RAF Bomber Crash at Githunguri by Ian Fox
In 1955 I was an Inspector of Police in Kenya, aged 21, in charge of a remote Police Post within the Githunguri Division.
On Saturday February 19th 1955, I was invited to lunch at the Officers Mess at Githunguri Police Station together with F/Sgt. Tommy Thomas and his crew from Eastleigh RAF Base.
Another guest I recall was a Harvard Pilot, F/Sgt Jim Moody (who I understood to be in the RRAF - Royal Rhodesian Air Force).
Lunch was fresh Lobster salad - a rare and unheard of meal in Kikuyuland! We had Sgt. Jim Moody to thank for this as on the previous day he had flown his Harvard to Mombasa and pur-chased several live Lobsters which he brought back to Eastleigh in a bucket of sea water be-tween his legs. The Police Mess cook had never seen a Lobster before and had to be guided on its preparation!
After lunch some of us started playing Canasta. This was later disrupted by the sound of 4 or 5 Lincoln Bombers flying overhead en-route to a mission in the Aberdare Forest. They revved their engines as they flew over. Some time later, about 3.30 pm, the aircraft returned one by one at low altitude, again revving their engines in salute.
The last aircraft was SX984 which made a low level pass over the station. We all went outside and some of us, including myself, climbed up onto an elevated defence point adjacent to the Mess. This was a timber platform with sandbags alongside the perimeter barbed wire fence. The Lincoln had now turned and made a second "beat-up" run. This time the Pilot, who the RAF per-sonnel said was F/O. Hunt, must have seen where we were gathered and he banked sharply to port, leveled off and flew directly towards us.
At the start of this last fatal run the aircraft had to increase altitude slightly to clear some wattle trees and it then reduced altitude slightly - but too much. We all had to throw ourselves flat on the platform. I felt sure that if any of us had remained standing we could have been hit by one of the props. Just seconds before reaching the fence the Pilot applied full throttle in an attempt to clear the rondavels behind us. The noise was deafening.
The aircraft was banking to the right and I saw the starboard tail fin clip the stone chimney of the Mess. The Lincoln was gaining altitude but shedding bits of body as it rose. It leveled off for a few seconds and then went into a nose dive into the ground with a huge explosion.
We immediately went to the site of the crash and we split up to search around the inferno for any possible survivors. At the time I could not believe that anyone could have survived. There were occasional explosions and all the time tracer shells were firing off in all directions. After encir-cling the site we all ended up badly shaken, out of breath and squatted behind a bank on the roadside. Suddenly there was a shout and the Sgt.Major from the Police Station and others ar-rived carrying the Rear Gunner who had been found some distance from the crash. His flying suit had been on fire and he had severe burns to his entire body. The rescuers had presumably doused his burning clothing by rolling him over and I was told that the Sgt. Major had cut off his flying suit.
The other RAF personnel referred to the casualty as "Ginger", who I now know to be Sergeant Stanley Bartlett. A stretcher was brought from the Station and he was placed on this and then across the back of a short wheelbase Police Land Rover. He was still conscious. A radio message was sent to Kiambu Divisional Headquarters requesting the urgent dispatch of an Ambulance and the Land Rover set off to meet the Ambulance.
These are my recollections of that awful day 55 years ago. I remember feeling very angry at the stupidity and recklessness of the Pilot and sadness for all those who had died as a result.
Ian Fox 30th May 2010.
Ian Fox (left) and Richard Bartlett-May in 2010