I was told this story by my Mum around the mid-80s. She was in her fifties at the time. She’d been shopping in Guildford and was waiting for a bus back to Shalford, from opposite the ‘Yvonne Arnaud’ theatre. When she got on the bus she struck up a conversation with an elderly man towards the rear of the bus. The old chap apparently asked her a few questions. ‘Was she married?’ ‘Did she have any kids?’ That sort of thing. Mum had never met this man before, but she instinctively knew he was ‘alright’, just a harmless old chap who enjoyed chatting with anybody, and everybody! He asked her where she lived and she replied “Shalford”. He told her that he had known Shalford quite well many years earlier. He went on to ask her where in Shalford she lived. Mum said “Tillingbourne road”. He asked her if she lived in the oldest part of the road or the ‘newer bit’. She replied “The newer bit”. (This was the council owned far end of the road built in the fifties). “Oh” he replied. “I knew that when it was all just fields!”
He then asked her if she had heard about the American wartime bomber that had crashed in those fields during the Second World War. She hadn’t. (No one we knew had ever mentioned this). Now, bear in mind that this conversation was happening on a bus trip from Guildford to Shalford, a trip that would only take ten minutes at the most, and my Mum was already almost at her destination. Mum was fascinated by his story and decided to stay on the bus for one stop more, just so that she could hear more about the bomber crash. The bus would also stop further along in the village, so it was ‘O.K’., she would just have a slightly longer walk home, but it gave her the time to hear a little bit more information. Sadly, the only other information that she was able to get from the old chap, before she had to get off the bus, was that it had been on a training flight heading for Canada. He said that all of the crew onboard, at least six young men, were killed on impact. My Mum said that the impact site he described to her, sounded very much like the field directly behind the Tillingbourne river, which was directly behind our home.
Mum never did meet that old chap again. It was a few days after her brief unexpected meeting with him, that she told me the story, but, as far as I know, she never told my brother or sisters. A few years ago a book was published called ‘Wartime Guildford, 39 to 45’, (By David Rose and Graham Collyer, it is a book I highly recommend to anybody interested in Guildford or the war years). I was confident there would be a mention of the American bomber and its crash site in there. But no, there was nothing. The problem we have now is that anybody old enough to remember it, if it actually happened, has either died or their memories are fast fading. It would be nice to get to the truth of this mystery, not just for me, but more importantly, for all those who (possibly) died there, and their surviving family members and descendants.
Watch this space. I’m working on it!
UPDATED FEBRUARY 22ND, 2016…….
I did lots of research on this (alleged) American W.W.2 bomber crash site near my childhood home. After looking at every possible lead on the internet, I still could not come up with any verification that a crash had actually occurred there. But, with the help of the ‘Surrey History Centre’, I obtained a map of all plane crashes around the Guildford area during the period of 1939 to 1945. It was very small and hard to see in any detail, (as it was covered in heavy marker pen), but it did show various crash sites within a few square miles of our home in Tillingbourne road, Shalford. I found amongst U.S.A.A.F. wartime British crash site records, an entry for an American ‘B24’ Liberator bomber, which had crashed on July 3rd, in 1944. The crew had abandoned their damaged plane over Chichester, and it had flown on crewless for about 35 miles, before finally crashing at Trunley Heath, near Shalford, (about a mile south of our home). I also tracked down an American ‘C-47’, the ‘Lilly Bell 11’, which had crashed into a field at ‘Hurst Farm’, Jacobs Well, Guildford, (four miles to our north), on October 25, 1944, killing all of its four-man crew.
There were records of two German ‘V1’s (‘Doodlebugs’), crashing in the Chantries. One on July the 26th, 1944, on the other (Guildford) side of the Chantries, near South Warren Farm, and the other one crashed off East Shalford Lane, on Manor Farm’s land, (on July 7th, 1944), which is on our side of the Chantries woodlands. Neither of them crashed behind our house. I contacted the local Guildford historian David Rose and he very kindly did some research. Mr Rose’s e-mail response with his final findings is shown below….
“There was a ‘V1’ (rocket) that landed just to the north of East Shalford Lane, on 11th July 1944, (to the NE of 83 Tillingbourne Rd.,) that fits the bill. I think that the aircraft crash and 6 airmen being killed was a wartime rumour. The closest aircraft crash to ‘No.83,’ (our home in Tillingbourne Road at that time), was the U.S.A.A.F. ‘B24’ Liberator that was abandoned by it’s crew over Chichester, but flew on to crash to the west of Trunley Heath Road, north of Tilthams Corner Road and south of Unstead Lock on July 3, 1944″. (David Rose, Guildford Historian.)
So, to sum it all up, it seems as if the old chap that my Mum met on the bus back in the 1980s, got his facts, and his local geographical knowledge, a little bit mixed up! I have highlighted, (above), David Rose’s comment that he thought it was a ‘wartime rumour’, it would appear that the old chap was, (perhaps unknowingly), still spreading that rumour in the 1980s! But never mind, we have hopefully laid the rumour to rest now, and regardless, I have enjoyed researching these incidents, and I have learnt a great deal. I think that it is now case closed!
A big ‘thank you’ to David Rose and the ‘Surrey History Centre’ for all your help and expertise in solving this wartime riddle. In Honour of the following brave young men, who lost their lives near Guildford in 1944, fighting fascism. R.I.P….. 1st Lieutenant Mercer Wilson Avent; Flight Officer John Edmund Wright; Technical Sergeant John R. Hillmer; and… Staff Sergeant Dale E. Dellinger.
Mark Anthony Wyatt, Bude, February, 2016.
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