The Thurlows

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The Stirlng bomber crashes

During the late evening of 17th September 1943, I was down at my cousin Eric’s, who now lived at 123 The Street, when we heard the sound of an aircraft flying low and then the sound of machine gun fire. We went outside but could see nothing. The next day I found out that a Stirling bomber from Stradishall, taking part in the night-flying training of aircrew, had been shot down by a German night intruder. The bomber crashed on Jarvis Hill, just short of the keeper’s cottage. Two members of the crew lost their lives: the pilot instructor (a veteran and a holder of the DFC) and the bomb aimer.

Not long after this crash, Little Thurlow had a lucky escape when another Stirling crashed in The Close down by the river during the early hours of Saturday 21st November. The overhead electricity cables were brought down, and burning wreckage was strewn over a large area, some of which set fire to Mr Tilbrook’s stackyard. The Thurlow fire appliance, together with the Haverhill and neighbouring fire crews and the RAF crash teams, attended the scene, but the fire burned all day Saturday, destroying two barley stacks whose tightly packed sheaves burned a long time and made the fire-fighters task more difficult. A tractor and wire cable were used to pull the stacks down. Sub-Officer R.C. Poole from Haverhill was in charge of the crews. Some farm implements in the open cart shed nearby were also damaged. Luckily there was a supply of water nearby, since the brook ran alongside the stackyard and there was also the pond in the farmyard. I remember that during the afternoon there was the sound of exploding ammunition from one of the stacks.

The acrid smell of the crash scene hung around for a long time, with burnt corn, straw, aviation fuel, rubber and Perspex, I remember seeing cockpit instruments and cables hanging from the trees in the brook, and there were also many belts of ammunition lying around. The Stirling had three gun turrets, with a total of eight .303 Browning machine guns, which meant a large amount of ammunition was being carried.

The crash scene was guarded by a detachment of soldiers from the Royal Hampshire Regt., who slept in Mungo Lodge, which was still requisitioned by the War Department. The wreckage was removed by the RAF salvage team, using a large crane, a lorry and a 90ft Queen Mary trailer. This took several days. There was still a lot of belts of ammunition buried in the ground and we spent several days digging for souvenirs after the RAF had left.

Down in the river bank we found part of a dinghy survival pack, which included Horlicks tablets and canisters of coloured dye powder for the aircrew who ditched in the sea to mark their position with to help searching aircraft locate them. Somehow the contents of these canisters found their way into The Stour, and it was said that the colour of the water when it reached Great Thurlow resembled a rainbow!

Some of the ammunition we found was still in belts, including tracers, incendiary and armour piercing and the ordinary bullets. We found that we could take the bullets from the cases by using the bolt-hole in an old ploughshare and bending the case until it snapped off. The cordite would burn very brightly and quickly, and the empty cases were put into a small fire and exploded with a small bang when the detonator got hot. Please do not try this at home!

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