Tragedy at Woodhall

Woodhall before the crashB-17 No 43-38137 commanded by Second Lt. Clarence B. Hermann took off at 0538 hours in the darkness of early morning to take part in a bombing mission on Cologne. It was the sixth aircraft to take off but the pilot seemed to have problems with the No 4 engine and although the heavily laden aircraft lifted off its wing lights showed that it was struggling to gain height. It bore to the right then a loud explosion was heard and the glow of a fire lit up the morning darkness. The plane had torn into the top part of the Woodhall farmhouse and then continued on a short distance before exploding in a field beyond the house. Pieces of the aircraft were scattered over a wide area and the field was blackened by fire. Eight of the nine man crew were killed but the pilot was blown clear when the aircraft exploded. He was taken to the Station hospital at Acton where he spent two months recovering. On December 18 he was flown back to the States still seriously injured and was never well enough to be interviewed about the cause of the crash. He died in 1976.

us138Major Smith and his family lived in the farmhouse. He later told how he was awakened from a deep sleep and thought that the house was coming down on them all. He got his wife and two daughters down the stairs and into the garden then went back for Raymond Smith, his 15-year old son. He found the stair to Raymond’s bedroom blocked with debris and a fire burning on that floor above. Raymond appeared climbing down through the debris. At first sight he did not look too bad but it soon became apparent that his face and hands were badly burned. An American jeep took him to the local hospital where Dr Rix found that in addition to the burns he also had severe lung damage. That lung damage and shock due to the burns led to Raymond’s death.

SFP report on the unveiling of a plaque at TescoJoyce Smith and Daphne Felton are the two sisters of Raymond Smith who died in the B-17 crash at Woodhall on that October day in 1944. Joyce was eleven at the time and Daphne was eight. They both attended the unveiling of a commemorative plaque at Tesco supermarket (close to the crash site) in September 1999. As two USAF Mustangs flew overhead, Joyce said, “It has been a tear-jerking and emotional day and a lovely tribute to our brother. The incident is still very clear, it was a devastating time for our family.” Daphne said, “I remember laying in bed and being woken by a tremendous bang. I heard my mother screaming we’ve been hit and then being carried to a barn in our nightclothes. I then remember seeing Raymond being brought down screaming, he was burned and his skin was rolling off his body. I then remember him being carted off naked in the back of an open-top American jeep and that was the last time we ever saw him.”

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