Supplementary information

The flight of three planes were based at RAF Sawbridgeworth which had been established as Mathams Wood Advanced Landing Ground in 1937. Situated to the west of the town of Sawbridgeworth it was renamed RAF Sawbridgeworth in 1940, it became home to 2 (AC) squadron. As an (AC) army cooperation squadron it was equipped with Lysander and Tomahawk aircraft. About mid 1942 Mustang P51 mark one aircraft began to arrive and the squadron embarked on a period of training on the new arrivals. This was to last until the 17th November when the squadron was declared operational on the new aircraft.

These early Mustangs were not the same as the type of aircraft normally thought of today as the Mustang. These early models had small panelled  hood type canopies which gave limited vision for the pilots, so much so that many had modifications made at airfields to improve visibility. Later Merlin engined models which fulfilled the planes well known bomber escort roles were considerably different in appearance and most notably had a plexiglass teardrop canopy giving excellent all round visibility for the pilot. The Mk 1 variants were manufactured by the North American Aviation Corporation of Inglewood California to a British specification. The Mark ones were fitted with the Allison V-1710 engine with a simple single stage supercharger. This limited their performance over 15,000 feet and were consequently not considered suitable for general fighter duties. However below 15,000 feet performance was exceptional, being about 30 mph faster than the most advanced Spitfires in squadron service at the time. The Mk1’s were therefore deployed by the RAF to reconnaissance and fighter bomber roles.  

It is this type of early variant that were seen by villagers as they flew over Stanstead Abbotts in worsening weather and lowering cloud base on November 29th 1942. Shortly afterwards AG605 piloted by Pilot Officer Derek Bell Williams hit the trees at the edge of Easneye Wood. The severity of the crash was instantly fatal for the pilot and the plane itself was highly fragmented and scattered into the woodland. At the court of inquiry which took place two days after the crash the main cause was attributed to the failure of the wireless sets on the planes. This prevented the use of radio signal homing, which would have got them back to base safely.

The pilot’s body, once brought down from the top of the trees by firemen from Ware, was sent back to his home town of Birkenhead. Derek Bell had attended Birkenhead School and was one of five children born to a local solicitor and councillor. At school he excelled at sport and when war broke out he was studying for a career in business. On joining the RAF he was notable for his consistently high exam results on the officer cadet course. Once commissioned he joined 2 (AC) squadron and proved to be a good pilot. Having declined a safer roll as a trainer in order to stay operational with the squadron, he lost his life at the edge of Easneye Woods at 26 years of age. He was buried in Landicon Cemetery close to Birkenhead on November 2nd with several colleagues from his squadron in attendance.

Derek Bell is remembered on the memorial erected near Shingle Hall Sawbridgeworth to those who lost their lives when serving at the RAF station.

Leslie Miller stands by the crash site in 1990

Further information about the memorial and RAF Sawbridgeworth is available from the

Hertfordshire Airfield Memorial Group website

Stuart Moye July 2014