The Gunner At RAF Rochford on 26 August 1940 a visiting Medical Officer went to help the crew of a German Dornier that had crash landed. As he tended to the pilot he was aware of one of the aircraft’s machine guns being pointed at him by one of the crew.
The RAF officer moved away quickly out of aim; he went around the fuselage where he found the gunner had been dead the whole time.
On this day the Luftwaffe lost 44 aircrew killed, over six times that of Fighter Command.
No one can fail to be shocked by the tragic events at the Shoreham airshow last Saturday. (Apart from the few who attempted to make jokes about it on social media.)
A Hawker Hunter failed to pull out of a loop and crashed onto a busy road, killing 11 people and injuring more.
The last time members of the public were killed at an airshow in Britain was in September 1952 at the Farnborough Airshow when 29 spectators died following the break-up of a de Havilland DH.110 jet aircraft being flown by John Derry. Derry and his observer Tony Richards were also killed.
The disasters were similar in that both involved jet fighter aircraft from the 1950s.
What significantly differed was the immediate reaction.
In 2015 following the Shoreham crash, the rest of Saturday’s flying display was cancelled and subsequently the next day’s show was also abandoned.
In 1952 the flying continued – as soon as the runway was cleared of debris. Test pilot Neville Duke was next on the flying schedule and he took off and carried out his display. (Coincidentally in a Hawker Hunter).
As he lined up on the runway he was encouraged by the air traffic controller to go easy when flying over the crowd. (Later regulations stopped this practice). He was later saluted by Winston Churchill for taking to the air.
Although it might seem incredible to modern audiences, John Derry’s wife watched Duke giving his display, soon after watching her husband die. It’s true that this took place barely over a decade since the Blitz but this was the British stiff upper lip of a different order of magnitude.
The Farnborough show continued the following day and was attended by 140,000 people.