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901 Squadron - The First Seven Months of Hell

          901 Squadron was formed on 19th May 1938.

         The earliest casualties were four airmen who were bitten by mosquitoes at balloon sites on marshy ground, these minor wounds were nothing compared to what the crews would experience.

 901 Squadron was based at Abbey Wood in the early days of the war and saw considerable enemy activity.

         On the 31st August 1940 a Messerschmitt fighter came down with one wing falling near site 1/42 of "E" Flight 901 Squadron.

 At 5.51pm on Saturday 31st August 1940, thirteen Spitfire’s of No.603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron took off from Hornchurch, on a patrol. Over London they met Messerschmitt Bf 109E’s of

 Jagdgeschwader 3. Spitfire, Serial No.X4273 either collided with or may have been shot down by Leutnant Walter Binder, of 1 Staffel Jagdgeschwader 3. The pilot, Flying Officer Robin McGregor

 Waterston, and his Spitfire crashed at Repository Road, near the Royal Artillery Barracks, on Woolwich Common, at 6.30pm.

         There are several civilian eye-witness accounts to the crashes of Flying Officer Robin Waterston and Lt. Walter Binder. 13 year old Ray Callow rememberd seeing a Messerschmitt Bf 109E,

 one wing missing, falling through the sky. Next was a Spitfire, heading for Woolwich Common. The Spitfire did not make it and landed near site 1/39 of "E" Flight 901 Squadron. It hit Repository

 Road, and exploded. 90197 Flying Officer Robin Mcgregor Waterston, 603 Squadron, was only 23 years old and was the son of James Sime Waterston and Mabel Waterston, of Edinburgh. Flying

 Officer Robin Waterston was cremated at Warriston Crematorium, Edinburgh and commemorated there on Panel 4.

         Leutnant Walter Binder’s Messerschmitt Bf 109E-4, Werke No.1503, crashed between the gardens of houses at Anne Street and Robert Street, Plumstead. It may have collided with F/O Robin

 Waterston, in X4273, or due to gunfire from Sergeant Jack Stokoe. Lt. Walter Binder of 1 Staffel Jagdgeschwader 3 was killed. He was identified from papers found on his body.

         Ray Callow’s sister, Melve, had seen the Messerschmitt crash as well. She found the wreckage of the Messerschmitt in the back garden of a terrace house.

         On 4th September 1940 the remains of Lieutenant Walter Binder were interred at Woolwich Cemetery. His coffin was placed in the Chapel overnight. The funeral party assembled at site 1/4

 "A" Flight marched to the Cemetery headed by Squadron Leader W. C. Titheradge. At the Chapel the Rev. F.J. MacConnell C.F., met the funeral party. The coffin had a German Ensign covering it

and was brought on a winch with and a wreath from 901 Squadron.

After the service had taken place a volley was fired by the firing party. (01 had a Bugler who sounded the Last Post and Reveille.

Six officers from 901 Squadron acted as Bearers with Squadron Leader W. C. Titheradge acting as Chief Mourner. Around 10 people attended the service and burial. Some local people were angry

 at the provision of such a service for a German airman. However, the military knew that for Leutnant Walter Binder his war was over and that this was important to do as it was what they would

 expect if a British serviceman was to be buried in enemy territory.

         On 17th September 1940 several balloons were lost in strong winds and just before midnight three bombs landed on site 1/31. This set the balloon on fire as well as a M.P. trailer. The A.R.P

 and Auxiliary Fire Service arrived and found that 840231 Leading Aircraftman Albert Edward Ward had been killed by the blast and was in a collapsed dugout along with 353355 Leading

 Aircraftman Lewis who was seriously injured. Leading Aircraftman Albert Edward Ward was aged 42 and the son of Thomas and Mary Alice Ward, of Woolwich and husband of Edith Ward, of


         975897 Aircraftman 1 Richards was also injured while sleeping in a nearby hut. 840411 Aircraftman 2 Drakard and 840463 W.E. Davies was suffering with shock. These were taken to

 hospital. The bomb blast had blown out most of the south-east windows of Federation Hall, the Squadron Headquarters as well as the slates from the roof of the Duty officer's room. On 16th

 October 1940 at 00.45 840423 Leading Aircraftman John James Holland was killed when a bomb fell alongside a hut on site 1/20. In addition, 820210 Aircraftman 1 Peach had severe leg injuries

 and was taken to hospital. Leading Aircraftman John James Holland was 34 years old and the son of Thomas William and Alice Maud Holland, of Greenwich and husband of Lily Emily Holland, of


         On the 19th October 1940 at 13.45 hours a German Messerschmitt was shot down at Wickham Street some one and a half miles from the Squadron Headquarters.

         The aircraft was Bf109E-4 (2780) that exploded under attack by P/O Draper of No.74 Sqdn. & fell apart over Welling at 1.45 pm on Sunday 20 October 1940. The pilot 65167/6 Oberfw Albert

 Friedemann of 6./JG52 died and was originally buried in Service Grave E492 in Bexleyheath Cemetery on 29 October before re-interment in Cannock Chase. On 25th October 640700 Aircraftman

1st Class John William Colley had gone on leave for 7 days and was killed in a air raid near his billet. He was the son of James and Else Colley, of Montreal, Province of Quebec, Canada. He was only

20 years of age.

         On 28th October 1940 much excitement was had when a German barrage balloon was found with around 3,000 feet of cable wrapped around a lamp post in Herbert Road, Woolwich!

         The balloon was examined by Wing Commander J. S. Wheelwright D.S.C., it had a very novel wind driven fan to inflate the stabilisers.

On 30th October 1940 this German balloon was inflated and flown to 3,000 feet goodness knows what they locals made of it! It caused mayhem when it went out of control and was within 20 feet

of splashing into the Thames. The cable began damaging telegraph pole insulators and was cut from its cable at the central anchorage. It was later recovered by 910 Squadron and sent to

Cardington for further evaluation.

         On 23rd December 1940 at 17.25 hours the Duty Cook 901395 Aircraftman 1st Class John Henry Stubbington was in collision with a light van near the London County Council Tram Depot

 Abbey Wood Road and was taken to the Royal Herbert Hospital, S.E.18, where he died from his injuries. He was just another victim of the blackout. He was aged 37 years old and was the son of

 George Edward and Agnes Mary Stubbington and husband of Jessie Maud Stubbington, of Hornsey, Middlesex. This cast quite a gloom over the pre-Christmas festivities. An inquest was held into his

 death on 27th December 1940 when his sister and wife were present. The inquest gave a verdict of accidental death. He was buried at Greenwich cemetery on 30th December 1940 with the

 Royal Artillery Depot Woolwich supplying a band and an escort party with 901 Squadron providing bearers.

         The New year was just as problematic and on 12th January 1941 an ammunition Magazine near site 1/22 was said to be on fire following a raid. A balloon nearby was flown at 1000 feet in an

 effort to move it out of the potential danger zone. Later that night Bostall Lane School was ablaze, and this meant that Squadron stores kept on the top floor of the school were in peril.

 Unfortunately, the stores were lost as the fire could not be controlled. At 20.30 hours explosive injuries injured 840011 Temporary Sergeant Ballentyne, 840390 Temporary Corporal R. K.

 Lawrence and 840559 Leading Aircraftman E.T. Rose. Some 5 minutes later a bomb fell on site hut 1/12. This caused the death of 1251995 Aircraftman 2nd Class Alfred Arthur Flint, age 33, he

 was the son of Arthur Clayton Flint and Minnie Eliza Flint, of Hunstanton and the death of 840452 Aircraftman 2nd Class Guillermo Ashmore.

         The raiding calmed down somewhat but on 10th March 1941 a bomb fell on site 1/21. 54226 Aircraftman 1st Class Donkin, 641684 Leading Aircraftman George, 642691 Aircraftman 1st Class

Kenyon, 642700 Aircraftman 1st Class Bennett and 1156515 Leading Aircraftman Cole were all injured and hospitalised. Their injuries were thankfully not serious.  Despite coming under

 considerable attack and having to suffer a number of comrades lost much worse was to come for the men of 901 Squadron when they were moved to the east of England to defend against the V1

 Flying Bombs. Like all balloon crews these men did their utmost to defend our skies in Abbey Wood during those first few months of the war.

It must have been a very frightening and sobering experience indeed.





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