By Adrian Lawson.
I met the owner of part of Coley meadows many years ago, and he told me a fascinating tale of two aeroplanes colliding there. He described the area where he thought they had crashed, and for many years I kept my eyes open for any sign. When the Fobney Island nature reserve was being dug I had hoped to find some evidence, but there was none. I looked it up and found a news report; the crash happened on 4 November 1962. There was no detail on the actual location, so I asked a few of the more senior residents, but strangely nobody knew much.
Last year I was surveying the area for a particular bird; the water rail. I had hoped to find evidence of them breeding, so for a few days I ventured into the less accessible parts of the meadows at dawn listening for their call. I was successful; they do indeed breed there, and then by chance I found a few fragments of crumpled aluminium. I had stumbled on the site of the crash of one of the planes, which made the day doubly successful. It was nowhere near where I had assumed the wreckage might lay; it was much closer to Rose Kiln Lane and actually on the other side of the river to where the farmer indicated.
Not far away, and completely by chance, I found a piece of cracked tempered glass in early February. A few minutes later I realised that at 10 mm thick, this wasn’t a piece of a car windscreen but from an aeroplane. I had stumbled upon the site of the second crash. I went back to check and, sure enough, there is a lot of this glass in a small area. I assume most of the wreckage has long since been carted off, so all that remains are small bits of debris. I have no idea which plane is in each location; one was a de Havilland Chipmunk and the other a Beagle Terrier, but I would love to find out more.
The tale of the crash is told in Coley Park and beyond; just a few words describing what must have been a traumatic event. Despite the efforts of those who raced to the scene, the two pilots were killed (the report of which is quite harrowing), but I have yet to find their names or anything else about them. I think a little memorial would be in order.
- Dawn chorus at Coley Meadows
- Katesgrove’s bountiful river valley
- Coley Park and beyond
- Friends of Fobney Island