A Sunnyside Mystery

Berkhamsted was fortunate in that it did not suffer great loss of life during the Second World War. Two incidents do however stand out in the memory of the dwindling number of people of Sunnyside, who are old enough to remember the events. Those events were the bombing of the railway bridge at the bottom of Ivy House Lane, in November 1940, thought to have been carried out by enemy aircraft returning from a mission to Coventry, following the line of the railway. The second was the crashing of a Tomahawk Fighter in Ellesmere Road, close to New Street in 1941.

The first incident caused a great deal of inconvenience but thankfully no loss of life. This fact cannot be disputed, nor that it was some time before even a footbridge was provided and several more years before the road bridge was repaired. Admittedly the number of years may have increased with the telling, and memory become clouded by the passage of time but references in the  Parochial Church Council  minutes and memories recalled and quoted in The Story of Sunnyside  provide enough evidence to verify the event.

Tomahawk Fighter

Much mystery has however grown up around the second event. The tragic loss of life of the pilot of this Tomahawk aircraft has become shrouded in mystery. In spite of perusing the careful list of artefacts associated with WWII in the Society’s collection and searching for a possible unidentified funeral in the church records in 1941 we are really no nearer to answering these questions. Can anyone come up with the answers?

Jennifer Sherwood, Chronicle v.XVII (Mar 2020)

In a follow-up article in the Chronicle, Jennifer Sherwood asked “Is the mystery of Sunnyside crash now resolved?” and “Are we any nearer to establishing the identity of the USAAF Major who lost his life?”

Armed with the correct date of the accident from Julian Evan Hart’s War Torn Skies, 23 Sep 1942, Society member Richard Shepherd approached the Air Force Historical Research Agency in the USA and waited. Eventually, he received the Accident Report.

With the report now declassified, it was possible to read the witness statement of an 11-year-old boy David Russell who trained his telescope on the Tomahawk or Mustang fighter plane and saw it losing height, spinning and smoking, just missing the town and crashing on the far side of the railway station. Other witnesses reported that a piece had fallen from the aircraft. Inspectors judged that poor riveting, careless workmanship and inadequate inspection had caused the accident. The pilot Captain Knowles was commended for his heroic efforts to clear the roof tops of this congested part of the town.

Jennifer Sherwood, Chronicle, v.XIX (Mar 2022)