RAF Mosquito DZ698
On Thursday 6 July 1944, Flight Lieutenant Ernest Robert James Blezard of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve took off from Finmere Airfield, Oxfordshire, to undertake a routine training flight not exceeding 20 miles from the airfield. Blezard instead deviated from the planned exercise and flew to Huddersfield where he carried out a series of low-level passes over the Fartown area — this was seemingly something that he had pre-arranged with his parents, as they were amongst those who watched the aircraft.
During the final pass, Blezard lost control whilst attempting an aerobatic manoeuvre — said by one witness to be a loop — and the aircraft reportedly "flipped over onto its back" before crashing to the ground in an area of relatively new residential houses to the northwest of Woodhouse Hill.
Number 51 Central Avenue was completely destroyed, killing Flora May Dorothy Leighton (aged 40) and her young son Rodney Bracken Leighton (2), whilst the adjoining property at 61 West Close was badly damaged, leading to the death of Henrietta Victoria Udell (62) from severe burns at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary.
A nearby resident, Mrs Kathleen Vickerman, reportedly "suffered minor burns".
Ernest's father gave the following account to the Yorkshire Observer:
His mother and I were both in the house when the 'plane came over. I was looking out of the bedroom window when I suddenly saw it go into a dive. His mother was looking out of the back bedroom window when she saw it burst into flames on hitting the ground. We did not for certain whether our boy was in the machine, but we had some notion that he might be.
According to the Yorkshire Post, the aircraft had live ammunition on it which exploded whilst attempts were made to recover Blezard's body.
At the inquest, eyewitness Sidney Ernest Shaw of 336 Birkby Road gave the following statement:
'...the machine did a half-roll. It flew upside down for a short distance and then turned the right way up. It did three quick complete rolls. It turned due north and came toward me in a shallow dive. It appeared to do a complete loop and dived straight on to 51 Central Avenue. There was a tremendous crash. The house and 'plane disappeared immediately. Fire broke out.
The Borough Coroner, E. W. Norris, recorded a verdict of "accidental death" for all four of the victims.
Flora Leighton was survived by her husband John F. Bracken Leighton, who had been at work, and by her 11-year-old son Warren, who had been at school.
Henrietta Udell was survived by her husband Alfred Allen Udell and daughter Mabel.
Number 61 West Close was later demolished and the site of both houses cleared. By the 1980s, a semi-detached property (61 & 63 West Close) had been built on the crash site.
Seven weeks prior to the crash, Ernest Blezard had married trolley bus conductress Kathleen Mary Grogan.
Notes and References
- "Huddersfield Air Crash" in Bradford Observer (19/Jul/1944).
- Born on 12 August 1920, Kathleen subsequently married John Joseph Devlin in 1949 and died in 2000 aged 80.