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RAF Abingdon air crew remembered with poignant wartime plaque
SEVENTY-THREE years after a plane crashed into a house in North Oxford, a plaque remembering the four victims has been unveiled.
A Whitley 5 twin-engined bomber, which was based at RAF Abingdon, crashed in Linton Road on May 4, 1941, during a training flight, with engine failure thought to be the cause.
The three crewmen on board – pilot officers William Halley, 19, Charles Small, 23, and Sergeant John “Jack” Mocham, 20 – were killed, as well as civilian Frances Hitchcox.
Last year, the academic building for Wolfson College was built on the site of the crash, and historian Ann Spokes Symonds arranged for the stainless steel plaque to be installed.
Speaking at the unveiling on Sunday, Wolfson College bursar Edward Jarron, a former bomber pilot, said: “We have known about the event since the college was founded in 1966, but until last year we did not have a building on the site itself.
“The Whitley bombers were not the greatest aircraft, they were withdrawn from frontline service in 1945.
“Because of the angle that the wings were attached to the fusilage, at take-off and landing pilots had to fly with a very low nose. With a full fuel and bomb load, the pilot would have struggled to maintain flight with two engines, never mind one.”
Peter Brooks was five when he saw the crash.
Now 78, he said: “I was in a field by the Cherwell river with my parents having a picnic when it flew by.
“It was very, very low, maybe 30ft off the ground, and it was on fire. It crashed and the ammunition exploded. It was terrifying, I was frightened to death.”
Colin Robb is the nephew of Sergeant Mocham, and was three when his uncle died. He said: “I remember the funeral very clearly. It was raining, and everyone was crying.
“Because I was little I was put to bed early, and I was in Jack’s old room. His uniform was hanging up on the wall.”
Mr Robb’s cousin, Karin Sherrington, said: “I wasn’t born when it happened, but my aunt – Jack’s sister – was 12 when he died, and is still traumatised by it now.
“This plaque has brought all of those memories back for her. She saw Jack a few days before, as he was leaving the house to go to training. He gave her a hug and said: ‘See you soon, sis,’ and that was the last time she saw him.”
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