My name is John Clarke. This is me on the left. Welcome to my website about the crash of Wellington T2905 in St Andrews Park, Bristol on 30h April 1941
Please read this note on site navigation* before you start.
The site came about as part of my research into my family tree. I first started looking into my tree when I brought my first computer because it came with free family tree software. Eventually I brought better software and began looking into my mother's family using a book called "Meet the Morley's" about her father's family, given to her by a family member who had researched her father's family back to the 1650's. I began by checking the facts in this book and entering the information into my tree. Eventually, in 2001, I started to look into my father's family and my own research really began.
All I knew about my grandfather, Charles John Clarke, was a family story that he'd died serving in the RAF when the plane he'd been in had hit a balloon barrage. I don't know why, but I'd always presumed this had happened as they had been returning from a bombing raid over Germany and that it had happened somewhere over the south coast of England. I'd also presumed, for some unknown reason, the plane had been a Lancaster. I knew nothing about balloon barrages and thought that these had had nets strung up somehow between two balloons (this apparently was only done in WW1 over London). When I talked to my dad about this he told me about a copy of a letter* he had that my uncle had received from the RAF when he'd written to them requesting more information. This letter revealed that the plane hadn't been a Lancaster, but a Wellington and that he hadn't been returning from a bombing raid but had actually been on a training flight and that the crash had occurred in Bristol. It also told me that there had been six crew on board and that three of them had survived the crash. This letter prompted several questions. Why were they only flying at 2000 feet? Why were they over Bristol when they crashed? The RAF must have known where the balloon barrages were, so why had the plane flown close to that area? What were these practice bombs and where were they going to drop them? What was at Sharpness? What had happened to the men who had survived the crash and were any of them still alive? What were they training for (ideas of some sort of secret special mission crossed my mind!!)?
To start with I decided to take a trip to Bristol and visit the library in order to look in the local newspapers for April 1941 to see if I could find out any more about the crash. I thought I'd also go to St Andrews Park and see were the crash had happened and maybe talk to some local people to see if they knew or had heard anything about it.
Because this had been a British plane that had crashed and reporting these things was probably deemed bad for moral I found nothing in the local newspapers for 1941. The release of information like this was controlled by the Ministry of Information and the newspapers would have had to request permission to publish anything about the crash. Just as I was about to give up and leave the library to go and find the park I spoke to a librarian about what I'd been looking for and she remembered some publications by a man called John Penny, a member of the Fishponds Local History Society (Fishponds being an area of Bristol (http://fishponds.org.uk/index.html)). She came back with a two of his books. The first was called "Aircraft crashed, forced down or destroyed in the county of Avon 1919-1987" and it contained the following reference for 30th April 1941:-
"Vickers Wellington 1c, T2905, of 11 OTU (Bassingbourn).
Aircraft was on a night cross country flight and became lost 11 miles to the south west off course collided at 2000 feet with cables at balloon sites 51/21 and 51/23 and crashed at 'D' Flight 951 Sq. site 51/25 in St Andrew's Park, Bristol at 21.40 hrs. Balloon 51/21 broke away and 618025 AC1 Rowland of 951(B) Sq. was injured on the ground. In addition two non RAF personnel were also injured on the ground.
61048 P/O. Kenneth Guy Evans (pilot), 979838 Sgt. Thomas Leonard Lever (w/op), and 744913 Sgt. Charles John Clarke (w/op a/g) all killed; Sgt L. H. Houghton (P.2), Sgt. J. S. Jones (crew), and Sgt. R.Wish (crew) all injured."
This gave me so much information. It told me the names of the other crew, the service numbers of the other two men who had died, the training unit they had been stationed with, the balloon unit involved, the actual numbers of the balloons involved and the time of the crash. It also told me that other people had been injured on the ground.
The other book she brought me by John Penny was called "Up, up and away!", which gave me all sorts of information about balloon barrages that I did not know. Click here* to read an extract from this book that explains how the balloon barrage worked and how the balloon squadrons were organized around Bristol.
I then went to find St Andrews Park. On the way I spoke to a man at the bus stop, whilst asking for directions, who said he had heard about the crash, but had thought it had been a Polish crew. When I got to the park I wasn't sure what I had hoped to find after sixty years. I didn't know what to look for, but I was a little disappointed not to find any evidence on the ground of the crash, not even any form of memorial to the crew who had died. I spoke to a few local people about what I was looking for and some had heard the story about a plane that had crashed there during the war, but they confirmed that the local story was that it had been a Polish crew and that they had all died.
I would like to take this opportunity to give a special thank you to Dawn Dyer, the librarian I spoke to, because without her help in remembering the books by John Penny I would have gone to the park, found nothing and probably have given up, believing there was nothing more to be found out about the crash. Knowing that John Penny had found some information inspired me to try to find out what other information might be out there.
I had so many questions when I returned home to Southampton, where I was living at the time, but I wasn't sure how to continue my research. I decided to contact the Bristol Evening Post newspaper and put out an appeal for any information from local people. I put a similar appeal for information in a local magazine called Points North that I came across on the internet. Both of these later sent me articles they had published over the years along with responses to my appeals. I also visited the public records office at Kew and found the following records:-
I also contacted John Penny and he gave me some information that he and some of his contacts had found, such as the Bristol Fire Brigade report* on the crash, and he gave me some good advice on directions for my research.
Over the next few months I began to receive information from lots of local Bristol people who remembered the crash. I even managed to make contact with Lawrence Hugh Houghton (known as Hugh) who'd actually been flying the plane on the night of the crash. Over the years I have received more and more information, but there is still more information that I am looking for*.
I had always intended to publish the findings of my research as a book, but never got around to it. At the end of 2008, having moved to Sheffield and being unemployed due to health problems, I took a course in website design and as part of the course had to design my own site so I decided to create one about the crash of Wellington T2905. The story of Wellington T2905's last flight on this site has been compiled from all the information I have received and discovered over the years.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have contacted me and given me information over the years. Even if I have heard the information already it is still useful having it confirmed by someone else. An example of this is an article I was sent that was written by Basil Stirratt about how he had been in the park that night taking his girlfriend home from the cinema. After making contact with Basil I received a letter quite independantly from the sister of his girlfriend confirming the story Basil had told me. Later I managed to track down and contact the girlfriend herself who lives in Canada. All three of their accounts have helped me piece together how Basil came to be in the park that night and how he helped to rescue the rear guuner, Sgt Richard Wish. Please contact me if you have any nformation, no matter how small you may think it is.
I would also like to pay tribute to the local people of Bristol and others who risked their lives to try and rescue the crew of T2905.
On 9th March 2009 I was interveiwed by BBC Radio Bristol about the creation of this site. Click here* to listen to this interview (N.B. your web browser may require you to install a flash player plug-in to use this player). At the same time articles were published about it on the BBC News website, in the Nottingham Evening Post and in the Bristol Evening Post:
On 26th September 2009 a memorial stone was errected in St Andrews Park and a dedication ceremony took place to unveil it. Many relatives of the crew and of those involved in rescue attempts and many local people were present. See my memorials page to see a picture of this memorial and videos and photos of the dedication ceremony.
On 30th April 2011, the 70th anniversary of the crash, there was a short anniversary service at the memorial in St Andrews Park. In order to add a page about this I redesigned the layout of website (including creating new header and footer images). I have also added new information in some places.
In 2012 I redesigned the site again to reposition the menus and make them stay fixed on the screen so that they were always accessible wherever you are on a particular page. It also gave me the opportunity to incorperate new things I had found such as the Magic Magnifier used on the group photo's page, which enabled me to add the names of all the men in each photo.
My research continues.