Air crash that averted disaster and inspired romance in Horndean commemorated as memorial unveiled
After years of fundraising, a memorial has been unveiled in time to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the two decorated airmen’s sacrifice.
In the early hours of February 4, 1945, pilot Edward Wicky, aged 22, and navigator Oswald ‘Billy’ Mountford, aged 21, were flying back to RAF Thorney Island after shooting down a V2 rocket over Germany when their plane ran into trouble.
Their de Havilland Mosquito had been damaged in the sortie and was losing fuel, causing the pair to take emergency action to ditch the wooden plane.
The airman were able to steer their stricken aircraft away from the centre of Horndean, bailing from the plane before it crashed into the parish village hall.
But the duo, school friends from Cremorne, New South Wales, bailed without enough time for their parachutes to fully open.
Flight Sergeant Wicky and ‘Billy’ Mountford were killed one week after receiving the distinguished flying cross – and now a memorial, in Five Heads Road, at the site of the crash, has been unveiled to honour their sacrifice.
More than 200 residents, as well as past and present members of the armed forces, attended the unveiling of the £25,000 memorial, which took more than a decade of fundraising thanks to the resident’s group Horndean Children of the 1940s.
Eddie Harmer, who is chairman of the history preservation group, said he remembered seeing the aftermath of the disaster.
The 84-year old said: ‘I remember seeing the parachutes in trees.
People thought it was a German aircraft at the time.
‘We didn’t even know who they were until after the war.’
But preserving ‘one of the most important parts of the village’s history’ had not been easy since the idea was raised in 2006, according to Eddie.
He said: ‘We wanted the memorial in the village square, but the council wouldn’t let us – they said we could only have a blue plaque. We said that wasn’t good enough.’
‘The council were not particularly helpful help to begin with, but when they saw we were serious they became more helpful.
‘The memorial has been a long time coming – but completely worth it.’
Airman Billy made a lasting impression on Douglas Rolfe, who was 10 years old when the airman was billeted with his family – and would go on to marry Billy’s younger sister, Patricia, after visiting the family in the 1960s.
Their daughter, Jan Aird, attended the ceremony and said her father had been ‘in awe’ of the Australian serviceman.
She said: ‘I grew up with stories of Uncle Billy.
‘He was never far from our thoughts – he was very close to my mother.’
‘He will never be forgotten.’
The memorial, which has the Union Jack and the Australian national flag flying beside it, will be maintained by East Hampshire District Council.