Lest We Forget
Can anyone help!
Looking for the families of
In late 2004 or early 2005 the Royal British Legion (West Smethwick Branch) is to hold a commemorative service in West Smethwick Park the park to remind people in the area of a tragic accident and the outstanding bravery of the two pilots Flt Sgt Cox and Flt Sgt G Preston on the 31st July 1944. It is hoped that members of the pilot’s families can be located and attend the service.
It was shortly before 11 am on Monday 31st July 1944 when the plane was first noticed flying over the town at a very low altitude, and apparently with engine trouble. Housewives in the West Smethwick area, attracted by the unusual loud engine roar, stood in their gardens as the plane circled overhead, at first believing the airmen were "stunting" but it was not so: in a desperate attempt to avoid buildings the plane gained some little height and circled over the park. The only strip of land where a landing might be possible was occupied by children and so the plane missing the houses on the Victoria side of the park, turned and swooped over the park lake on which there were several rowing boats. A man fishing from the bank saw the machine again rise to clear the trees at the edge of the lake and then stall and crash with an ear splitting roar through the hedge surrounding the old tennis court. Immediately the flames rose to a great height from the petrol soaked wreckage and it was obvious from that moment that nothing could be done to rescue the occupants, even if they were still alive. Four NFS pumps were quickly at the scene under the direction of Divisional Officer J.R. Cartmell, made strenuous efforts to quell the flames but without avail, the plane being totally burnt out. Ambulance and Police worked heroically to extricate the airmen, whose bodies when they were eventually taken from the wreckage were almost unrecognisable.
The way in which the flyers died revealed a considerable degree of heroism. There was unmistakable evidence that the two airmen sacrificed their lives in order to save civilians and property. The occupants of the plane which was in distress were confronted with two alternatives, either of which, if adopted might have saved their lives. They could have baled out, leaving the doomed machine to crash on houses with possible serious loss of life, or they could have attempted landing on the wide grassland near to the scene of the crash, at the risk of killing or injuring children playing there. They did neither. Choosing possibly the only spot in the park where there was no danger either to lives or property, they brought the plane crashing down on a disused tennis court, where it immediately burst into flames. Their gallant attempt had succeeded, neither civilian nor property were harmed.
Both pilots had in excess of 1000 hours flying experience.
Flt Sgt. Cox died within a few yards of his home. His mother, from her kitchen window saw the plane circling the park and watched the fatal dive, not knowing the identity of the occupants. Her husband, who visited the park in the evening to inspect the wreckage, only then made the tragic discovery that one of the victims was his own son.
Allan Cox (22) was a native of Luton but came to Smethwick at an early age. He was educated at Smethwick Hall Schools and afterwards was employed by William Mills Ltd as a Pattern Maker. Gordon Preston (22) was from Pinner Middlesex.