Danger from the Sky
Bombs & Airplane Crashes in Lakenheath in World War Two
During WW.II Lakenheath was fortunate to escape with little damage and, as far as I am aware, no death or injuries from enemy bombing. A number of bombs did fall in the parish however. I believe the first was an incendiary bomb which fell in the Chiver's 'factory' area at Sedge Fen just after midnight on 16th.August, 1940. It was extinguished with a stirrup pump. At about the same time on the 25th. of that month eight high explosive, (HE,) bombs fell on Bryant & May's Bliss Estate, (Norfolk Fen.) The only damage they caused was to a number of poplar trees. On the afternoon of 16th.September a single HE bomb fell on the Little Ouse river bank - at Joyce Bend - and then on 18th. nine HE's were dropped on Lakenheath Warren.# On the early morning of 9th.October three HE's - plus one which failed to explode - and one oil bomb fell nearer to the village - on Flatt's Farm, (near the present Wingfield Rd.) Again no damage was caused. (There is no record of death or injury among the chickens!)
The night of 21st. November was a busy one with ten HE's falling on Elderberry Farm, Burnt Fen and ten at Sedge Fen.# They caused only slight damage to crops. There was then a lull until 30th.January, 1941 when, at 1.10 pm., a plane dropped three HE bombs at the Chicory Factory near Lakenheath Station causing some damage. One of these failed to explode and lodged in the factory washing plant.# Two men were injured and one, Jack Talbot, a carter from Quay Farm, Soham, who had been delivering chicory roots, was killed by machine gun fire from the plane.
Around the same time, just outside the parish boundary, two HE's and an unexploded bomb, (UXB,) were dropped at Fenhouse Farm, Brandon. (Now demolished.) Over 200 incendiary bombs were dropped on Lakenheath Warren at 7.30 pm. on 10th.February and half an hour later nineteen HE and one UXB were dropped around High Lodge Farm and two HE's at Wangford just outside Lakenheath parish boundary. Six days later thirty HE's and many more incendiaries were dropped on the Warren and Station Road. One council house was damaged. In these attacks the planes were probably aiming at the Airfield Decoy Site on Eriswell Low Warren. On the 18th. six more HE's were dropped on the Warren. The Chicory Factory or station was possibly the target again on 27th.February when two HE's fell nearby and Mr.D.Brogman's (?) house was damaged. Eleven more HE and some incendiary bombs were dropped between Cranhouse and High Lodge Farms. It then appears to have been quiet, (at least in Lakenheath parish,) until 13th. October when, just outside our boundary, four HE's were dropped at Wangford Hall. The windows and roof were damaged and the children, (it was then a Barnado's Home,) were evacuated. Two boys were slightly injured. I can find no reports of bombs falling within or just outside the parish after this incident. Quite a number of bombs fell in neighbouring parishes - Mildenhall, Brandon and Eriswell - in various raids but most fell on Mildenhall airfield or on open farmland. The nearest place to suffer serious damage and loss of life was Newmarket - where 13 (?) people were killed and over 100 injured in a raid on the afternoon of 19th.February, 1941 - a market day when the High Street was crowded.
It would seem that there was more danger from falling airplanes than from bombs since at least eight R.A.F. planes crashed within the parish - and this does not include at least another twenty one which crashed on Lakenheath Airfield on take-off or landing and were written off. Another half dozen planes crashed just outside the parish boundary. No civilians were killed due to plane crashes in Lakenheath. (Mildenhall was not so fortunate as the occupant of a bungalow at Holmsey Green was killed when a plane crashed on her dwelling.) The first plane to crash in the parish was a Ventura I (AE737 SB-) of 464 sqn. on a training flight from Feltwell Airfield on 4th. November, 1942.# It crashed on its way back to base and exploded between First and Second Droves in Stallode Fen. All five crew were killed. 'Gus' Brown was first on the scene with Jim Crane and other schoolboys. They saw pieces of bodies among the scattered wreckage before the ambulance and police arrrived and sent them away. [c.1982 this crash site was excavated and parts of the plane were recovered.] A Stirling I bomber (R9334 OJ-G) of 149 sqn. crashed at 7.15 pm. on 3rd.January, 1943 on the corner of Eriswell and Undley Roads, (where the Youth Centre now stands). It was on a training flight from Lakenheath Airfield. One of the first on the scene was Chief Observer Fred Bullen of Lakenheath R.O.C. He was subsequently awarded the B.E.M. for his efforts to rescue the crew. Six of the crew were injured and one was killed. On 2nd.March, 1943 a Ventura I (AE680 EG-) of 487 sqn., on a training flight from Methwold Airfield, crashed at Sharpe's Corner on Grime Fen. The three crew were killed and are buried in St.Nicholas, Feltwell churchyard. On 5th.May at 4.30 pm. a Boston IIIA bomber (BZ282 MQ-C) of 226 sqn. on a training flight crashed on Stays Road, White Fen Farm due to a failure of the starboard engine. Three of the crew were killed and one injured.
A Wellington I bomber (P9228) collided with a Spitfire II fighter (P7530) on 13th.August, 1943 and crashed in Stallode Drove. The Spitfire crashed nearby. On 9th.November there was another mid-air collision between a Stirling III bomber (LK380 XY-Y) of 90 sqn. on a training flight and a Hurricane IV fighter (KW800) of the Air Fighting Development Unit.# The bomber crashed just north of the railway line at Lodge Farm, Sedge Fen. Nine crew were killed. (Five are buried in St.John's, Beck Row churchyard.) John Brown of Lakenheath, then working for Messrs.Chivers at Sedge Fen, was one of the first on the scene. The Hurricane crashed in Sedge Fen SW of Lodge Farm. The pilot parachuted down next to the railway line and, although badly injured, survived. [The crash site of the bomber was excavated in 1975 and relics are in Parham Airfield Museum, Suffolk. The crash site of the Hurricane was excavated in 1984 and relics are in the same museum. D.Engel and others carried out the excavations.] I have no record of any British plane crash after this time or of any German or American planes crashes in the parish. As a matter of interest, in 1944 Allied troops discovered sixty sets of documents relating to targets for the Luftwaffe in Britain. Lakenheath was one of these!
References: Bowyer, M.J.F. Air Raid. 1986. Chorley, W.R. R.A.F. Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War - Vols. 1 (1939/40), 2 (1941), 3 (1942) 4 (1943). McLachlan, I. Final Flights. 1989. Mildenhall R.D.C. Clerk's Dept.Files. (R.O., Bury St.Edmunds. Ref. EF 505/1/69/35.
© R.A.Silverlock. Dec., 1997.
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