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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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106 Squadron Crest
24.05.1940 106 Squadron Hampden I P1336 Plt Off. Irvine

Operation: Night training

Date: 24th May 1940 (Friday)

Unit: 106 Squadron 5 Group (motto: Pro Libertate - 'For Freedom')

Type: Hampden I

Serial: P1336

Code: ZN:?

Base: RAF Finningley

Location: Coventry and North Warwickshire Cricket Club

Pilot: Plt Off. James Melville Dundas Irvine 39988 RAF Age 21. Killed

Obs: Sgt. John Raymond Collingham 564603 RAF Age 25. Killed

Air/Gnr: AC1. Sydney Ewbank Firth 615843 RAFVR Age 35. Killed


On Friday 24th May 1940, a Handley Page Hampden, P1336, from 106 Squadron RAF Finningley was on a night flight from Abingdon to Finningley. Residents of Binley, Coventry heard the aircraft, with engines misfiring, and saw it approaching from the direction of Bagington.

Flares were being fired from the aircraft and it appeared that the pilot was looking for a suitable landing place. While making a turn at low level, the aircraft hit a barrage balloon cable over a heavily populated area. It was seen to dive steeply, missing nearby houses, and at 23:08 crashed into the grounds of The Coventry and North Warwickshire Cricket Club.

Local witnesses believe that the pilot dived into the ground to avoid the houses. The aircraft exploded on impact and all of those on board were killed.

Soon afterwards it was discovered that one of the crew had attempted to bale out before impact but was at too low a level and had also been killed when he hit the roof of the Bulls Head Public House at Binley.

Eye witness account - received 27th July 2019:

"I am 83 years old and my brother Patrick has just died at the age of 85. We both clearly remembered the day when this RAF Handley Page Hampden crashed in 1940.
We heard the plane's engines roaring terribly loud as it skimmed over our roof. We lived at no.10 Harefield Road which is only 250 metres north of the Coventry and North Warwickshire cricket ground where the plane crashed.
I was four years old at the time and my brother was six.

We were in the kitchen together with our mother. Her hair stood on end because it was such a loud noise coming over us at low level and without warning. She was cooking lunch so the incident certainly happened around midday.
Fifty years later I happened to meet an old man from Coventry who was standing at Gosford Green at the time and witnessed the plane coming down. He told me he saw it strike one of the mooring cables of a barrage balloon.
We are deeply grateful to those three young men who stayed with their aircraft till they were sure it would not crash on us - we were right on its flight path ass it came in to crash on the cricked field.

May God reward them for their great sacrifice.
"No greater love than to sacrifice one's life for one's friend" ..... and yet, they didn't even know us!"
Anthony Cussen

The following is a personal account of the crash kindly provided by Geoff Wilson from his yet to be published autobiography.

"At eight minutes past eleven on the evening of Friday 24th May 1940. I was fast asleep when I was suddenly awakened by a very loud thump on my bedroom window. Looking out I could see a red glow in the sky to the north. Naturally there were the sounds of an immediate burst of activity from my parents downstairs. Few people had telephones at that time so my father, who was the local head air raid warden, went to the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) post to use the telephone installed there, to enquire what was happening. I heard him return shortly and tell mother that an aircraft had crashed at the far end of Siddeley Avenue.

This event happened at the time of the overwhelming German victories in the battle of France and only two days before the evacuation of British and allied troops from Dunkirk. It was a time of rumour and counter rumour. Although only seven years old, I listened to everything that my parents said on every possible subject. Mostly the things I heard were only partly heard and even less understood. On the day after the plane crash I heard them talking about a peculiar bright white light which had been seen falling the previous night and which had become lodged in a tree somewhere further round Siddeley Avenue.

The following Monday morning as Adrian and I set off to walk the half mile or so to school this was the topic of our animated conversation. We determined to find where this incident had occurred.. Our usual route to school was along the rear passageways behind the houses and one location interested us in particular. There was a civil engineering contractor’s yard and outside the fence were stacked lengths of narrow gauge railway track and a number of side tipping wagons. It was imperative that every morning we spent a few minutes walking along these tracks making the appropriate noises. This delayed us a little but the important thing that day was to find the evidence of the mysterious white light. Soon in a back garden we spotted a shed with a charred roof alongside a small tree which was also somewhat charred. This of course required some intense study which delayed us even more. We finally arrived at school about forty five minutes late to find our parents had been informed.

The aircraft which had crashed was a Handley Page Hampden bomber, flying with a three-man crew, from Abingdon to Finningley airfield near Doncaster. It had suffered from engine problems which had caused it to lose altitude and it had then struck a barrage balloon cable causing further damage. As it was flying over a fairly densely built up area the crew had dropped one or more flares to try and locate a clear area in which to crash land. Eventually the aircraft crashed in the middle of the Coventry and North Warwickshire Cricket ground, at the rear of the Bulls Head Hotel. One member of the crew baled out but by the time he did so, the aircraft was so low his parachute failed to open properly, and he crashed through the tiled roof of part of the hotel and was killed. For some time afterwards the parachute could be seen projecting through the hole in the roof and draped across the tiles. The other two crew members died in the crash."

Burial details:

Plt Off. James Melville Dundas Irvine. London Road Cemetery, Coventry. Grave 42, Square 348. Born on the 2st November 1918 at Grimsby, the son of Leonard Cockburn Dundas Irvine and Margarita Irvine, of Hove Sussex, England.

Sgt. John Raymond Collingham. London Road Cemetery, Coventry. Grave 41, Square 348. The son of John and Amy (née Hall) Collingham of Worksop, Nottingham, England.

AC1. Sydney Ewbank Firth. St Andrews church, Maghull, Merseyside. Born in 1905 in West Derby, the son of Reginald Howe Firth and Elizabeth Annie (née Eastham) Firth and the husband of Mary K.( née Hamilton-Taylor) Firth, of Maghull, England. Grave inscription reads: "Love's Last Gift Remembrance".

Researched by Mike McQuaid for Aircrew Remembered - May 2019. With thanks also to Mark Morgan for Coventry grave photographs. Also to 12 o'clock high forum for information. For further details our thanks to the following sources:

RS 28.02.2020 - Addition of eye-witness account from Geoff Wilson

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