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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.
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RAF Crest
04.07.1944 1674 Heavy Conversion Unit Wellington XIV HF352 Flt Lt. Fraser DFC and Bar

Operation: Air Test

Date: 4th July 1944 (Tuesday)

Unit: 1674 Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU)

Type: Wellington XIV

Serial: HF352

Code: Not known

Base: RAF Farnborough, Hampshire

Location: Odiham, Hampshire

Pilot: Flt Lt. Alexander William Fraser DFC and Bar, 404063 RAAF Age 29. Killed

WOp/Air Gnr: WO. Sidney Bickell 649048 RAF Age 22. Killed

WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Keith Lawrence Popejoy 540429 RAF Age 24. Killed

Air Gnr: AC1. Stanley Parsons 1673867 RAF Age 27. Killed

Civilian Technician: Mr. David William Parker Age 20. Killed

Civilian Technician: Mr. Russell Arcot Erskine Age 23. Killed

Civilian Technician: Mr. Kenneth Dart Age? Injured (1)

REASON FOR LOSS:

During an Air Test when the crew were testing an automatic alarm radio the Wellington suffered an engine failure and had decided to return to their base at RAF Farnborough in Hampshire.

During the return, they hit a small wooded area called Gaston Copse killing all the crew and two civilian technicians.

The subsequent Court of enquiry report stated:

"The aircraft had a failure of the starboard engine at approx 09:50 hours and by the engine was feathered. The Pilot informed Farnborough by radio he was returning to base, and later at 09:55 he was having difficulty in maintaining height which was then at 1100 feet, but was trying to make the base. He instructed his passengers to take up crash positions and to remove the astrodome. He obviously intended to make a wheels-up downwind landing at Odiham, which he may well have mistaken for Farnborough. However, he must have been too low on his approach to Odiham and in trying to clear a small hill he stalled the aircraft into a copse. The aircraft hit the ground in a stalled attitude at 10:04 hours.

The Causes of the accident were: Failure of the starboard engine, and failure of the aircraft to maintain height on one engine possibly due to overheating of the port engine.”.

(1) Kenneth Dart survived the crash and was pulled out of the wreckage and subsequently treated at Rooksdown House near Basingstoke, Hampshire. Kenneth passed away in May 2018.

Rooksdown House was part of Park Prewett Hospital near Basingstoke, Hampshire. The pioneering plastic surgeon, Sir Harold Gillies was operating at Rooksdown House mainly on army and civilian casualties.

Above Sgt. Keith Lawrence Popejoy (courtesy Lynn Bonsey (née Popejoy)

Burial details:

Flt Lt. Alexander William Fraser DFC Bar. Lisburn Cemetery. Section A. Grave 390. Grave inscription: "GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS. THAT A MAN TO LAY DOWN HIS LIFE FOR HIS FRIENDS". Born on the 7th May 1915. Son of Alexander William and Rhoda Maria Fraser and husband of Margaret Fraser, of Millaa Millaa, Queensland, Australia.

Plt Off. Fraser was awarded the DFC whilst with 120 Sqn. London Gazette12th March 1943, Citation reads:

"This officer has taken part in numerous anti-submarine and convoy escort sorties and has proven himself an exceptional pilot. On one occasion he found one of our convoys when 750 miles from his base and by escorting it for 4½ hours undoubtedly saved it from submarine attack. On another occasion, while again engaged on escort duty he sighted two U-boats which he immediately attacked with depth charges and probably destroyed one of these. In addition to his flying duties, Pilot Officer Fraser has displayed outstanding keenness and Judgment in charge of a detachment."

Flt Lt. Fraser was awarded the Bar to his DFC whilst with 120 Sqn, London Gazette 3rd August 1943, Citation reads:

"This officer was captain of an aircraft which attacked a U-boat. In the face of heavy anti-aircraft fire, a vigorous attack was pressed home and the vessel was destroyed. Although Flt Lt. Fraser’s aircraft was hit by gunfire, he flew it to base where he executed a masterly landing. This officer has displayed skill, courage and determination of a high order."

WO. Sidney Bickell. Edmonton Cemetery, Middlesex. Section E. Grave 438. Grave inscription: "IN LOVING MEMORY OF MY DARLING HUSBAND SIDNEY".Son of Sidney Theodore and Amelia Bickell and husband of Daphne Rhoda Bickell, of Winchmore Hill, Enfield, England.

Sgt. Keith Lawrence Popejoy. Brookwood Military Cemetery. Grave 22.D.5. Born in 4th Qtr of 1919 in Farnham, Hampshire. Son of Ernest George and Ada (née Gaines). Husband to Grace Kathleen (née Cocks) Popejoy of Sanderstead, Surrey, England. The funeral photo showed above.

AC1. Stanley Parsons. Leeds Cemetery (Harehills) Section G. Collective grave 21. Grave inscription: "TO THE MEMORY OF A DEAR HUSBAND. YEARS MAY PASS BUT MEMORIES ALWAYS REMAIN". Husband of Margaret Rita Parsons, of Leeds, Yorkshire, England.

Mr. David William Parker B.Sc. Hartley Wintney, Rural District. Son of Harold J. and Doris Emily Parker, of 46 Mount View, Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, England.

Mr. Russell Arcot Erskine. Hartley Wintney, Rural District, of 13 Hinchley Drive, Hinchley Wood, Esher, Surrey, England. Son of Mrs. C.W. Erskine, of 1 North End Road, Delhi, India, and of the late Charles Webster Erskine. A member of the Home Guard.

Researched by Kelvin Youngs (Webmaster) for relatives of this crew. Grave photograph courtesy Martin White (Aug 2018). Thanks to Stephen Dart for the information concerning the survival of Mr. Stephen Dart (Sep 2020). NoK details for Sgt Popejoy updated by Aircrew Remembered (Feb 2022). Also to Lynn Bonsey (née Popejoy) for photographs of Sgt. Popejoy. For further details our thanks to the following sources shown below.

RS 13.02.2022 - Update to NoK details for Sgt. Popejoy

KTY 25.02.2022 - new photographs added.

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Acknowledgements
Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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