16/17 December 1943: Kirkwood Crew

The crew of James Kirkwood, 97 Squadron, all died in the early hours of 17 December 1943 in a crash due to fog and petrol shortage. The accident site was in farmland next to Hayley Wood, and there was no one nearby for any possible rescue attempt.

L-R: Ted Hubbard, Bob Stewart, Reg (thought to be Ronald Cleeve), Len Madeley. Courtesy of Kenneth Bowe and Stanley Holding.

The Kirkwood crew had probably been trying to locate the nearby RAF station of Gransden Lodge, home of 405 Squadron. This was a close to impossible feat by midnight on 16/17 December due to the dense fog, the low cloud cover, and the limited wartime navigational equipment and landing aids. The aircraft is believed to hit some of the Hayley Wood trees before ploughing into the ground on the edge of the wood and catching fire.

James Kirkwood, right, with RAF friends. Courtesy of Jim Kirkwood (son).

Bob Stewart’s parents were heartbroken. One of their neighbours in a kind attempt to console them, wrote this poem for them and their “Bobby”. It may well have been read out during his funeral service.

Bob’s mother sent the poem to Margaret, the wife of James Kirkwood, who kept it throughout her life with the extremely poignant letter which enclosed it. With many thanks to Jim Kirkwood (son).