The death of the Robson Children, 1st December 1943.

It was on Wednesday 1st December 1943, that a 75 Squadron Stirling MK.III (EH880)  piloted by F/S J. S. Kerr (s/n 1558163) would be diverted from RAF Mepal and instructed to land at RAF Acklington in Northumbria. On the final approach it undershot striking a family home in Togston near Amble. Inside the house, Cliff House Farmhouse, was the Robson family. The five children, ranging in ages from 19 months to 9 years of age, were all killed, whilst the parents who were playing cards downstairs, escaped with varying injuries. All but one of the Stirling’s crew were killed, the mid upper gunner Sgt K Hook, was pulled from the burning wreckage his burning clothes being extinguished by the local butcher, Jim Rowell.

This crash was the greatest civilian loss of life in the district,

The crew of Stirling EH880 ‘AA-J’ were:

F/S George John Stewart Kerr, RAFVR (s/n 1558163) – Pilot.
Sgt. Donald Frank Wort, RAFVR (s/n 1585034) – Navigator.
Sgt. Ronald Smith, RAFVR (s/n 1239376) – Air Bomber.
Sgt. Derek Arthur Holt, RAFVR (s/n 1217087) – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. Leonard George Copsey, RAFVR (s/n 1691471) – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. Kenneth Gordon Hook, RAFVR (s/n 1335989) – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. George William Thomas Lucas, RAFVR (s/n 1250557) – Rear Gunner.

The Robson children were:

Sheila (19 months)
William (3 Years)
Margery (5 Years)
Ethel (7 Years)
Sylvia (9 Years)

The ‘Times’ Newspaper, published the story of 3rd December 1943:

Aircraft Crash on Farmhouse. Family of five young children killed.

Five children – all their family – of Mr and Mrs W. Robson were killed when an Aircraft crashed into Cliff House, a small dairy farm near Amble, Northumberland, on Wednesday night. The children’s ages ranged from one to nine years. They were sleeping in an upstairs room.

The mother and father, who with two friends Mr. and Mrs Rowell of Dilston [Terrace] Amble, were sitting in a downstairs room, were injured but not seriously. One of the crew of the aircraft, a gunner, was saved by Mr. Rowell.

Mr Rowell said last night: “We did not realise what had happened until the house collapsed above our heads. We managed to stand up, bruised and badly dazed, and, looking upward we saw the sky. Mrs Robson tried to make her way towards the stairs, which had been blown away. My wife called my attention to a burning object outside which was moving about.  We rushed over and found it was a gunner with his clothes alight. Mr Rowell rolled the airman on the ground to extinguish the burning clothes. Although badly burned, the gunner was alive.

The children’s partly charred bodies were recovered later.

Five streets on a housing estate near to the crash site in Amble have since been named after each of the Robson children. The crew are remembered on a plaque in St. John the Divine, the official church of RAF Acklington St. John.

12 thoughts on “The death of the Robson Children, 1st December 1943.

  1. A very sad tale, and, as always, very well told. My initial thought is that in a country which went to the trouble and effort of evacuating all of the children from its capital city, why on earth were people living “On the final approach” to an RAF base, so close that when the aircraft “undershot, striking a family home”, five innocent children were killed?
    We all accept that children and adult civilians will be casualties in a full scale war, but this horrific event was easily foreseeable, and easily preventable.
    Little Sheila, and perhaps others of the children, might well still be alive today.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you John, I would agree with you there whole heartedly. It was rather a dangerous place to live and in many respects an accident just waiting to happen. When building the airfield you’d have though someone would have had the foresight to suggest rehousing the families in the relevant vicinity!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We had a remarkably similar happening near here, when a Stirling from 149 Squadron returning from Ops Genoa, Italy and desperately low on fuel, crashed into a farmhouse and four cottages at Rye Street, Cliffe at 03:00 on October 24th 1942. (There is a memorial to the bomber crew in St Helen’s Churchyard in Cliffe). There were no survivors from the Stirling; W7628, “OJ-B” which was based at Lakenheath. A 21 year old woman living in the farmhouse was also killed, not by the crash itself but she was trapped in the wreckage of her home By the time rescuers from the local Fire Brigade were able to get to the remote farm from Strood, 21 year old Lilian McPherson had died from the effects of exposure. She had recently given birth but miraculously, her ten week old baby daughter survived completely unscathed because she was lying in her crib under a chimney alcove. The RAF later rebuilt the farmhouse very much in the style of an RAF Mess building. It is still standing today.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Mitch, that’s an incredible story of both a terrible loss and survival. I’m sure the scenario is not wholly uncommon particularly around airfields as desperate aircraft tried to land either badly shot up or very low on fuel, or even both! You would hope that once over British soil you were ‘safer’ but it wasn’t always the case!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Indeed! What perhaps made the Cliffe case worse was that a local searchlight crew, trying to help, lit the houses so that the pilot would hopefully see the open fields all around them. Instead, the pilot flew down the beam and straight into the houses at the end of it.

        Liked by 1 person

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