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Crash Airmen Finally Named

When farm worker Bert Ratledge heard the B17 bombers roaring above his Northamptonshire cottage back in 1943, he shouted in to his family: “They are off again.”

It was only when he peered into the sky and noticed flames coming from one of the planes that he realised something had gone horribly wrong.

Soon enough, the struggling, American-crewed aircraft plummeted from the sky, crashing behind some farm buildings nearby and killing the airmen on board.

Bert’s son Derek was just eight years old when the tragedy happened in Astwell, close to the village of Helmdon in Northamptonshire.

He told the Chron: ”My father had left the cottage to go back to work; he had already been to work but went home to have breakfast.  It was a common thing to hear the bombers going over in those days.

“Local people used to count them in and count them back.  He saw one of them was on fire but did not actually see the crash as it was behind the farm buildings.“He called my mother and told her to tell us to stay in the house.  The neighbours were out by that time, having heard the big bang.  They rushed into the street where the crash was.

“Apparently it was a terrible sight, with parts of people everywhere.  Some bombs were going off still and there was a huge fire.

“It was very upsetting; mum always said it was the most upsetting thing she had ever seen”.

The ten American servicemen were taken away to Silverstone for identification, before being flown back to their homeland where they were buried.

Derek, who is now aged 73 and lives in Walsall said: “I did not see the crash or explosion, it was only later that morning when I went with one of the older boys.  The US air force had sent guards to stop people charging in and looting or interfering with what they had to do.”

But the boys, knowing another route, made their way on to the crash site.

Derek said:  “Most of the fire had died down and the bombs had stopped exploding.  At the back of my mid I know it wasn’t very nice.  There were no bodies as we believe they went to Silverstone, and, according to the crash report, they were identified there.”

This year, for the first time, Helmdon villagers commemorated the deaths of these 10 men, as part of a Remembrance Sunday ceremony.

Derek said:” My mother tried for years and years to find information on the names of the crew but during the war we did not get any information, there was a real clampdown.


“But eighteen months ago we had another go in using the internet.”

Derek posted an appeal on a veterans’ web site in search of more information about the victims of the Astwell crash.

And he was later contacted by Beth Pugh from Cincinnati, whose great uncle Richard Winston Pugh had been a co-pilot on the plane.

Soon Derek had a complete list of the men who died, along with a crash report about how it happened.  Apparently, a fire in the nose

Derek said: ”It was quite a moment really, to hear from Beth.  It was quite an emotional experience.”

So this year’s Remembrance service was a special moment for Derek.

He said: “I was extremely pleased, it was something that I had always hoped would happen one day.” 

The ten servicemen who lost their lives in the Astwell crash of 1943 were:

Captain Richard W. Pugh Co Pilot
1st Lt. William M. Holland Pilot
F/O Leighton D. Paterson Navigator
2nd Lt. William S. Munro Bombardier
T/Sgt. Thomas D. Glaspell Engineer
T/Sgt. Billy B. Freeman Radio Operator
S/Sgt. Dean Landfear Waist Gunner
S/Sgt. Charles E. Slayton Waist Gunner
S/Sgt. Harry A. Scott Ball Turret Gunner
S/Sgt. Henry P. Brannon Tail Gunner

 Northamptonshire Chronicle & Echo  - November 24th, 2008


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