Tribute to pilot who saved Gravesend town centre
PUBLISHED: 12:51 04 November 2010
A simple memorial marks the spot where a brave young pilot died 70 years ago as he crashed after navigating his damaged plane away from the town centre during World War II.
Graham Martin, 89, of Rochester Road, Gravesend, has placed the tribute to Flight Sergeant Eric Williams, aged just 28 when he was killed, at the site near Gravesend marina, off Canal Road, where he witnessed the brave pilot crash his Hurricane as he piloted a Spitfire alongside.
Since Mr Martin and his wife Elaine moved back to the borough from Southsea in 1956, they have marked the fatal crash spot every year.
He said: “This small remembrance is all about Eric Williams. He could have bailed out, but he tried to make Gravesend Aerodrome. He could have crashed into a school or hospital.
“He was so brave – Gravesend owes him. That day Flight Sergeant Eric Edward Williams saved the town from a potential horrible disaster which would have resulted in many being killed.”
For the last 54 years a rose has been placed on railings near the spot where Mr Williams died on October 15, 1940. And a fuller wreath has now been placed there in preparation for Armistice Day next Thursday.
Flgt Sergeant Williams could have bailed out when his Hurricane got into trouble at 12,000 ft above Rosherville in a dog-fight – but he chose to head towards the aerodrome.
As the young pilot reached Windmill Hill, he probably realised he was not going to make it to the aerodrome, so he headed towards the river as he desperately wrestled with his controls.
His aircraft nosed dived into the ground near the marina in an old timber company yard and has since remained there, some 23 feet down.
There is a plaque to Mr Williams in nearby Gordon Gardens, but Mr Martin, who flew out of Hornchurch on that eventful day, would like to see a plaque nearer the exact crash spot.
In July 2007 excavations were made to find his plane but it is thought pilot and aircraft are about 23 ft below the surface and unrecoverable.
An annual remembrance service is due to be held at the Northfleet War Memorial on Sunday, November 14, at 10.55am after a service at nearby St Botolph’s Church starting at 9.30am.
There will also be a laying of wreaths at Rosherville Memorial at 11am after a service at nearby St Mark’s Church at 10am.