In July 1941 a Wellington bomber was on a training flight which took off from Bassingbourn. The crew of eight, including the pilot, Flight Sergeant Hannah, was from the Operational Training Unit based there. If you are ever able to go into the Control Tower at Bassingbourn you will see a map on the wall which shows the incredible number of air bases in East Anglia at the time and also the flat land in front of the tower, from which planes landed and took off. Bearing in mind this density of air bases, it is hardly surprising that there was so much enemy activity over the area. On the night of 21st July 1941, a Junkers 88 with pilot Heinz Volker took off at 23:30 from his base in Holland. He was regarded as a very successful pilot. He and others had already shot down a Wellington about to land at Bassingbourn, which collided with another; also, one about to land at Steeple Morden, and even later another at Bassingbourn. That night he headed to England, flew over the Wash and then turned to head towards Newmarket where he was spotted in the beam of a searchlight and subsequently flew much lower – believed to be about 700 feet. It was after midnight by then and one can only wonder where the Wellington was at the time and what its eight crew from the Operational Training Unit were feeling – excitement, trepidation, worry, concern – who knows. By now the Junkers was speeding on its course for Bassingbourn where it had been on previous raids, looking for any bombers returning to base after their raids. At 01:25 one of the crew in the Junkers shouted to Volker that he had seen a huge shape in the sky nearby, identified by its flaming exhaust. This was Wellington R1334. The next five minutes must have seemed an eternity as the Junkers fired on the Wellington, which suffered damage although taking avoiding action. However, the flames from the Wellington apparently unsighted Volker and the Junkers came too close – they collided over Ashwell and the Wellington came down in a field known as Hunts Close, a field off Ashwell Street, looking north towards Lucas Lane. Because of all the factors like speed and weight, the Junkers came down not far away in a field known as Red Bank Field on the southern side of Ashwell Street. There have been several archaeological digs in these fields, with pieces of the aircraft unearthed. Some are in our Village Museum. All involved in the crash were killed. Four members of the Wellington crew are buried in Bassingbourn and, whilst the crew of the Junkers were originally buried there, later their bodies were removed to the German Military Cemetery at Cannock Chase. All of this may well be news to many in the village. However, there are villagers who do remember it and particular thanks go to Fred Bryant who first alerted us to it at a Royal British Legion Meeting. Hunts Close may well gain planning permission for housing development in the future and it is our hope that some commemorative memorial will be placed there to remember this tragic event.
Andrew Gillborn and David Sims (reproduced from the Ashwell Yearbook 2021)
Below are links to various other items about the crash. More information will be posted here as it becomes available.