Centenary memorial service to mark fatal plane crash

A MEMORIAL service will be held tomorrow (Sunday) to mark the 100th anniversary of the deaths of two serviceman who were killed in an aircraft accident.

The Letchworth, Hitchin and District Branch of the Royal Air Forces Association has organised the centenary service in remembrance of Royal Flying Corps members Captain Patrick Hamilton and Lieutenant Atholl Wyness-Stuart, who lost their lives when their monoplane crashed.

The pair were on one of the first reconnaissance missions for the military on September 6, 1912, when an engine fault occurred above Graveley and caused the machine, built by Armand Deperdussin, to crash.

A second aircraft, a biplane, believed to have British aviation pioneer Geoffrey De Havilland on board, returned to the landing area near Willian after hearing news of the accident.

The bodies of Capt Hamilton and Lt Wyness-Stuart were taken to the mortuary, which was attached to St Saviours Church in Hitchin, with a full military procession carried out as the coffins were transported to Hitchin Railway Station, before being returned to their families in Kent and Somerset.

A century on, members of the branch will be joined by the RAF No. 3 Squadron – the equivalent to what Capt Hamilton and Lt Wyness-Stuart served under – as well as family members and dignitaries at the memorial on the Willian to Great Wymondley Road.

“We are remembering what they did on behalf of the people from 100 years ago in the area who really gave them a good send off,” said Ken Needham, secretary and treasurer at the Letchworth, Hitchin and District Branch of the Royal Air Forces Association.

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“We’ve had lots of people interested and I’ve disappointed so many people that wanted to be guests. Because of the narrow nature of the road and where we are having the service there is nowhere for the public to stand to see.”

The commemorative service, which is being supported by Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, takes place at 11am.

A similar Deperdussin, which is still in operation, is part of the Shuttleworth Collection at the Old Warden Aerodrome in Bedfordshire.

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