Squadron Leader died in crash

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Sqn-Ldr-Wrights-grave-wAN RAF pilot from Helensburgh died in a tragic accident in Australia during World War Two, but he is still remembered by people in the area.

Now an Australian who produced a dvd tribute to the two pilots who died in the accident is seeking help to find a photograph of the burgh man, Squadron Leader Henry Wright.

He was serving with 548 Squadron RAF, which was stationed at Strathpine airfield in the Brisbane suburb of Petrie. It was a base for Australian and Allied forces during the war.

The dvd was produced by Robert Martin, who said: “On April 19 1944 two Spitfire pilots from the Royal Air Force were killed in a mid-air collision just down the road.

“They were part of 548 Spitfire Squadron, which consisted of RAF pilots with Australian ground crews. One of the pilots was William Henry Alexander Wright, Squadron Leader 70834, from 548 Squadron.

“My goal is to try to track down a picture of this pilot to hang in our aircraft and local museums, and I was wondering if any visitors to this website could steer me in the right direction to find one.

“Here in Australia we have a service each year at the crash site where we honour both these men from the RAF. The two pilots are buried here in Brisbane.”

At 8.50am three of the Squadron Spitfires took off from the Strathpine airfield, known as Spitfire Avenue (pictured below), in formation on a training flight, followed by a fourth, and two collided in mid-air nearby.

The Squadron Leader and the other pilot, Flight Sergeant Alan Victor Chandler (22), from Chingford, Essex, who served in the RAF Volunteer Reserve, were killed.

The most reliable information about the crash can be found in the ‘Proceedings of the Court of Inquiry, Accident to Spitfires A58/392 and A58/393, Strathpine’.

According to the testimony of a number of witnesses at the Inquiry, while circling the Strathpine strip at an altitude of 4,000 feet, the three aircraft, under the leadership of Flying Officer James Melvin Hilton, noticed a fourth aircraft taking off.

Following Hilton's lead, they immediately determined to test the alertness of the pilot by mounting a feint attack and 'bouncing' the aircraft.

They turned into the sun, straightened up when dead astern and then commenced a shallow dive to close in on the aircraft, which was then at an altitude of about 2,500 feet and travelling in a westerly direction.

Spitfire-Avenue-wAt this stage, the identity of the pilot of the fourth aircraft — Squadron Leader Wright in A58/393 — was not known to any of the three pilots and the aircraft were not equipped with radio.

All the witnesses agreed that the Squadron Leader appeared to be unaware of the presence of the other three aircraft, and that Hilton's aircraft, followed by the second aircraft, successfully carried out the required manoeuvre by passing over the top of the target.

However the third aircraft — A58/392 piloted by Sergeant Chandler — collided with Wright's aircraft.

What happened after the collision is less clear. All the witnesses agreed that Wright's aircraft appeared to continue on its course for some short length of time, and that portions of Chandler's aircraft broke off following the impact.

His aircraft was last seen spinning towards the ground. The Squadron Leader's aircraft appeared to carry on in a westerly direction until it dived into the Pine River and exploded immediately on impact.

The first witnesses to arrive at the scene found Chandler's aircraft completely wrecked with his body pinned underneath. Wright's aircraft was totally submerged, and some time elapsed before the pilot's body was recovered.

Both aircraft had been delivered to the Royal Australian Air Force two months earlier. The squadron arrived in December 1943 and left by July 1944.

A major reunion of 548 and 549 squadrons was held at nearby Pine Rivers in April 1998 to commemorate the crash, and a local resident, Keith Beakey, who was an eyewitness, played the pipes at the Sunday service. A Spitfire flew overhead during the ceremony.

Mr Beakey said he had been watching the Spitfire training flight when he was playing cricket before school. Later, he went salvaging at the wrecks with his schoolmates.

He said that while aircraft parts he recovered had since been lost, he had never forgotten discovering the body of one of the pilots.

Both are buried side by side at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Lutwyche, Brisbane.

In 2000 the RAAF Association of Pine Rivers organised a further major ceremony on April 15, when two replica Spitfires flew overhead.

At that time they received a letter from Sir John Aiken, who was a flight commander in 548 Squadron at Strathpine at the time of accident, and went on to become Air Chief Marshal.

They were also aware of a lady from the area who saw the accident and whose parents owned the land on which the two aircraft crashed.

Wright-Reserve-notice-wNear to the graveyard is a park, and two areas in it have been named the Wright Reserve and the Chandler Reserve.

At the actual site of the crash, on the corner of Youngs Crossing and Dayboro roads, Petrie, a memorial — a granite rock with a bronze plaque — was erected by the Rotary Club of Pine Rivers, Pine Rivers Shire Council and the Pine Rivers RSL and dedicated on April 19 1997.

Very little is known about Squadron Leader Wright, who was 26. He was the son of William Henry Wright, MRCS, FRCP, and his wife Sadie Ann, who lived in Helensburgh, but was educated at Merchant Taylors's School in Northwood, Middlesex, one of the so-called 'Great Nine' schools of England.

He became an Acting Pilot Officer with 218 Squadron in 1937 and was promoted to Pilot Officer on September 23 1938. He became a Flying Officer on March 23 1940, and a Flight Lieutenant on March 23 1941, and was promoted to Squadron Leader on September 1 1942.

He was listed as living at Greenwich in 1941, and in 1942 he had a crash landing while training on Spitfires at 61 Operational Training Unit.

While flying Spitfires with 130 Squadron, on February 19 1943 he is credited with damaging a Focke-Wulf FW190 single seat fighter five miles south east of Dodman Point in south Cornwall. In December 1943 he joined 193 Squadron which flew Typhoons.

No mention was made of his death in the local newspaper of the period, the Helensburgh and Gareloch Times, which in 1944 seemed to be reporting the death of a local serviceman almost every week.

It is possible, however, that the accident was not reported because it was the custom not to report events which might affect the morale of those at home.