended in person, also the gas and electrical services attended.

“Mr Dawson the coroner was informed.

1. James Beith (42) of 41 Myrtle Road, who was probably the first on the scene.

2. Eric Thirkettle (36) late of 56 Myrtle Road, c/o 51 Raeburn Road.

3. Mrs Pamela Sherwood (22), 34 Unity Street.

4. Stanley West, 54 Myrtle Road.

5 & 6. Miss Josephine Girling (25), 34 Myrtle Road, Miss Rachael Rowlands, 19 Unity Street (were together at time).

7 & 8. Miss Joyce Hill (17) and Richard Wieslaw, a Pole (12), of 52 Myrtle Road.

9. George Kidby (39), 32 Unity Street.

10. James Birnie, (P2 Pilot of Horsham St Faith) on leave and c/o 65 Springfield Lane, Ipswich.

“The house, 56 Myrtle Road, was roped off by the borough surveyor's department and red lamps were placed in position. The fire service left at 9pm.”

- The crash was the second major tragedy to hit Myrtle Road in the 1940s. On June 2, 1943, the Second World War, 11 people were killed in an air raid on the town. One bomb landed on houses in Myrtle Road killing Mr and Mrs Smith at number 44 just a few yards from the site of the 1949 crash. During the 1943 raid one of the German aircraft flew through the blast of a bomb and hit a crane and crashed into the dock.

- Do you have a story to tell about the tragedies which struck Myrtle Road, Ipswich? Write to Kindred Spirits at the Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich or e-mail info@kindred-spirit.co.uk .

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter