War-time disaster at Mears Ashby
Cycling to pre-arranged stops to join fellow cyclists frequently requires passing through new territory, and going places that would not normally feature on my itinerary. My route today took me through villages in north Bedfordshire (Yieldon, Wymington, Podington) and into Northamptonshire (Woolaston, Wilby, Mears Ashby) to a coffee stop, and then around villages with evocative names like Harrowden, Orlingbury, Hannington and Sywell, to a lunch stop.
A brief stop in Mears Ashby to check my bearings led me to an information board by the roadside, telling the fascinating (but appalling) story of an air collision above the village during WWII. On the morning of March 31st 1943, during a practice air raid, two B17 flying fortresses, Ooold Soljer & Two Beauts, collided above the village, shedding their pay-load of bombs (most not exploding) and spreading wreckage over a wide area. The cause of the crash was said to be “heavy cloud causing one plane to get out of formation and turn back into the path of the oncoming planes”.
It appeared that Two Beauts nudged the starboard wing of Ooold Soljer and immediately the wing of Ooold Soljer including the outboard engine fell away, and from 7000ft (2133 metres) both aircraft went into a dive, crashing to the South and South East of Mears Ashby. As I looked around this quintessentially English rural environment, it was hard to imagine such an appalling disaster happening there. But lying midst an area where there were dozens of war-time airfields, sending out thousands of bombing missions, the chances of such a thing happening were very high.