Winton Forum


Air crash on Moordown

Eyewitness account from Russ Barnes

Halifax Aircraft JP137. * Unit 1865 CU - with five aircrew

A little after 1.0am on 22nd March 1944, RAF Halifax Bomber, JP137 took off from Hurn Aerodrome. It appears that during the first few minutes of flight a serious engine malfunction occurred.

Flying westerly, but now turning in a wide arc, presumably in an attempt to return to Hurn, it flew over East Howe towards Wallisdown turning south over Talbot woods and due east when over Winton. It was a clear night and the impression was that the pilot, who was fast losing height, was attempting to follow the main Wimborne Road towards Hurn.

A subsequent witness reported that flames were clearly visible from an engine that was misfiring and spluttering.

My family and I lived at 1012 Wimborne Road, a corner house built on the junction of Wimborne Road with Comber Road and opposite Hillcrest and Priory View Road to the south.

At the time of the air crash I was sleeping on the ground floor, inside a steel 'Morrison' table shelter

My father, Herbert 'Bert' Barnes was exempt from military service on grounds of his age and trade as a printer's compositor. At the beginning of hostilities (1939) he volunteered for the A.R.P (Air Raid Precautions) and by early 1940 was one of the first Wardens. He subsequently helped to supervise the Moordown area designated by the Civil Defence as Sector B3. Initially from a garage of a private house in Barrie Road and later, with telephones and additional equipment, out of rooms which are now the sports pavilion of the Public Bowling Green in Redhill Avenue, Ensbury Park.

Engine trouble

The noises of the approaching aircraft aroused me. It was obviously in trouble because the screeching engine roar fading to a splutter and returning to a roar indicated a serious problem; clearly the pilot wrestling with the controls was nonetheless losing height and gave dawn to the realisation it was heading towards us and was going to crash - but when and where?

The engine roar, abruptly diminishing to a whisper, was instantly followed by sharp 'cracking' sounds less than a second or so apart. A rushing of air.

A loud impact followed by a metallic grating slithering noise increasing to a finalé of rending tearing metal. Then an eerie silence in which a man could be heard screaming - a sound I will never forget.

Then an explosion of the petrol tanks, which showered the nearby houses with fragments of metal that rattled down the roof tiles and fell on the path outside my window.

My father, who had not long been home from ARP duty, was dressed in moments and out of the house; grabbing his garden spade as he ran.

Diagonally opposite us, numbered as 1025 to 1031 Wimborne Road, was a pair of semi-detached of Victorian cottages homes providing four dwellings with a common entrance gravel path between them. The flames of this roaring inferno were some fifty feet high above their rooftops and it was evident the aircraft had come to rest across their immediate back gardens.

I quickly dressed and tried to join my father who severely admonished me and ordered me back home. A Mr. Dave Smith from 1035 had joined Dad.

In the distance the approaching clamour of a Fire engine bell could be heard. . The National Fire Service Stationed on Peters Hill had anticipated a crash and had set off 'in pursuit'.

Emergency response

Travelling up the Wimborne Road (from Northbourne) and heading into Bournemouth was a convoy of American Army vehicles. They, of course, had seen events from some distance away and now having reached the scene stopped in the road outside the cottages to help.

The Fire Engine arrived; however, because of the US vehicles couldn't get near the site. The Americans were helpful and hose lines were run from a wartime static water tank purposely built on the corner of Hillcrest and Wimborne Road (adjacent to Wing Motors).

The backs of the cottages were ablaze and ammunition exploding with the heat exacerbated the problems. Bullets were flying everywhere and everyone was apprehensively wondering if it was carrying high explosives?

At cottage 1027 Mrs. Chislett and her fourteen-year-old son John dressed only in their nightclothes escaped by jumping from a front upstairs window but the fall onto gravel caused injuries. They lost everything. All they had in the world was just their nightclothes and not a penny more.

Mr. Percy Chislett could not be seen. Forcing the front door by using his spade as a lever Dad found him dead upstairs in his bed. He also found the badly mutilated body of an aircrew member lying close to the main Wimborne Road.

The fire blazed for an hour although the ammunition was still exploding long after.

The Casualties

Dawn revealed the horror that at least seven people had perished:

Mr. Percy Chislett od 1027 Wimborne Road, and Mrs Dorothea Bennett in Flat 9 on the ground floor of the adjacent 'Meadow Court.

The seven aircrew members were:.

Pilot Sgt. Dennis Evans, 20yrs, from Middlesex
Navigator Sgt Henry Roberts
Air Gunner Sgt. Reginald McGregor, 21yrs, from New Westminster, British Columbia
Flight Engineer Stanley Gent, 22yrs, from Portslade
Wireless Operator Sgt George Alexander, from Bedford
Bomb Aimer F/O Stanley Appleton
Air Gunner Sgt Kenneth Green

The bodies - or what was left of them - were carried across the road into a storeroom (probably a small coach house) of 'The Hollies' Public House, which was designated as a temporary mortuary. Sadly, but understandably, the trauma of these events temporarily disrupted the emotional and mental stability of the licensee.

By dawn's breaking the RAF were swarming over the site and armed guards were posted. Very little of what was left of the plane - which was upside-down - was recognisable. What remained of the tail section was close to a hole smashed through the lower half of the east corner wall of Meadow Court, adjacent to where Mrs Bennett perished.

Pilot tried to save lives

Slowly the chain of events was revealed. Clearly Pilot Sgt. Dennis Evans, was trying to reach Hurn but the failing engine meant that maintaining height was impossible and inevitably they were going to crash.

Realising he must make the best of a ghastly situation he was faced with some awesome decisions. How to avoid the dense housing and protect many civilian lives, yet ensure the safety of his crew. With just seconds left in the air this must have been a terrible ordeal for the twenty-year old man

Mrs. Joan Gray, of Surrey, (who in 1944 was Miss Joan Davies, of 907 Wimborne Road), vividly recalled that at the time the Halifax was flying across King Edward and Bloomfield Avenues it was only a few feet from their rooftops.

"The 'cracks' I heard was the aircraft's under fuselage, or lowered undercarriage perhaps, colliding with the roof tops of Willis's Builders Merchants, the Bus Depot and the front gable of a house in Malvern Road. He could only have been thirty foot or less from the ground. "

The consensus of opinion at the time was that Sgt Evans could probably see the fairly large expanse of open ground (as it was then) behind the houses of Wimborne Road and it was his last chance to crash land.

He flopped the aircraft down onto the open space behind the homes of Frank Claw, (Malvern Road), Steve Barnes and Mr. Tom Plowman or Ploughman, who had a long section of ground with animals, (Wimborne Road), but collided with the six or so timber framed and asbestos clad garages built in a line at the foot of the Meadow Court communal garden.

The aircraft continued to slither along the surface for some ninety or more yards but then a steep rise in the ground approaching the rear of the cottages was a barrier. Here the plane somersaulted and disintegrated.

With a full load of aviation-fuel, the ensuing inferno destroyed everything in the vicinity.

An engine was catapulted in the air travelling some one hundred and fifty yards above the rooftops of houses in Hillcrest Road, narrowly missing the home of the Appleton family, finally coming to rest in soil by the static water tank a few yards from 'Wing Motors' run by Johnny Arnold.

Mystery destination

The RAF told my father that the plane was heading for Middle East/India with supplies.

Certainly there were many hundreds of what appeared to be small medicinal tablets scattered over the site. But India is a very long journey.

They could not fly over a Europe that was still very much under German command. Fly due west and then south around Spain perhaps but where could they re-fuel. Gibraltar possibly ?

A story (rumour !) that emerged later was that they were on a clandestine journey to Europe to drop supplies, ammunitions perhaps - or even someone by parachute - to the underground movements. Although we had no idea, D-Day and the Normandy landings were just twelve weeks away, perhaps an ideal time to drop supplies or an agent into Europe, so was that why the RAF mounted a strict armed guard over everything ?

Years later a report said seven aircrew died. Then someone found a record that on the same date a F/Lt Norval Pollock, flying a Hurricane, had perished in a Bournemouth air crash and was buried in North Cemetery (the Cemetery records apparently state that).

However, I understand, no record of that crash exists.

There was also talk of a midair collision between an American and British aircraft somewhere in an area bounded by Winkton, Sopley and Christchurch - but not on the 21st March - however we must accept that wartime records were often a broad statement.

Eerie coincidence

Nonetheless, there remains an amazing; some may say uncanny aspect to this tragic incident. Three members of the aircrew had the surnames Gent, Appleton and Evans: you will probably agree the first two surnames are not common.

Within yards of the crash site lived three families Gent (Wimborne Road), Appleton (Hillcrest Road) and Evans in one of the cottages destroyed.

Anyone care to analyse the mathematical probabilities of that coincidental paradigm?

* Doubts have been expressed about the aircraft's unit number - was there a slight corruption of figures.

© 2007 Russ Barnes, Dorset


A memorial to the crew and civilians who died in the crash was erected in 2011. It stands at the scene of the disaster on the corner of Meadow Court Close and Wimborne Road.