Christmas and New Year doesn’t stop for war, and the inevitable battle of the Second World War continued on with air and ground crews across Britain carrying out their duties as normal, perhaps looking forward to a rest in the following days. December 29th 1944 was one such day.
It was a hazy morning with a severe winter frost laying across the ground, fourteen aircraft were allocated for operations whilst for those non-operational crews it would be H2S and G.H. training. Out of the dispersal, the operational aircraft were being loaded with their bombs and prepared for the forthcoming flight, when suddenly one of the bombs being loaded on to Lancaster PD325 ‘JI-L2’ fell and exploded. The resultant explosion completely destroyed the aircraft and severely damaged seven others including NG141 which was parked alongside. The blast, heard as far away as Mildenhall some 23 miles away, had repercussions right across the airfield, damaging windows and sending aircraft parts far and wide. Nine members of the ground crew attending to the aircraft also died, five of them simply ‘disappeared’ as did a tractor along with its portable generator. Following the incident, which was thought to have been caused by an ‘old stock’ bomb, the Station Commander cancelled operations for the day in case time delayed bombs on other aircraft exploded. The bomb disposal teams were brought in to remove those that were left remaining in the aircraft bomb bays. New Year at RAF Waterbeach would be very solemn in 1944.
Those that lost their lives that day were all members of 514 Sqn:
Leading Aircraftman Derrick Gordon Bichard (RAFVR) Radar Mechanic (s/n: 1870102)
Leading Aircraftman Samuel Bolton (RAFVR) Flight Mechanic (s/n: 1639785) – Commemorated at Runnymede
Aircraftman 2nd Class Donald Victor Brewer (RAFVR) Armament Assistant (s/n: 1893614)
Leading Aircraftman Ronald Davies (RAFVR) Flight Mechanic (s/n: 1128796)
Leading Aircraftman Geoffrey Graham Haydn (RAFVR) Radar Mechanic (s/n: 1863381)
Aircraftman 1st Class Harry George Leach (RAFVR) Electrician (s/n: 1429200) – Commemorated at Runnymede
Leading Aircraftman Laurence Smales (RAFVR) Flight Mechanic (s/n: 1621436) – Commemorated at Runnymede
Leading Aircraftman Frederick Charles Watson (RAFVR) Flight Mechanic (s/n: 1169390) – Commemorated at Runnymede
Corporal John Westgarth (RAF) Armourer (s/n: 552023) – Commemorated at Runnymede