Operation: Delivery Flight
Date: 15th March 1942 (Sunday)
Unit: No. 3 Delivery Flight, Maintenance Command
Type: Spitfire Vb ‘Berer 1’
Serial No: BL463
Code: None assigned
Location: Broadwindsor, West Dorset
Base: RAF Burtonwood
Pilot: Plt Off. Jean Verdun Marie Aimé De Cloedt 87087 RAFVR Age 25. Killed
Above: Plt Off. Jean Verdun Marie Aimé De Cloedt (Credit: Aldon Ferguson)
REASON FOR LOSS:
On the 15th March 1942 a Spitfire Vb was flown from No. 37 Maintenance Unit (MU), RAF Burtonwood, to act as a replacement with 317 (Polish) Squadron (Sqn) at RAF Bolt Head, near Salcombe, Devon. It never arrived.
The Spitfire was named ‘Berer 1’ in acknowledgment of a donation of £45,167 by the Central Provinces and Berar War Relief Fund in India. The Mk Vb, BL463 was one of an order for 1,000 Supermarine Spitfire Vb’s delivered between November 1941 and November 1942 from the Vickers-Armstrong factory at Castle Bromwich, Birmingham. BL463 was delivered new to No. 37 MU RAF Burtonwood on the 27th December 1941.
The designation Vb indicates that the aircraft was a Mk 5 version armed with four machine guns and two cannon.
At the MU the aircraft would have had any outstanding Service Modifications carried out, prepared for Sqn service and test flown prior to being delivered to Sqns.
It was a very foggy day in Dorset and at about 18:15 hrs, above the village of Broadwindsor in West Dorset, a plane’s engine was heard spluttering and shortly afterwards it crashed into the wooded north facing side of Lewesdon Hill killing the pilot on impact.
On Home guard duty that day were farmers Jack Frampton and John Studley and funeral director (Jacks brother-in-law) Jack Wakely. Armed with only sticks the three made their way up to the hill to investigate not knowing if they would find German airman on the run. When they reached the hill, they found the body of Plt Off. Jean Verdun Marie Aimé De Cloedt. His body was taken to Bridport hospital mortuary and later buried at the Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey before being repatriated to Brussels on the 20th October 1949.
The day after the crash, Broadwindsor school children skipped off school to visit the site and one young farmer and home guard, Dudley Tolley from Stoke Knapp farm, managed to find one of the three propeller blades which he kept under his bed for 75 years and now hangs in the Beaminster Museum.
Fg Off. Jean De Cloedt served with No. 3 Aircraft Delivery Flight (ADF) which formed at Hawarden in North Wales on the 7th April 1941 for delivering fighter aircraft to Sqns of No. 9 Group (NW England and Northern Ireland) and No. 12 Group (Midlands, Norfolk, Lincolnshire and North Wales). Some time before the move to High Ercall, Shropshire on the 10th January 1942 the name of the unit was changed to Delivery Flight. It then moved on to Catterick on the 22nd October 1943, then to Acklington on the 8th November 1943 and was disbanded on the 22nd November 1943.
In 1940 Jean was an engineer with the Aéronatique Militaire Belge (Belgian Air Service) in Ostend which he left to come to England so as to join the RAF Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR). He trained as a pilot at RAF Sealand near Chester with No. 5 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) but he was not able to join an operational squadron as he was colour blind. Hence he was employed as a ferry pilot.
Jean's story had been forgotten until 2019 when his name was read out on Remembrance Sunday in Broadwindsor Church.
Andrew Frampton the son of the Home Guard member Jack Frampton who was first on the scene that day. Decided to investigate the crash and pilot and to arrange for a memorial to be erected in his honour.
As the aircraft involved flew from RAF Burtonwood Andrew contacted Aldon Ferguson who undertook the research for him. This research unearthed a photograph of Course No. 61 at No. 5 SFTS depicting Fg Off. Jean De Cloedt.
Above: Course No. 61 at No. 5 SFTS - Fg Off. De Cloedt, Front row 7th from the left. (Credit: Aldon Ferguson)
It is believed that Fg Off. Jean De Cloedt was heading for the coast as he probably knew he was off course, being too far to the east. Once he reached the coast he could turn right and fly along the coast to the estuary at Salcombe which is where RAF Bolt Head was located. He let down through the fog too early and hit Lewesdon Hill. Unfortunately it is the highest point in Dorset being 915 ft (279m) above sea level and the aircraft struck the hill about 60 feet (20m) below the summit.
A friend of Aldon, Dave Osborne, was asked if he could locate any of Jean’s family in Belgium and he contacted Benjamine De Cloedt, Jean’s great niece. She wrote this to Dave:
“My father Jean-Jacques De Cloedt (aged 92) is indeed the nephew of Jean Verdun (with a U, like the battle!). He was the brother of my grandfather Raymond De Cloedt, so my granduncle.
I am very moved by reading your letter because even after 80 years, Jean Verdun is still very present in our memories. We often talk about him. It would be an honour for us to participate in this ceremony.
My father's secretary who reads us a copy will reply to you on my father's behalf.”
The information was passed to Andrew Frampton who invited Benjamine to come and unveil the plaque which she did.
The land is controlled by the Nation Trust who stepped in to make the plaque. The local school was involved and the crash became a special subject for them. The children wrote the questions they would like to ask the pilot if they had ever had the chance.
On the day, 15th March 2022, a large crowd gathered by the plaque including Benjamine and her partner, Damien; Lucien De Cloedt the grandnephew of Jean Verdun De Cloedt; Andrew and his wife; the local vicar, Rev. Jo Neary; representatives of the Royal Air Force Association (RAFA); a bugler; a representative from the National Trust; Chris Loder, Member of Parliament for West Dorset; two classes from the primary school; Aldon and Sue Ferguson and many local residents. Just prior to the unveiling by Benjamine, Andrew presented her with a small part of the damaged cooling system of the aircraft that had been recovered from the site. He had mounted it on a timber plinth for display.
Unveiling of memorial by Benjamine De Cloedt, great niece of Jean De Cloedt, Andrew Frampton on the left (Credit: Aldon Ferguson)
After the dedication, the last post, lowering and raising of colours by the RAFA colour party, addresses by Andrew, The National Trust, the school and Benjamine they all climbed the hill to the top to see the exact location of the crash. Here Andrew gave an explanation of what happened and handed over to Aldon to give a more detailed commentary on the flight, crash and pilot.
Andrew had a arranged with RNAS Yeovilton for a Spitfire fly-past, as a surprise to the group. Sadly, that morning he had been contacted by Yeovilton informing him that the Spitfire had an oil leak and would not be available. Instead a de Havilland Tiger Moth took its place. Not quite the same but very relevant as this is the type in which Jean would have commenced his RAF flying training.
A very well organised day and excellent memorial to a hitherto unsung WW2 fatality ensuring his place in history.
Above the memorial plaque (Credit: Aldon Ferguson)
Above: The National Grid Reference (NGR) for the memorial plaque is on a footpath at ST 43673 01401. The actual crash site is nearer to the summit at approximately NGR ST 43428 01350.
Plt Off. Jean Verdun Marie Aimé De Cloedt. Brussels Communal Cemetery, Row 2, Belgian Airman’s Field of Honour. Evere, Arrondissement Brussel-Hoofdstad, Brussels-Capital Region, Belgium. Born on the 31st May 1916 in St. Oiles, Greater London. Son of Prosper and Jeanne (née Delanote) De Cloedt of Torrington Square, London. Prosper De Cloedt was a Belgian Army Civil Attaché.
This report has been written by Ralph Snape, Aircrew Remembered, with the kind permission of Aldon Ferguson and is based upon his research for an article which was published in the RAF Burtonwood Times, Vol 36 No 1, 2022 and is dedicated to the relatives of this pilot. (Mar 2022).
Aldon Ferguson - Airfield Publications
AF & RS 28.03.2022 - NoK details updated
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember
them. - Laurence
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