SEVENTY years ago this week Somersham was in mourning.
On October 10, 1942 the village buried its dead after the biggest disaster to strike Huntingdonshire in the whole of the Second World War.
A rural county like ours was never going to be a big target for the Luftwaffe. Throughout the war only seven civilians were killed by German bombs, all in a single raid on Ramsey in August 1942.
That attack was probably a mistake – it’s hard to believe that Ramsey figured prominently in Hitler’s plans for world domination.
The real danger to Huntingdonshire came from the Royal Air Force, and later on from American aircraft as well. A mushroom growth of airfields filled the sky with aircraft flown by courageous but hastily trained crews.
On the evening of Monday October 5, 1942 a Wellington bomber from 156 Squadron took off from the airfield at Warboys. Just minutes into its flight a signal flare on board caught fire and the crew baled out from the blazing aircraft.
Still with a full load of fuel for its raid on Germany, the Wellington came down on Somersham. Diving from the north it took the roof off a house in Rectory Lane, crashed straight through several cottages on the north side of the High Street and ended up among the houses on the other side of the road.
The mass of flames could be seen for miles and seven houses were destroyed. You can still see the place in Somersham High Street where a block of new houses fills the gap in the old cottages.
Eleven people died including three generations of one family – 63-year-old Violet Moule with her daughter and one-year-old grand-daughter. The following Saturday an RAF lorry carried the coffins to the churchyard, with a large contingent of airmen marching behind.
It seems remarkable now how little the crash was kept secret. The Hunts Post carried a detailed account just three days after it happened and later reported the coroner’s inquest, when a crew member described the aircraft’s problems.
The cause of the fire in the Wellington was explained to the House of Commons and also reported in The Hunts Post.
Somersham’s experience of war wasn’t over. In March 1945, just weeks before the end of the conflict, a V1 flying bomb landed there – but this time there were no casualties.