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Memories of an Air Disaster

September brought to a close another successful season of Guided Tours of St. Lawrence's church. We welcomed 87 people, many of whom then went out into the grounds following the tours to enjoy tea and cakes which were being served by St. Mary's volunteers.

I always look forward to chatting with our visitors after a tour. From time to time I hear new stories about the Ancient Church and this year was no exception. Following the tour a gentleman kindly gave me a copy of a newspaper cutting dated 13th December 1935. The headline read "A Terrible Air Disaster" and the report was about a crash of a Belgian aircraft on Tuesday 10th December 1935 which happened on the Tatsfield / Caterham boundary. Sadly, all seven passengers and four crew members were killed. The plane was on its way to Croydon airport from Brussels.

It appears that a combination of strong winds, driving rain and bad visibility was the cause of the crash but in spite of these terrible conditions several local people rushed to the scene.

Thankfully the plane did not catch fire so the rescuers were able to pull some of the bodies from the wreckage. It took the emergency services eight hours to recover the remaining bodies. The report continues:

As the bodies were found they were laid on improvised biers of brushwood. They were then transferred to stretchers for the quarter-mile trek over sodden ground to the lorries which were waiting to convey them to the mortuary building at Caterham, which is small, and therefore the police obtained the permission of the Rev. A. St. John Heard (Rector) to place the bodies in the ancient church of St. Lawrence at Caterham-on-the-Hill."

When the bodies had been identified by relatives and friends it was found that two of the passengers were British subjects, Sir John Valentine Carden M.B.E. and Mr G.V.Somny.

On the Thursday afternoon, 12th December, "Simple and impressive services were conducted over the bodies by the Rev. Father Walter Cooksey (Priest-in-charge of the Church of the Sacred Heart, Caterham), for the Roman Catholics; the Rector of St Mary's (the Rev. A. St. John Heard), and Canon J.C. Morris (Vicar of St. John's, Caterham), for the Church of England. Father Cooksey conducted the first portion of the Requiem, over the Belgians, and the Church of England service was over the English and a German victim. The only other persons present were four representatives of the Belgian Air Service, of London.

It was undoubtedly the most singular scene ever witnessed in the ancient church, which was originally founded in the sixth (sic) century, and has been restored and practically re-built once or twice since that time. The whole proceedings lasted only about half an hour.

This (Friday) morning the bodies were removed to London, whence those for the Continent will be conveyed by rail and sea. The others will be interred in England.

I am indebted to Mr. Malcolm Bowey for bringing the above sad report to my attention.

Elaine Williams

Hon. Sec.

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