At 12.55pm, on 4th September, 1941, G-AAVB, a de Havilland DH80a Puss Moth attempted to land in a crosswind at Kenley after making the short hop from Gatwick. It swung on landing and was damaged beyond economical repair, although the pilot escaped unhurt.
It had been impressed into military service as DR755 and delivered to 26 Squadron at Gatwick on 12th May, 1941, but still carried it’s civil markings on the day it crashed at Kenley.
Prior to that, this little aircraft had an interesting history….
It was first registered on 30th June, 1930, as G-AAVB, with the De Havilland aircraft company as a floatplane (the floats were made by Short Brothers).
It was operated by William Forbes-Sempill, known as “Master of Sempill”, who had flown with the Royal Flying Corps, RAF and Royal Naval Air Service during WW1.
(By the mid-twenties he was already giving military secrets to the Japanese and was eventually forced to retire from the Royal Navy when he was caught giving military intelligence to the Japanese in 1941, shortly before they declared war in the Pacific!)
On 4 September 1930, he set a new record by flying G-AAVB 1,040 miles non-stop from the Welsh Harp (Brent) reservoir in London to Stockholm, Sweden in 12 hours. He flew on across the Baltic to Tallinn, Estonia on the 10th September and then to Finland the following day, finally returning to Aberdeen, via Norway on the 22nd and finishing off with a tour of the British coast.
In 1931, G-AAVB was sold on, transferred to Egypt and converted into a landplane, before being bought by Brigadier General Arthur Corrie Lewin, DSO, a distinguished Irish veteran of the Great War, who only discovered his passion for flying at the age of 57, and proved to be astonishingly good at it, flying solo from England to Kenya not long after he learnt to fly. He was 63 years old when he competed in his first King’s Cup Air Race and came second!
In December 1933, G-AAVB was re-registered to Major Henry A. Petre, who had been commissioned into the Australian Military Forces as a Lieutenant on 6th August 1912, making him Australia’s very first military pilot!
Petre retired from the RAF in 1919, but continued to have a keen interest in flying. He broke the British Gliding Duration Record in 1931, with a time of almost three-and-a-half hours and was still a gliding instructor with the ATC in the late 1940’s!
As far as I can ascertain, G-AAVB was still registered to Petre prior to being impressed into military service in 1941…