|Flt Lt RC Reynell RAF (Shoreham Museum)|
On Andrew's visit in 2013, he had gleaned information that perhaps Richard's body had been found at a different location to that originally reported in the Civil Defence Incident Log and seeing as this information came from what was thought to be a reliable source, we set about trying to piece together the latest threads of information. We were told that Richard's body had been found by a passer-by not at Kidbrooke Grove as shown in the Civil Defence records but in Dartmouth Row, on the opposite side of Blackheath and quite a considerable distance from the original recorded spot. The source shall remain nameless so as to avoid embarrassment but his information had supposedly been corroborated by an eye-witness. The location of the wreckage of Dickie's Hurricane V7257 had been spread across the heath, with the largest portions, including the engine, falling through the roof of St Ursula's Convent, so this much at least could not be disputed.
I have always had a great suspicion of "eye-witness" accounts and think that certain authors and researchers place a great over-emphasis on their importance. These accounts are all well and good if there are several of them and they broadly agree in their description of events. They are also generally reliable if they emanate from a trained observer, such as a Police Officer or a serviceman or woman but those written long after the event from someone whose memories may be faded have to treated with the utmost caution - these people sometimes tell one what one wishes to hear, or what they think might have happened but say it with great authority. Sadly, many of these "authentic" accounts prove to be unreliable to say the least and so it proved with the information given to Andrew.
The National Archives are in the process of gradually releasing the Casualty Branch enquiries into deceased airmen from the Second World War and when news of these became known to Andrew and myself, we anxiously awaited the release of the pack containing Dickie's details. The first batch was released in 2014 and infuriatingly for us at that time, only included details for casualties up to and including 31st August 1940 - so near and yet so far!
Almost three years were to elapse, with many enquiries as to their release dead batted away by the National Archives until the next tranche were finally released in July of this year and this time, we were not disappointed. The documents were ordered and a visit to Kew was made a few weeks ago. The file contained a great deal of correspondence, including copies of telegrams sent from the Air Ministry to Dickie's wife and family, letters from his employers the Hawker Aircraft Company enquiring about arrangements for obtaining a Death Certificate and most importantly from our point of view, a genuine eye-witness account, not from someone supposedly recalling events from thirty or so years' distance but from a Staff Sergeant Deeley of the Royal Army Pay Corps, who had been walking across Blackheath towards Shooter's Hill Road on 7 September 1940, when he witnessed the aircraft crashing and Dickie's partially opened parachute falling. After running for a short time, he commandeered a passing van and both he and the driver arrived on the scene of the incident at the same time as a Police Officer, PC Cochran from Lee Green Police Station.
This account, written by a trained observer, confirms that the original Civil Defence report was indeed correct and that Dickie's body was discovered in the garden at 3 Kidbrooke Grove, which was incidentally the residence of Commander HP Mead RN, who happened to be at home at the time of the incident. Dickie appeared to have been wounded in the chest and had crashed through a garden bench when he hit the ground. According to the report "Life was extinct and the body was removed to the Royal Herbert Military Hospital, Woolwich."
Andrew recently visited the UK once again, so on a rainy August day, we met in Blackheath and took ourselves to 3 Kidbrooke Grove and on the spur of the moment, in a fine display of Australian forthrightness, Andrew knocked on the door. We were greeted by the present owner of the house, Chris Richards, to whom we introduced ourselves and who was astonished to learn of the events of some seventy seven years ago in his back garden. Chris is a war gamer and has a keen knowledge of military history, so was fascinated to learn what had happened. Over a cup of coffee, Chris showed us his back garden and we were able to perhaps imagine what is must have been like in September 1940 with an air battle raging overhead, bombs falling and the terrible sight and sound of a fighter pilot's body suddenly arriving in one's garden.
To provide some wider background, I can do no better than include a slightly re-edited version of my original 2013 blog post which covered the day's events.
|43 Squadron Crest - Gloria Finis|
|The unveiled memorial stone|
|The memorial stone before unveiling|
|Andrew Rennie tells us about Dickie's final mission|
|Members of the Reynell family by the memorial|
|The City that Richard Reynell died whilst defending|
National Archives - AIR81/3127 Air Ministry P4 Casualty Branch Flight Lieutenant RC Reynell