LAST Friday marked the 70th anniversary of a horrific tragedy which shook wartime Bournemouth but was largely forgotten over the ensuing decades.

Shortly after 1am on March 21, 1944, an RAF Handley Page Halifax bomber, tail number JP 137, took off from RAF Hurn bound for the Mediterranean Allied Air Force base in Morocco.

It is thought the aircraft may have been on a mission for the Special Operations Executive, and it was heavily laden with cargo.

However, for reasons unknown, its engine failed almost immediately after take-off and despite the desperate efforts of its crew to retain control JP 137 plunged to the ground minutes later in Wimborne Road, Moordown.

All seven of its young crew were killed, along with two civilians who were either in bed or preparing for bed when the heavy bomber spun upside down into their homes at the end of its fatal plunge.

With a full fuel tank the plane burst into an inferno of flames.

Research by the Moordown 2010 Committee local history group, which took up the challenge of shedding light on the incident and building a memorial to the victims, suggests that the Halifax suffered a failure in one or more port engines, which at the time were underpowered for the air frame.

Also, it is now believed that the early Halifax bombers suffered a serious design flaw – a poorly-shaped triangular tail fin which had a tendency to lock the rudder in place – preventing the pilot from correcting the course.

Despite the hour the crash was witnessed by several local residents, who variously described seeing smoke and hearing a screeching and spluttering sound from the failing engine.

Percy Chislett, a painter and decorator who had served during the First World War, was one of two civilians killed.

He was born in Bournemouth and, following a brief spell living in London, he moved to 1027 Wimborne Road in 1935.

There he died of asphyxiation when the plane hit.

His wife Mary and their son John escaped from the upstairs window at the relatively undamaged front of the cottage but were left with just the nightclothes they stood in.

The other civilian killed was Dorothea Bennett, who was preparing for bed in the back bedroom at the time. She was knocked unconscious by the blast and was unable to escape the flat.

Many others at the scene were scarred by the horror of what they had witnesses, including the landlord of nearby pub The Hollies, which was used as a temporary mortuary. A unit of D-Day bound US soldiers were first at the scene and helped the survivors flee the inferno.

Others lost their homes, among them Peter Evans, who sent a telegram to his wife in Wales: “HOME BURNT COME HOME”.

The pilot, Sergeant Denis Evans, was the youngest victim at 20. For many years it was believed that he had been partly responsible for the crash, but recent evidence suggests there was nothing he could have done to prevent it, nor to alter the aircraft’s fatal trajectory.

In his final moments he likely aimed to crash land on a grassy area south of Meadow Court in an attempt to avoid nearby housing.

Seventy years later there are very few people who can remember with any clarity the events of that night, but thanks to the efforts of historians we can get a glimpse of one of this town’s most terrible tragedies.

Remembering the traumatic events

THE photographs accompanying this week’s Echoes were kindly supplied by Roger Shore of the Moordown 2010 Committee, who has thoroughly researched the crash.

They are believed to have been taken by local Civil Defence Unit personnel and were donated to the committee by that unit’s former commander – the late Harry Mears – during the preparations for the dedication of the Halifax Memorial on the corner of Wimborne Road and Meadow Court Close in 2011.

Other photographs were received from John Cresswell of Bournemouth Natural Science Society.

One of the motivations behind the committee’s quest for information about the crash was to absolve pilot Denis Evans of blame, which had been hinted at in official documents at the time.

Having contacted the RAF Air Historical Branch with their interpretation of the evidence and their own extensive research in October 2011, the committee was able to contact Evans’ family with the welcome news that he was not to blame.

Victims of the crash


Dorothea Bennett, 59, of Flat 9 Meadow Court, Wimborne Road
Percy Chislett, 49, of 1027 Wimborne Road

RAF Volunteer Reserve

Pilot Sergeant Denis Evans, 20, of Middlesex
Navigator Sgt Henry Roberts, 35, of Gloucestershire
Bomb Aimer Flying Officer Stanley Appleton, 30, of Wembley
Wireless Operator Sgt George Alexander, 23, of Bedford
Flight Engineer Sgt Stanley Gent, 22, of Portslade
Air Gunner Sgt Kenneth Green, 20, of Hull

Royal Canadian Air Force

Air Gunner Sgt Reginald McGregor, 21, of New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada