Unexplained Air Crash at Bodicote
26 August 2021 (Updated 9 January 2023)
On 28 December 1942 a Wellington bomber aircraft was seen flying westwards over the village of Bodicote. The aircraft was flying extremely low, passing close over the rooftops and the church tower before clipping its wing on an elm tree and crashing into the valley a quarter of a mile west of the village.
The accident was witnessed by a schoolboy and his mother, who reported that one engine was smoking as it passed overhead. The boy ran down into the valley and found the wreckage of the crashed aircraft still on fire. He also saw the bodies of the crew, which consisted of 6 men between the ages of 19 and 26. None survived the crash.
A training exercise gone wrong?
The cause of the crash was never fully explained. The flight was just a 25-minute test flight and as a result, there was no radio operator on board who might have been able to communicate to staff on the ground if the aircraft had got into difficulties.
There was low cloud cover at the time and it has been speculated that the pilot was flying low below the clouds in order to get his bearings. However, the aircraft was on course to reach the airbase at Stratford, which indicated that the pilot knew where the plane was.
John Gordon Byrne, a 22-year-old Flying Officer, piloted the flight. He was recorded as 'screened,' indicating that he had previously participated in military operations, but the flight was listed as 'Air Test (Medical),' implying that the purpose of the flight was for Byrne to demonstrate that he was medically fit to fly.
A tribute to young lives cut short
In June 2012, a memorial boulder bearing the names of the six airmen who lost their lives was unveiled at the crash site in a ceremony attended by relatives of those who died, including John Gordon Byrne's widow.
- 1942 Air Crash at Bodicote (www.sjbradley.com)
- 'A Grim Almanac of Oxfordshire' by Nicola Sly (The History Press, 2013, ISBN: 978752465814)