07/08.09.1943 12 OTU Wellington III BJ621 Sgt. William Shepherd
Date: 7th/8th September 1943 (Tuesday/Wednesday)
Unit No: "B" Flight, 12 Operational Training Unit (OTU)
Type: Wellington III
Base: RAF Chipping Warden
Location: Ebdon Mill, Bridgnorth
Pilot: Sgt. William Shepherd 1551889 RAFVR Age 21. Missing - believed killed
Observer: Sgt. Francis George Wells 953542 RAFVR Age 26. Missing - believed killed
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. George Donald Edgar Morrow R163708 RCAF Age 26. Killed
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Walter Henry Lawrence 1388668 RAFVR Age 19. Killed
Air Gnr (Rear): Sgt. Norman Leslie Wachter 425911 RAAF Age 19. Killed
Above left to right: Sgt. Wells, Sgt. Morrow, Sgt. Wachter
REASON FOR LOSS:The Court of Inquiry determined that Wellington III BJ621 took off from Chipping Warden at 21:50 hrs on the 7th September to carry out a night cross country and bombing exercise of an estimated duration of 5 hours.
Note: In the opinion of the acting Flight Commander of "B" Flight, Sgt. Shepherd was a capable average pilot with no special faults and that his instrument flying was good. To the best of his knowledge he was in good health and did not appear to have any worries.
Various position reports were received placing the aircraft accurately on track and accurate to ETAs, the last message received gave the position at Somerton at 23:45 hrs.
At about 00:30 hrs on the 8th September 1943 the aircraft dived vertically into the ground about 3 miles SW of Bridgnorth.
In the opinion of the Court of Inquiry the cause of the accident was:
Loss of control during night flying;
There was no evidence to establish why such a loss of control occurred, but it was considered to be due to atmospheric conditions;
That the pilot was fatigued due to the amount of recent flying and this was a contributory factor. Note: the Commanding Officer of the Training Wing that this crew was detailed to fly six consecutive days and nights on cross countries which was contrary to all orders issued by him.
Update 20th August 2023: Keith Gardner whose uncle was Sgt. Shepherd, contacted Aircrew Remembered on the 20th August 2023, who, with the generous help of local residents and the owner of the field at Ebdon Mill the actual site of the crash was found. To this day crops do not prosper because of the fuel spilled from the aircraft crash. Small pieces of metal continue to surface to this day.
Update 13th September 2023: Keith Gardner informed us that on the 8th September 2023, 80 years exactly from the date of the crash, the site was visited by the nephew and niece of Sgt. William Shepherd. In addition, a wreath was placed at the local parish church, Middleton Scriven, together with a note of remembrance to the five aircrew killed on that day.
Above photograph showing most of the crew - marked as Sections 1 and 2. (Available at a higher resolution to interested parties/relatives - courtesy Michael Wells) Names reproduced in order to enable search engines to pick up the names of the crews.
Rear L-R: Sgt. Morrow, Sgt. Lawrence, Sgt. Wells, Sgt. Shepherd, Sgt. Eaton, Sgt. Eaton, Sgt. Stringer, Sgt. Davey, Sgt. Rodrique, Sgt. Merritt, Sgt. Bishop. Centre: Sgt. Martin, Sgt. Grant, Sgt. Masters, Sgt. Nathanson, Sgt. Taylor, Sgt. Symmons, Sgt. Sutherland, Sgt. James, Sgt. Berkley, Sgt. Notley. Front: Sgt. Clough, Sgt. Irving, Sgt. Gage, P/O. Warren, P/O. Denham, P/O. Freeman, P/O. Downing, Sgt. Farquarson, Sgt. Stean, Sgt. Gauson.
Notes (supplied by Michael Wells, son of Sgt. Francis Wells):
"It is thought that it was the pilot's (Bill Shepherd) 21st birthday and was to be the last training flight before converting to Lancasters and going on operations.The crew had a short leave just prior to the accident and joined my mother at a pub in Shrewsbury where we were staying. People were asking the crew about the flying and they said that the aircraft were in a poor state and 'not fit to fly'. They also said that if they encountered a problem with the aircraft they would bale out rather than try to save it.
The initial response to my mothers request for information on the cause of the accident she was that it could have been a problem with the oxygen system or carbon monoxide poisoning from the heating system which was ducted warm air from the exhausts. Interesting in that the official report does not mention this."
Aircrew Remembered Note: Unfortunately this is heresay and is not reflected by the Court of Inquiry for this Wellington. Firstly, BJ621 was test flown earlier on the night of the 7th September 1943 to carry out a night flying test and the pilot reported that the airframe and engines were satisfactory in every respect. Furthermore in the opinion of the Court of Enquiry that there was no evidence of structural failure of the airframe during this flight.
On impact the aircraft completely disintegrated and sadly only three of the crew could be identified from their personal effects.
Above: The Runnymede Memorial
Sgt. William Shepherd. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 154. Son of William and Janet Gillespie Shepherd, of Edinburgh, Scotland.
Sgt. Francis George Wells. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 169. Son of George and Elizabeth Wells, husband of Iris Wells, father to Michael, of Hall Green, Birmingham, England.
Sgt. George Donald Edgar Morrow. Chester Cemetery (Blacon) Sec. A. Grave 905. Grave inscription reads: “THE LORD GAVE AND THE LORD HATH TAKEN AWAY.” Born on the 29th November 1916 in Seaforth, Ontario. Son of Gilbert R. and Dallina (née Morrison) Morrow of Big Beaver, Saskatchewan, Canada.
He had two brothers who also served when he enlisted:
Gilbert R. Morrow who was serving at RCAF Station Trenton;
Robert A. Morrow who was serving at RCAF Station Toronto.
Sgt. Walter Henry Lawrence. Chester Cemetery (Blacon) Sec. A. Grave 156. Grave inscription reads: “THOSE THAT LIVE IN OUR HEARS DO NOT DIE. DEARLY LOVED. SADLY MISSED.” Son of John Thomas Lawrence and Susan Lawrence, of Walthamstow, Essex, England.
Sgt. Norman Leslie Wachter. Chester Cemetery (Blacon) Sec. A. Grave 199. Grave inscription reads: “FAR FROM THOSE WHO LOVED HIM BEST. IN A HERO’S GRAVE HE LIES.” Born on the 21st October 1923 the son of Leslie Harry Otto and Ivy May Wachter, of Moggill Road, Kenmore, Queensland, Australia.
Enlisted in the RAAF on the 21st May 1942. After training in both Australia and the UK he was posted to 12 OTU at Chipping Warden on the 27th July 1943.
Researched by John Williams for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the the crew and their families (Aug 2016) . Thanks also to Mr. Michael Wells (son of Sgt. Francis Wells) who contacted us with further information and photographs (Oct 2016). Review and updated by Aircrew Remembered and Keith Gardner (Aug 2023). New update added for 80th anniversary (Sep 2023).
Other sources listed below: