Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.
Killed on Active Service on Friday, 6th February 1942 aged 21
Anthony Hugh Denison Roberts was born during 1920 in Wandsworth, the son of Hugh Denison Roberts and Hilda Frances Buckenham, who later married Alfred Reffell. Alfred’s first wife Isabella had died young and Tony and his sister Joan changed their surname to Reffell after his mother remarried.
Tony was educated at Eastbourne College and prior to the war was working at the Royal Veterinary College. He volunteered for the RAF at the outbreak of hostilities.
Pilot Officer AHD Reffell is shown in the Royal Air Force List 1942 with a seniority date of 1 March 1941.
On 6 February 1942, Flight Officer Spencer-Schrader, Flight Sergeant Heavisides and Pilot Officer Reffell prepared for dual night flying training in a Bristol Beaufort Mk I, registration L4499. The Bristol Beaufort was a British twin-engined torpedo bomber designed by the Bristol Aeroplane Company. Their flight took off from RAF Chivenor at 06:05 when the aircraft suffered an port engine failure in the initial climb out. This had also happened to a Beaufort from Chivenor only a couple of days before, in fact more Beauforts were lost through accidents and mechanical failures than to enemy fire.
Without the power of two engines, L4499 lost altitude and then hit the ground in front of a house called ‘Sundown‘ in Down Lane Braunton. There were no survivors in the aircraft and sadly one civilian was also killed on the ground. Miss Esther Cantor was aged 54 and had been evacuated from Ramsgate in June 1940 for her safety. Esther died from injuries sustained after the crash the following morning, in the North Devon Infirmary in Barnstaple. There was an inquest held into her death and this was reported in the North Devon Journal without any reference at all to the plane crash, only that the house had caught fire. Such selective reporting was not uncommon during the war, with the authorities being very concerned at protecting the nation’s morale.
Aged 23, Flying Officer 81647 Robert Frank Spencer-Schrader is buried nearby in the churchyard of St Augustine, Heanton Punchardon, Devon. There are one hundred and twenty six war graves here, the majority being wartime and post-war RAF, St Augustine being situated only one mile and looking down on RAF Chivenor.
Also aged 23, Flight Sergeant 802520 William Leonard Heavisides was taken back to his home town of Glasgow and buried in the Western Necropolis there. Heavisides was the son of William and Margaret Elizabeth Heavisides.
From the crash site (shown by a red cross on the photograph above) RAF Chivenor can be easily seen to the south. No sign of the crash or the house called ‘Sundown’ now exists, with new properties slowly making their way up the narrow lane.
The churchyard of St. Andrew, Wraysbury, Buckinghamshire.
“TO THE MOST PRECIOUS MEMORY OF
PILOT OFFICER A.D.H. REFFELL RAFVR
AGED 21 YEARS
WHO MADE THE SUPREME SACRIFICE
6TH FEBRUARY 1942
“UNSEEN BY ALL THE WORLD, HE WHISPERS
“I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS””
Many people have helped with information about this article. Grateful thanks go to Ross McNeill and Dave Hatherell for help with information regarding this aircraft loss, with further details taken from the RAF Chivenor Operational Record Book; National Archives reference AIR28/152.
Extra special thanks go to Brian Clarke of Braunton for his help in identifying the crash site on the ground, and to David Lindsay for the valued photograph of Tony.