British pilots who died in New Gloucester crash to be memorialized

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NEW GLOUCESTER — The New Gloucester Veterans Memorial will contain the names of two British pilots who perished in a farm field here during training maneuvers in 1943, the local Historical Society announced.

According to the society’s research, Lt. Commander Alfred Jack Sewell was flying a Corsair I JT290 and Sub-Lt. David James Falshaw Watson was flying a Corsair II JT198 when their planes collided over a field at the former Everett Stinchfield Blake farm at 501 Penney Road.

Blake had moved into the farmhouse in 1933 at the age of 13 to help his aging grandparents Oscar and Clara Stinchfield run the family farm. Blake continued to live there until he passed away in December 2011 at the age of 91.

While his son, Phil, and grandson, Tom, were cleaning out the farmhouse, they discovered several dusty pieces of old electronics tucked away in a drawer in the dining room. They presented them to the Historical Society, of which they are members.

Oscar Stinchfield was known to have operated a ham radio in the early 1900s, but the dusty broken pieces seemed out of place, Phil said. He recognized a piece of aluminum with military paint. A closer look at the other pieces, particularly a Navy transmitter control box and a metal label from a Chance Vought Aircraft JT-190 manufactured in July 20, 1943, showed clear military connections.

For months the two men and society archivist Linda Gard researched the items, eventually linking them to the British pilots after Phil Blake remembered a story his father told him about a plane crash over the meadow behind the farm in the early 1940s.

He said the story was of two British pilots practicing training maneuvers over the Intervale area, when apparently one plane came up under the other, causing the crash and resulting in the death of both pilots, he said.

The Brunswick Naval Air Station was first commissioned on April 15, 1943, to assemble and train Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm pilots to fly squadrons of the Chance Vought F4U Corsair. Fleet Air Arm is the branch of the British Royal Navy responsible for the operation of naval aircraft.

Sewell is listed as one of the greatest aces of the Fleet Air Arm and was the commanding officer of the flying delegation. Watson was a former cricket player at Oxford University.

The Lewiston Daily Sun reported on Oct. 4, 1943, from Brunswick that: “The two planes were on a routine training flight. The accident occurred at 9:50 a.m. and the planes crashed not more than 100 feet apart into a swamp near the Pownal State School. One of the fliers was killed instantly, while the other, according to residents of the section, attempted a parachute jump from the plane. He died later of injuries.

“One of the planes broke into flames when hit. Debris from the other plane was spread at least over 200 acres of land, according to Thomas B. Fogg of New Gloucester, near whose farm the accident occurred.”

Military personnel found the wreckage and bodies, Phil Blake recalled his father telling him. Everett’s Blake’s wife, Barbara, and her mother searched the meadow to assure one of the bodies was returned intact, he said.

Sewell and Watson were buried side by side with full military honors on Oct. 7, 1943, at the Portsmouth Naval Cemetery in New Hampshire.

Their names will be inscribed with those of 950 New Gloucester residents who have served in the U.S. military since the Revolutionary War.

The New Gloucester Veterans Monument Committee, which is comprised of members of AMVET Post 6 and the New Gloucester Historical Society, is gathering names for the monument.

So far, $28,000 has been raised toward the $75,000 cost of the military veterans’ monument to be erected in Upper Gloucester. Donations may be made to the New Gloucester Historical Society, New Gloucester Veterans Monument, P.O. Box 531, New Gloucester, ME 04260

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