John's real-time WW1 blog: Large crowd witnesses aeroplane crash in Harborough’s back yard

John Dilley
John Dilley

September 4, 1917...

An incongruous headline shouts out from the back page of the September 4, 1917, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser: Aviator seriously injured at Kettering.

The headline from 1917

The headline from 1917

The headline is bizarre because the Advertiser does not generally include stories about Kettering and why on earth is a pilot getting injured so far from the battle front?

It turns out Flight Lieutenant Sidney Preston was flying back to his depot at Rugby when he was forced to land ‘in a field near Kettering Furnaces’.

Having the chance to see such a war machine – and one so unusual – so close to home brought out a large crowd who watched as he fixed the plane and then tried to take off again.

The report says: “Just as his machine was rising it was, according to witnesses, driven by a gust of wind near a large tree, one of the side wings catching in the branches. The aeroplane turned a somersault and was quickly reduced to a complete wreck.”

The three servicemen killed in action

The three servicemen killed in action

The officer was ‘extricated with difficulty’ and two doctors were quickly on the scene and they discovered the airman was suffering from a broken left leg, broken finger, injuries to the head and internal injuries.

The report says: “Half of the broken propeller was used as splints for the facture and Preston was taken to the General Hospital where he is progressing satisfactorily.”

His injury, of course, is just one of many in this terrible conflict, and in another story on the same page ‘some startling figures’ put the human cost of the war into perspective.

Sourcing the facts from the Manchester Guardian, the Advertiser says that the number of men wounded in the war – from all sides – is a staggering TWENTY THREE MILLION with around half of them permanently disabled.

The numbers get worse: the story estimates that NINE MILLION SEVEN HUNDRED AND FIFTY THOUSAND men have been killed and the cost – so far – is more than £21 TRILLION.

It is hard to make sense of numbers like that but the real cost is brought home on page three of the Advertiser with photographs of three young local men who have died in battle.

Pictured under the large headline HARBORIANS KILLED IN ACTION are First Class Stoker F Fellowes of Granville Street, Harborough, Private Tom Madelin of Springfield Street, and Second-Lieutenant F Borrow, son of the town Postmaster.

Last week’s Advertiser carried news of the deaths of Fellowes and Borrow with these photographs no doubt supplied by the family to be published in this edition. Madelin’s parents have provided a photograph this week to go with news about their son who was killed in action.

Madelin, 25, who had been a goods clerk at the town station, had twice been wounded.

A letter to his parents said: “Your son was quite cheerful to the last. All the officers, NCOs and the men of his company will deeply feel the loss of such a gallant man.”

There is also news of Private T Roberts of Bath Street, who ‘was killed instantaneously by a shell’. Roberts was 20 and before the war he was learning the 'butchering business' at Tugby.