It could have been one of those lovely late summer days, bright and a little breezy, good flying weather. Great big white clouds high up in deep blue climbing like mountains.
Locals say that they heard the plane spluttering from far away, it’s not totally implausible, there must not have been so much traffic in those days, either in the air or on the roads. Though it was a few miles off course, it seems not to have run out of fuel.
This end of the park is football fields. The last weekend of the summer holidays, the kids in that street would have probably spent time in the park at the end of the road, apparently that’s where he was heading for, so he’d have been heading north, according to the newspapers anyway. Though how anyone would know, I don’t know, they must have just surmised, perhaps he overshot the park?LThis end of the park is football fields. The last weekend of the summer holidays, the kids in that street would have probably spent time in the park at the end of the road, apparently that’s where he was heading for, so he’d have been heading north, according to the newspapers anyway. Though how anyone would know, I don’t know, they must have just surmised, perhaps he overshot the park?
Was it a Sunday? The reports say that the two families were gathered for lunch, they must have rushed to the window to see what the commotion was. The victims tragically included lots of children.
According to accounts the plane clipped the roof of 5 Dunham Lane (I had to dig around for the House numbers – I couldn’t see any trace at the site). Then it must have bounced onto the road, I think. One, a child? was killed when the roof was torn off.
Then there must have been a pause and people milled around, 2 lads went to help the pilot, twins, possibly. Presumably nobody had an idea that they should get out of harm’s way, as this type of disaster just hadn’t happened before. A few years previously in neighbouring Palmers Green, the next North London suburban village to the west, a plane had crash landed on the top of a house. Apparently the pilot called for a ladder and was helped down.
The really poignant detail, perhaps cherry picked or even possibly embellished a little was of the little lad of 8 whose head was taken off by a piece of flying debris. Whether that was at the time of the crash itself or the resulting fire, I’m not sure, but he’s said to have been sitting on the gate, watching, mesmerised.
One might imagine the scene, the houses at the junction of the road with the lane are set back from the road diagonally at the corners, so they form a little diamond and must have provided a pleasant space for play in days of less motor domination. The other kids maybe scattered when they saw the impending machine hurtling towards them, but this little chap sat still.
I saw a crow and a white pigeon, and towards the end of the road a woman in bright coloured patterned shalwar qamis was feeding a little crowd of white pigeons on the pavement in the sunshine, under a blossomy tree, it was a Friday, early afternoon when i visited. It felt serene, an old white lady twitched her curtains, and opened her door to talk – she must have been alive back then and said that the row of newer houses with small gated front gardens where she lived a little further down the road on the site of a school, she was very deaf and smelled of coaltar and didn’t have anything to say about plane crashes.
I guess I could find some old street maps online, it would be interesting to see what the space would have been like before the North Circular road was built, at the North of the park.
Then the plane exploded and all hell broke loose. Its odd to try and visualise the absolute horror and disaster.
It must have been fast as 2 houses and their occupants were incinerated
At the site, on that warm early spring day the road was quiet. Semis assorted into two or three shapes run up and down both sides of the road – though I didn’t know the spot itself when i walked down there, it doesn’t seem like the 2 burned houses were rebuilt. Cars are parked on most of both sides, noisy chinese builders are busily gutting one house.
I only worked out which the houses were later. I found one particular newspaper clipping online with a lot of detail, and i found again some discussion forums where locals talk about the crash that I’d read before, including one or two who claimed to have witnessed it, or to have heard the story, they add colour with personal details about the pilot, an impulsive young man of 19 who was AWOL in the small single seater plane, flying off course so the story goes, to perform aerobatics to impress a girl. I wonder what happened to her.
And how was it in 1938 to be a dashing imperialist pilot, a menace. Britain exported huge amounts of violence over centuries, in many parts of the world there are common locations of atrocities, many carried out by British soldiers or pilots, as well as so many that must be forgotten to time. I wonder how this area fared in the Blitz, I know that a bomb fell here in our nearby estate, how this prefigured that. These days another oddly named national panic, for centuries while these outlying villages sprung up and became megacity suburbs endured peace at home, no mass graves or sites if famous massacres in Uk as in some of our client and victim states.
Though these days planes are bigger, the proportion of lethalness is still high and the numbers of casualties much higher. But usually passengers, not people on the ground. The plane as a flying bomb, in this case out of the blue, in every sense completely unexpected and unanticipatable, a random smite from the sky visited upon completely innocuous unsuspecting humans, chosen by fate. How must they have felt in the moments after the crash, the shock and confusion.
Interesting that the incident, the worst aviation disaster in the country back then, for what its worth, was used at the time by some condescending politician as an example of how diverting news trivia distracts the masses from more important issues, such as the ominous events of the day in Europe. I read that old quote in the context of what feels like a continuation of that patronising and demonstrative show of concern today.
Then I read about the crash on it’s wikipedia page, but it’s the wrong side of the park for me to visit conveniently, so it’s been a while while I’ve been waiting, with a vague, lazy sort of morbid curiosity for an opportunity to drop in there. Not that it was planned, I was dawdling about and had time to spare.
On my way around the west side of the park, I witnessed a highly entertaining incident – first of all I saw a bearded guy on a bike being followed by a bearded guy in trainers running, it sounded like her was shouting stop thief, but maybe in a joking way, or i could have been mistaken, they seemed to be larking about, though not particularly young. A minute or two later, a couple of those square silver police vans come haring down the road, sirens and lights ablaze.
I’d just seen a load of police getting out of the train – they had a metal detector arch set up at t he bottom of the stairs from the platform. I was concerned for a couple of reasons, though i assumed that they were looking for knives (and probably the whole thing is a decoy if i think rationally about it), I wasn’t carrying a knife anyway, and didn’t have a valid ticket. As I descended the steps, careful to avoid looking shifty, or that i might bolt – they should have a spotter back at the top of the stairs if they are doing it right, possibly in plain clothes. This lot weren’t really doing that though, they appeared to be out on a jolly, mostly peaked caps wearing ranking geezers and blokes by the look of them standing around arms folded watching someone else working in an accustomed way that suggested that despite being far outside their zone they were instinctively enforcing their a small hierarchy within their own proximity, like usually probably office cops, more toxic and incompetent as their practice is honed by habitual workp;ace exaggerating and banter instead of real life. ready for a bit of community enforcement, out on manoeuvres in unsecured territory.
The newspapers literally the previous day had touted a police surge in London in response to knife crime, and sliver street is a famous location for stabbings so this must be that, thinks I. as i move down the steps, there are no ticket barriers here, i notice that the passengers ahead of me, all worker types of various shapes and sizes, were all setting off the alarm and getting waved through. I look around for the young person, preferably black, that the police will intercept, but it seems that there were no suitable suspects among us, or maybe the thing was malfunctioning, or maybe not set up quite right yet, or just for show, or perhaps the incessant buzzing was a license for them to grab any likely lad they fancied, I couldn’t tell. By the stairs to the southbound platform another group of police are busy erecting a second arch. I assumed the attitude f the other workers and breezed through, motioned past by a respectful older cop, despite my slightly non standard hair appearance, by otherwise smartness and blinding whiteness were an eloquent laissez passer, once again (cf that thread about hackney downs).
Anyway back to the park, it seemed like this group of cops had got the scent of these 2 cheeky muslim chaps. The vans zoomed this way and that way, as across the park I saw 2 large police in blue boiler suits legging it towards us across the grass in hot pursuit of the cyclist, who neatly pulled a u-turn and nutmegs right between the two of them and off and away. Benny Hill music played. Meanwhile another gammon faced out of towner cop is trying to get the van through the gate of the park – it’s a standard council padlock but no, he’s defeated. These arrogant spg types lost it all as far as i could see, though i worried that the other guy might have been nicked, if so he’s got nothing on him, I leaned back and smirked at the cop’s futility, and exchanged grins and quips with a passing older muslim looking guy, he was non-committal. Now the cops are making a thing of looking for stuff under parked cars, bossing each other around in guttural jargon, ignoring us. the scene made me think of cross country hunting pursuits, the unspeakable, out on safari in shabby Edmonton. When i walked back again, later on, past the rewilding wetland feature i didn’t see any sign of anything untoward.
This, the original Edmonton is eclipsed, at least in the internet algorithms, by its larger Canadian namesake, and has seen better days. Even a small non fatal plane crash there dominates search results.
I had pictured terraced houses, black and white, like the news reel, or old photos, in reality it was more open, a few pleasant trees and spaces that give the road a feeling perhaps of being on the edge, of the seaside or something.
The event was very well documented at the time, there is film on Pathe and plenty of newspaper reports, it was conveniently situated for the press, up from Liverpool Street on the train and across the park from Silver Street, more salubrious back then. Are there any actual witness’s words in these accounts? Young squaddies milling around in scruffy kit. It’s impressive that the incident exists today to this extent and has become researchable online, the advent of the internet was just in time to catch a few memories and the press reports were syndicated widely, what’s missing are any accounts from people directly affected – one lonely survivor, the only one left of her entire family emigrated to southern Africa, and, neatly in character, lived out a quiet sad life there, according to locals, via the web. Was there another sad anecdote of early demise soon after of one of two surviving members of one of the families, or perhaps she was the same person.
And there’s a memorial stone at a local churchyard, with special treatments for the two lads who died trying to rescue the pilot, who were posthumously decorated, wonder what state he’d have been in. Kind of like a military honour, I suppose that it was put up after the second world war. I had expected a plaque or sign, maybe on a terraced house on the road itself, or something, I’d misread the note about the memorial stone, but there was absolutely no indication. I’m not sure whether there should be. On the virtual map you can spin around in the junction and see the houses, and more or less which number is which. The memorial stone at the church is well documented. I have no particular urge to visit it.
Across the road from the playing fields in the south end of the park there’s a small completely empty grass square at the end of the road, surrounded by cast iron railings, it is also neatly tapered diagonally, an island splitting the entrance to the road opposite the park into two. It’s clear, only a piece of litter and no dog mess, though I don’t know who else would use it, they must pick it up.
They should have dropped the engine off there, some indication of the military violence that occurred here, a prelude to the massive conflict that was about to burn across Europe.
And I wonder what extent of flannel was involved in the tale, maybe those brothers were rushing to batter the daylights our of that pilot for taking the top off their neighbour’s house.