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Warnford Village

WW2 glider crash in Warnford Park

Day that 33 perished as bomber towing a glider clipped trees over Meon Valley

Written by Bob Hind. Courtesy of the Portsmouth Evening News, published on Saturday 20 September 2014

You may remember that at the end of last month I wrote about a fatal glider crash in the Meon Valley at Warnford. A Stirling bomber towing a Horsa glider on a training mission hit the tops of trees.

The glider pilot released the Horsa but it crashed on the Warnford Park estate killing the crew and soldiers on board – 27 men. The Stirling flew on but crash-landed at Romsey killing the six-strong crew.

I asked if anyone knew more of this incident and I received a letter from James Webb of Fareham.

At the time James and his sister had recently become orphans after their mother died and their father disappeared. The pair were taken to the home of a Mr and Mrs Curtis who lived in Hayden Lane, in a cottage named Hill View. They lived there with their son Bob who now lives in Waterlooville.  As James and Bob were roughly the same age, 15, they became great pals and went to West Meon School.  On the evening of April 4, 1944, they were returning from a cadet meeting in the village hall. They were messenger boys in the Home Guard.  They heard something had happened in the field opposite Hill View, but it was not until the morning the awful truth was revealed.  James says: ‘In those days the hedgerow was not as high as it is now and I could look across into the field. There was debris everywhere and the site was being guarded by sailors who I believe were from HMS Mercury a few miles away. The only large piece of wreckage I could see was a wheel. By the evening everything had been taken away.’  The gliders were made with wooden frames and plywood (some put together by men from the furniture trade) to make them as light as possible. The fuselage comprised three parts bolted together. It was torn to pieces in the crash. The men inside did not stand a chance.

I then received a letter from Rex Chester whose father owned the estate at the time. He bought it in 1935 and moved from Southsea.  Rex told me he was eight at the time and was not told of the incident as his parents thought it might affect someone so young. In 1968 his father died and he inherited Warnford Park and some years ago he was contacted by someone from the services about the incident.

A memorial service was conducted in Warnford at the church which I wrote about on August 16.

Because of the site’s location, in the middle of a field surrounded by other fields with no road or public access, not many people know of the incident which, as Rex told me, was hushed up.  Thanks to Rex, who put me in touch with his former estate manager Peter Short, I was able, along with James and Bob, to visit the site last week and very sobering it was.  How the authorities of the time managed to clear the wreckage and remains within 24 hours is quite amazing.  Peter, who was only a boy at the time, thinks the Stirling hit trees on Old Winchester Hill/Beacon Hill to the east of the crash site. Looking at the area, this seems feasible.  As everyone died in the crash the full facts will never be known. For all those soldiers to perish in a tragic accident must have seemed very harsh to their nearest and dearest.

And what about James and Bob? In later years they went separate ways with James serving 22 years in the army and Bob, 25 years in the Royal Navy.  A couple of years ago there was a school reunion at West Meon. James attended and asked if anyone knew of Bob Curtis.  ‘He’s over there,’ someone told him. Indeed he was, but wearing a full naval beard, which is why James never recognised him. James was overjoyed. They had a chat about times past and now meet regularly.

Peter Short, former estate manager on Warnford Park (left) and James Webb. On the distant horizon, the outline of Winchester Hill can be seen to the left of Mr Short. The Horsa came down in the field behind them. Peter Short, former estate manager on Warnford Park (left) and James Webb. On the distant horizon, the outline of Winchester Hill can be seen to the left of Mr Short. The Horsa came down in the field behind them.