Almost forgotten, but tribute paid to pilot

The memorial which has been placed at the site of the crash on Dove Crag.
The memorial which has been placed at the site of the crash on Dove Crag.

A Rothbury man carrying out an ‘epic investigation’ to document all of the aviation accidents in Northumberland recently placed a memorial to a lost airman.

As reported by the Gazette in February, Chris Davies has published two volumes about plane crashes in the county following rigorous research and searches in the countryside for the sites themselves.

Roxy, Buddric and Hendrix at the site of the plane crash at Dove Crag.

Roxy, Buddric and Hendrix at the site of the plane crash at Dove Crag.

An immense amount of detail is included in the description of each incident with Chris having visited more than 200 crash sites, believing himself to be the first to identify the exact location of 130 to date.

At each site, where there has been a loss of life, he places a poppy cross as a small reminder of what happened.

But on April 11 this year, at 4.05pm, he placed a more significant memorial at Dove Crag, on Tosson Hill, Simonside, where exactly 72 years before a pilot flying from RAF Acklington was killed after his Supermarine Spitfire crashed.

Chris explained that having first sought permission from the Forestry Commission, he went up to the site on the day with 20kg of postmix concrete and his aircraft-hunting poodles, Roxy, Buddric and Hendrix.

Then at 4.05pm (the approximate time of the crash), he placed a small memorial post to Flying Officer Jacob ‘Jaap’ Wilhelm van Hamel,from 322 Squadron, who was aged 23-plus.

The story of the demise of F/O van Hamel and Spitfire NH700 is dealt with in chapter seven of Chris’ first volume of Almost Forgotten, in which it is described how he took off from RAF Acklington at 3.50pm on April 11, 1944, on an altitude test, but just 15 minutes later, the aircraft was seen to crash on a hillside to the south-west of Rothbury.

It continues: ‘It is noted in the 322 Squadron ORB (Operational Records Book) that ‘difficulties’ were being experienced in converting to the new mark of Spitfire.

‘One of the faults was the Coffman starter of the Griffon engine and another was a fault with the oxygen system. It is understood that oxygen failure, causing the pilot to black out, was the cause of the crash.

‘The aircraft was seen to come out of cloud in an inverted dive, struck the hillside of Dove Crag, south of Great Tosson Farm, and disintegrated in a ball of flame’.

His funeral took place at 2pm on April 15, 1944, at Chevington Cemetery, where he was buried.

The Dutchman’s arrival in Britain is also an interesting tale and one also referred to by Chris in his book.

‘Jacob Wilhelm van Hamel was a courageous man who had, on the night of 20-21 June 1941, along with ‘Rudi’ van Daalen Wetters, escaped the Gestapo by canoeing across the North Sea.

‘The canoe had a small outboard motor, but this had failed and they threw it overboard.

‘After four days at sea, they were picked up by an Australian destroyer, HMS Eglinton, and transported to Britain (the full story of this epic journey can be found in Where the Hills Meet the Sky by Peter Clark)’.

Almost Forgotten – The Search for Aviation Accidents in Northumberland, Volume One, priced at £16.99, was published by Amberley – www.amberleybooks.com
The second volume, priced at £12.99 with free UK postage, was published by Alnwick-based Wanney Books – www.wildsofwanney.co.uk