Empire Air Day, 1936

Members of the public gather round the wreckage of Bristol Bulldog K3176, on Empire Air Day, 1936.
Bryan Prosper (Sunday Pictorial?)

On 23rd May, 1936, Empire Air Day at Kenley was marred by an ‘unfortunate accident’ when Bristol Bulldog Mk.IIA (K3176) of No.17 Squadron, flown by Sgt. Brunner failed to recover from a spin and crashed into a tree near Kenley Common, injuring Alice Willis, a fifteen-year-old from Godstone Rd.

The incident was reported in the Surrey Mirror and County Post (Friday, 29th May, 1936).

“The programme of the afternoon was repeated in the evening, and it was when it had been almost completed, about half-past-six, that there was an unfortunate accident. Several machines were in the air performing aerobatics when one of them piloted by Sgt. Brunner, came out in a spin and appeared to be descending rapidly. The pilot succeeded in flattening it out when near the ground, but it suddenly made a nose dive and crashed a short distance away from the regular landing place. In its progress one of the wings just touched a girl – Alice Willis, 15, of Lindley-road, Godstone – and knocked her down. Then the machine fell and was badly damaged.

“Immediately several men of the Aerodrome staff rushed to the scene and succeeded in extricating Sergt. Brunner from the wreckage, which happily did not catch fire. He was placed in the ambulance and taken to the aerodrome hospital. Examination, however, revealed the fact that he had a wonderful escape as only one hand was slightly grazed and his back was a little strained. In the meantime, the St. John’s Ambulance of Addiscombe (Croydon), which was on duty at the station for the day, had gone to the aid of the girl Wallis, and she was attended to and first conveyed to the hospital in Croydon, but later was taken home, having been only slightly hurt.”

I suspect that the pilot may have been Geoffrey Clifford Brunner, who went on to serve with 43 Squadron during the Battle of Britain and retired from the RAF as a Group Captain in 1966.

The programme for Empire Air Day, 1936, is in our archive, here.

Many thanks to John Francis Moss and Paul McMillan who have helped to piece the details of this incident together.

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