Shortly before 1100 on 31st May 1944 a Vickers Wellington bomber plunged into the ground opposite what is now  Brookfields with the loss of seven aircrew.

The aircraft that came to grief that day, serial no BK157, was from 12 Operational Training unit, one of many units  formed, in April 1940, to train aircrews for Bomber Command. In July 1941 the unit moved to RAF Chipping Warden, which was to become its permanent home for the rest of the war. By July 1943 12 OTU had re-equipped with Wellington Mk111's withdrawn from front line service.  

One of the pilots who had been posted to Chipping Warden was Flying Officer Donald A Driver. Although only 20 years old he had already completed a tour of duty with 104 squadron and been awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal. The squadron had been operating in the Western desert flying WellingtonMk 11s, below, moving west behind the advancing armies. At the end of 1943 the squadron moved into Southern Italy from where it carried out raids on the Balkans and Northern Italy. He was awarded the DFM on the 9th July 1943. 

The Vickers Wellington was a  twin-engined, long range medium bomber designed in the mid-1930s at Brooklands in Weybridge, Surrey, by Vickers-Armstrongs' Chief Designer, Rex Pierson in response to specification B.9/32. Issued in the middle of 1932 this called for a twin-engined day bomber of perceptibly higher performance than any previous designs. It was widely used as a night bomber in the early years of the war, before being displaced as a bomber by the larger four-engined "heavies" such as the Avro Lancaster. The Wellington continued to serve throughout the war in other duties and was the only British bomber to be produced for the entire duration of the war. The Wellington used a geodisic construction method, which had been devised by Barnes Wallis inspired by his work on airships, and had previously been used to build the single-engined Wellesley light bomber. The geodesic structure was strong and light for its size, which gave the Wellington a load- and range-to-power-ratio advantage over similar aircraft, without sacrificing robustness. The aircraft was well regarded by its crews for it ability to sustain considerable damage and still get them home, and was nicknamed "Wimpey" after the Popeye cartoon character J. Wellington Wimpey.

At 1005 on the 31st May 1944 Flying Officer Driver took off from RAF Chipping Warden in Wellington mark 111 serial no BK157 to carry out a fighter affiliation exercise. This sortie involved trainee air gunners firing with cine-camera guns at an attacking fighter whilst supervised by experienced or "screened" gunners during which the pilot would carry out evasive manouveres to simulate real combat conditions. They were to rendezvous with a Hawker Hurricane from 12 OTU target and gunnery flight based at RAF Edgehill.  At about 1045 the pilot put the aircraft into an evasive diving turn. This would seem to have been to much for the war weary aircraft, it had flown 677.45 hours since being taken on charge in December 1942, and caused the port wing to collapse. The wing landed in the Mill Field in Lower Tadmarton whilst the rest of the Wellington, leaving a mile long wreckage trail, narrowly missing cottages that were opposite Brookfields, plunged into the ground and burst into flames killing all aboard. The crash site was littered with wreckage and body parts, a harrowing scene witnessed by a number of children. A 1945 aerial photo of the site is pictured below.

The original accident record cards, courtesy of Garth Barnard 


The crew were;

Flying Officer Donald Arthur Driver DFM, Pilot, aged 20 from Wimbledon, buried in Banbury Cemetery.

Flight Sergeant Eric Cotterell, Air Gunner, aged 24 from Hounslow and buried there.

Flight Sergeant James Mcgregor, Air Gunner, aged 29 from Wick, Scotland and buried there.

Sergeant Ernest Walter Blakeman, pupil Air Gunner, aged 24. He was the son of Walter and Fanny Blakeman having been born in Cardiff. He moved to Cirencester, where he lodged and worked as an aero fitter. He married to Lena Wright in the town in the summer of 1940 and they had a daughter called Rosemary together. He isburied in Banbury Cemetery.

Sergeant John Alexander Oliver, pupil Air Gunner, aged 19 from Drummuir, Scotland and buried there.

Sergeant Frederick John Pack, pupil Air Gunner, aged 22, from Titchfield, Hampshire and buried there.

Sergeant Joseph Henry Nixon, pupil Air Gunner, aged 30 from Ballywillwill, Northern Ireland married to Lily and buried in Northern Ireland.

The graves of Donald Driver and Ernest Blakeman in Banbury Cemetery.


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