Lieutenant John D. Ellis

Plane crash in Cheshunt

By Nicholas Blatchley

Liberator bomber memorial
From the B-24 website - see link in text

A Wartime Crash

On the 12th August 1944, a US Air Force B24 Liberator bomber crashed on farmland near Cheshunt, killing all ten airmen on board, an incident commemorated in the name of a nearby road, Lieutenant Ellis Way.

The plane, commanded by 2/Lieutenant John D. Ellis, was based at Wending, Norfolk, and was part of 577th Squadron, 392nd Bomb Group, scheduled to carry out a bombing raid against Juvicort Airfield in France. Ellis’s plane was one a six forced to turn back, due to adverse weather.

Beliefs about the Crash

Like most facts of this case, what happened to the B24 is subject to debate.  It was widely believed to have suffered a mid-air collision with a B17 Fortress of 398th Bomb Group based at Nuthampstead, Herts, which crashed at Loudwater, near High Wycombe.  This, however, has been disputed by some investigators.

For whatever reason, the bomber suffered catastrophic damage, probably with the loss of all four engines.  It emerged from the low cloud-cover near Cheshunt and crashed into a field belonging to Maxwells Farm.  The plane caught fire and exploded, killing all ten crewmen.

In the days that followed, it was widely believed that Lieutenant Ellis and his crew had deliberately steered their plane away from the built-up areas of Cheshunt and Waltham Cross, sacrificing their chance to bale out in order to safeguard the civilian population.  This too has been disputed by some experts, who believe that Ellis could not have been in control of the B24 at that stage, but the belief became too rooted in Cheshunt to be shaken, and the truth will probably never be known.

The Aftermath

Whatever the circumstances, the crash resulted in no civilian fatalities, although a girl was hit by debris and spent several days in a coma. The Cheshunt Fire Brigade attended the crash and, since they had travelled a mile to reach the site before the plane exploded, there must have been a considerable gap between the crash and the explosion.

A collection was made in Cheshunt and Waltham Cross, partly for the dead airmen’s families and partly to create two memorials, one of which (pictured) hangs in Cheshunt Library, the other in the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial in Madingley, Cambridgeshire.


On the 50th anniversary of VE Day, 1995, the nearby Flamstead End Relief Road was renamed Lieutenant Ellis Way, in honour of the men who died that day, and a memorial at the site is planned.

The following men died in the crash:

Pilot           2nd Lt  Ellis, John D.
Co-Pilot        F/O     Stalsby, Samuel C.
Navigator       2nd Lt  Cox, Robert B.
Engineer        T/Sgt   Jankowski, Stanley F.
Radio Operator  T/Sgt   Holling, John H.
Gunner          S/Sgt   Hultengren, Clare W.
Gunner          S/Sgt   Minick, Frank Jr.
Gunner          S/Sgt   Cable, Jay V.
Gunner          S/Sgt   Shaeffer, Jack D.
Gunner          S/Sgt   McGinley, William C.

See also:

This page was added on 31/08/2010.

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  • I am a resident of Cheshunt and my grandmother saw the plane crash that morning. If any relatives of the dead airman would like to get in touch I have a pair of goggles from one of the crew, my friend found them a few hundred yards from the crash site and I believe they belong with the families. Please email me

    By Neil (01/10/2023)
  • Many thanks for the information. I did say no fatalities, rather than no casualties, and mentioned this girl, but I hadn’t realised her injuries were so long term.

    By Nicholas Blatchley (08/01/2020)
  • Unfortunately the belief that there were no casualties from this Liberator crash is not true. A young girl and her family living along that road close by Maxwells farm came out to see what the awful noise was that a plane was making. Her father said don’t watch there maybe men aboard so come indoors. The girl hoiwever stayed watching at her gate and unexpectedly it came down in front of her. She was blown right up the path into a brick wall and received dreadful injuries.
    Her skull was like a jigsaw and she received massive internal injuries. The rest of her life was full of operations and although she did not die until her nineties said to my sister that she had not been free of pain one day in her life.

    By magaret downie (05/01/2020)
  • No, my earliest family connection to the area was 1950.

    I remember the manager of Dickens being Brian. If I remember rightly, he bought the business later and simply called it Brian, as that was how everyone knew him.

    By Nicholas Blatchley (10/08/2016)
  • Hello Nicholas.

    That was a Mrs Dickens, who bought the business after Grandfather died. She lived in a bungalow, along Blind Man’s Lane.

    She also retained my cousin, who worked for my grandad, and he managed the shop for her. His name was Brian Saggers. My dad had a brother, Fred, a local window cleaner, and Brian was his son.

    Nicholas – Do you have any family that were living in the area around this time? I have other stories that I’d like to share, particularly about when a V2 rocket hit the Brush Factory in Waltham Cross.

    I worked opposite in North Met Electric company and I’m in a photo taken around the time during the roll call after!

    By Ken Saggers (05/08/2016)
  • Thanks for your account, Ken. It’s always fascinating to get a genuine eyewitness account.

    I remember the Clarendon Parade butcher – I believe it was called Dickens at the earliest point I recall. Was that your grandfather?

    By Nicholas Blatchley (03/08/2016)
  • I’d lived in Cheshunt since 1934. My grandfather was a well known butcher, Fred, with a butchers shop in Clarendon Parade. I’m his grandson Ken Saggers. My father was Vic Saggers, a bus driver, from the Ponders End garage.

    I’ve just discovered the magical world of the computer and the Internet, at 88, and I found this account of the event on this website, and wanted to add my own experience.

    It was over 70 years ago, but…it is absolutely vivid in my mind.

    It was me and my work mate Dennis may, out in my back garden, and about to leave for work. We worked at the Northmet electric company of Waltham cross.

    We were both 17 years old at the time and were members of the local ATC, 1155 Squadron.

    My mother screamed from within the house. She could see the plane crashing from the back bedroom window. And we instantly heard the roar of the maximum power being applied to the engines. 

    A few seconds later, we saw the smoke rise from the crash site and immediately jumped on our cycles. 

    We rode across Rowlands Field, along Blindmans Lane, into College Road, then South along Great Cambridge Road, which then was a single carriageway. We approached the crash site down a farm track to see if there were any survivors we could help. By this time, the aircraft’s defensive armourment (machine guns) was beginning to explode. Then there was an explosion that I believed to be one of the bombs it was carrying.

    We got down low behind a brick wall but decided with the ammunition exploding, we couldn’t approach any further. We were about 150 yards away at the time.

    We decided reluctantly to leave, and proceed to work.

    On recall, I cannot remember a fire engine or rescue services as we were there at the scene, within 10 mins of it crashing. We stayed there for maybe 10 minutes more after that.

    I’m a firm believer that somebody was operating the controls of the aircraft. The roar of the engines indicated that it was trying to climb. I imagine that with a heavy bomb load, it went into a stall, because the debris at the crash site was compact, and not strewn over a wide area.

    By Ken Saggers (31/07/2016)
  • I recently met a chap who was a teenager at the time and remembered it well.  He tells his story here:


    By Paul McCormack (07/06/2014)
  • I witnessed and saw that bomber on that sad day. The tail section was missing as it passed low overhead with the engines roaring but there were flames coming out of the plane. We went off on our bikes to see the crash site which was fiercely burning and was told to “Clear Off” in no uncertain terms. I saw a tail section in the marshes at the bottom of Trinity Lane where I lived a day or so later. What happened to it I do not know? I was only eleven at that time but this plane flew almost overhead. Not something you could forget as it was so low. My granddaughter doing research of my childhood during WW2 was the reason for my first visit to the web site. Norman Moxey 22nd February 2014

    By Norman Moxey (22/02/2014)
  • A memorial to the men on the Liberator Bomber was unveiled on 22 January 2011. You can see video clips and a report by following this link.

    By Daphne Knott (24/01/2011)
  • I have only recently started to learn about computers hence I have not been able to join in on this subject. I am amazed at the research that has been carried out by interested parties in trying to solve the mystery and have read all that I can find, I only wish I could have come in sooner.

    My father and I were eye witnesses to this event, it was simple, tragic and was all over in about three minutes, it occurred right over our heads, we stood in silence unable to speak for some minutes. I was 15yrs old.

    This was a time of incredible armada’s of aircraft passing over us hundreds at a time but this particular morning the weather was not good and the cloud base was rather low. It was not long before the drone of engines was heard then coming from approx the S/W came a group of Liberators just scimming below the clouds, they were very low and seem to be following the railway line towards Theobalds Grove station which was just behind our house in Hedworth Ave. To our horror at the same time appeared a group of twin engined bombers possibly Marauders coming from the opposite direction also just under the clouds, we held our breath, all seem to go well but at the last minute a Marauder clipped the tail of a Liberator which immediately broke away to the left losing height. This slow turn to the left must have taken it close to the marshes soon to be heading directly back to the centre of Cheshunt. With its engines now at full revs the pilot tried desperately to pull the nose up at least three times only to lose the battle in a farmers field. Thats all it took THREE MINUTES, how sad.

    During the afternoon three american fighters circled the crash site, they went into a dive towards the still smoking wreck climbing steeply and splitting into a prince of wales feather pattern, a touching and fitting salute. I left Waltham Cross in 1947 but whenever I visit the area I never fail to salute those young men

    By Ron Bennett (11/01/2011)
  • Thank you for posting this. I am one of John Dudley Ellis’ granddaughters. He is survived by my mother, ne Mary Lee Ellis, his only daughter, my sister Annette Todaro, and me. He died a week before my mother turned one year old. I recently had the honor of visiting the Cheshunt library to see the plaque hung there as well as a turn about Lt Ellis Way. I look forward to my next visit to England when I plan to visit Cambridge and his grave. Our family is honored that Hertfordshire’s communities chose to honor our ancestor and his airmen. Best, Michelle Hatata

    By Michelle Hatata (24/09/2010)