Coulsdon's Forgotten Tragedy

109 Squadron. Flying Officer Ernest Walter Garrett DFC is fourth from left and inset. (Photo: Andy Long, from the collection of Ron Curtis DFC, who is eighth from left, back row).
Andy Long

On the night of 2/3rd June in 1944, a terrible tragedy befell a Coulsdon family:

“CRASHED IN FLAMES ON HOUSES.”

“A NIGHT fighter crashed in flames early this morning at the corner of Ridgemount-avenue and Woodlands-grove, Coulsdon, Surrey, and severely damaged a number of houses. Mr. and Mrs. Roote and their 18-months-old baby boy, who were asleep, were injured and taken to Purley Hospital, where the baby died. The aircraft hit the front garden of a house in Ridgemount-avenue and was smashed to pieces. A hole was made by the aircraft about 20 feet across and 10 feet deep.”

“ROAR AND EXPLOSION.”

“The blazing petrol tank came adrift and fell through the roof of a house in Woodlands-grove, but the N.F.S. extinguished the flames before they spread to other houses. The crew of the aircraft, two Canadians, baled out safely.”

(From the Derby Daily Telegraph – Saturday 03 June 1944)

The ill fated “night fighter” was, in fact, a 109 Squadron Mosquito Mk XVI (ML962).

This  was a Pathfinder unit that used a blind bombing system called “Oboe” to mark targets for heavy bombers. The crew were Flight Lieutenant(61006) Arthur Charles CARTER, DFC (pilot) RAFVR, and Flying Officer (J/16299) Ernest Walter GARRETT, DFC (obs) RCAF.

They had taken off at 23.28pm on the 2nd June, 1944, from Little Staughton, but were hit by flak over Leverkusen, which damaged the controls and the port engine. They limped home and managed to reach the English coast but were forced to abandon their aircraft at around 2.50am over Caterham. Carter and Garrett bailed out successfully and both appear to have survived the War.

The occupants of the houses hit by the stricken Mosquito weren’t so lucky.
Mr. and Mrs. L. W. Roote, of 35 Warwick Rd, Coulsdon, were badly burned and rushed to Purley Hospital with their 12 month old son, Alan, who died later of his injuries. Four other children in the house escaped unharmed, though it is unclear if they were also members of the same family. It is also unclear why the Roote family weren’t at their own home at 35 Warwick Rd.

Alan Roote’s short life is commemorated on the Civilian War Dead Roll of Honour, located near St. George’s Chapel in Westminster. It is likely that his remains were interred in the mass grave at Mitcham Rd cemetery.

Rest in Peace, baby Alan. 

Sources:
Many thanks to Andy Long, Peter Allam and Kev Barnes.

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