1954 Aldbury Valetta accident

6 January 1954

Pathe News

R.A.F. Crash, Aldbury
Pathe News

On the 6 January 1954 WJ474, a twin-engined Vickers Valetta training aircraft of No 2 Air Navigation School Royal Air Force, crashed near RAF Bovingdon just after take off in snowy bad weather. The plane was carrying one extra passenger, despite having only 16 passenger seats. All the passengers on the flight, except for the pilot, had just played a Rugby match at RAF Halton.

The Valetta was seen to climb to about 400 feet; then, during a turn to the left, it hit a tree five miles north of the airfield and crashed near Tom’s Hill, Aldbury, on part of the estate of the Ashridge Park National Trust.

The wreckage was spread over two miles, and the combination of ice and snow on the ground and a narrow access road made rescue difficult. 

The National Trust chief ranger with four of his staff was first on the scene and reported, Ten bodies were scattered about and we found two men alive. One was outside the aircraft and did not seen to be very badly hurt. The other was pulled from inside the smashed fuselage and was only semi-conscious. Two passengers were rescued, but one died in hospital later; all the others on board were killed.

An investigation was unable to establish the cause of the accident, but the extra passenger and weather at take-off did not contribute to the crash. An assumption was made that the pilot was trying to fly within sight of the ground, in conditions of poor visibility, and that in doing so he crashed into the hill.Verdicts of accidental death were returned for the sixteen victims at the coroner’s inquest held at Berkhamstead. The sole survivor, P/O P.D. Cliff, said at the inquest he could not remember anything after boarding the aircraft at Bovingdon. The coroner said that, before the aircraft departed:

Certain things were not done which should have been done. But the question of taking off was entirely a matter for the pilot to decide. For some reason height was lost – no one knowns why, no one will ever know. That caused the unfortunate crash. There was nothing wrong with the engines

This page was added on 03/08/2010.

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  • I have been to visit the crash site this week in memory of Mike Pollard, who died in this crash aged 23. My mum was his girlfriend at the time and I have just found all the newspaper cuttings from the time. I am glad a cross marks the spot but it was difficult to find and it would be nice if all those who died were commemorated at the site. In 2024 it will be 70 years since the crash.

    By Emma Farnden (10/02/2022)
  • Hi, I live right next to the crash site and started a facebook memories group just to research this accident, a lovely old fella who lived 2 doors away was one of the first on the scene and was going to show me the exact spot where there used to still be a part of the engine embedded in the tree (which has since gone now)
    A memorial plaque was put up but not at the exact position of the crash, unfortunately my dear neighbour died last week and from what I know there are 2 other people in my village who do know the exact spot so I’m going to hunt it down again asap and will let you know..

    By Paul Foreman (19/05/2020)
  • Think that. Y uncle Michael Shimwell . Was on the plane he was a raft officer and died in the crash aged 20.
    Never met him but heard a lot about him through my mum who has sadly passed away.

    By Jo (09/05/2020)
  • please anyone have any information about Three dead in RAF Vickers Valetta C.1 (VW205) accident Jebel al Lawz, Saudi Arabia 2 April 1954
    please send them to
    I am going to write a report about it


    By turki (27/09/2019)
  • hi paul
    I would appreciate a picture of the cross,I am so surprised it is still there !
    thank you all for your kind thoughts

    paul davies

    By PAUL DAVIES (02/01/2018)
  • Judith Jones, are you still around or looking for any other family who are following this tragic accident?

    By Lizzie C (30/07/2017)
  • i have spoken tonight to Patrick Cliff the sole survivor of the crash. He stayed in the RAF and retired as a Wing Commander having been awarded an OBE. He had only just arrived at Thorney Island when he was selected to play against RAF Halton as such he did not know anyone else on the flight. Despite other reports the flight was never diverted and landed at RAF Bovingdon. They lost the game 26-6 and after tea took off, he has no further recollection until he woke up in hospital. As a junior member he was allocated a seat over the spar which saved his life. The other crew to survive for the crash but die later was PO A W V Purcell. The snow was light and they had a 1000 foot cloud base. There is no explanation for the crash. I hope this will help those who relatives died that day. Mr Cliff is writing his memoirs , and I have sent him my photographs of the cross and the inscription which he will include in it.

    By Paul Aylott (21/05/2017)
  • I discovered the cross a couple of years ago , until then I was unaware of the crash. To add some information that may be useful, the sole survivor was Patrick Dewhirst Cliff who retired as a Wing Commander in 1982 and had been awarded the OBE. He served with 264 squadron and is quoted in one of their newsletters.
    A Boeing B 17 also crashed on New Years Eve 1943 about a quarter of a mile away to the North East of this site. Four of the crew were killed, coincidentally both crashes occurred at roughly 5.15pm. It had completed 23 out of its 25 operations that would have given the crew a respite from operational flying.

    By Paul Aylott (03/05/2017)
  • I have a photograph of the cross in situ if anyone is interested.

    By paul Aylott (02/05/2017)
  • Ladies and Gents
    I am currently researching the crash and have found the information contained on this site very useful. I visited the crash site last weekend. I would be particularly interested in having contact with any locals or family members who would be happy to chat about the crash. I am currently serving in the RAF and trying to build a full picture of the tragic incident. Any contact would be really appreciated.

    By Paul Shanks (09/03/2017)
  • I have been researching this story for a while this web site has been so helpfull. I have now been to the site with my son and dog ( Ellie) to pay my respects thanks to all involved Michael wright from Chesham

    By Michael wright (12/03/2014)
  • I walk my dogs every day up at Ashridge. On Monday 2nd March I came across the wooden cross. A lady had left a note there dated 16th February. I had know idea this ever happened. So very very tragic and sad and such young men too. I shall visit them often and tell fellow friends and dog walkers too. A lovely tribute. Best wishes Angèle

    By Angèle McCallum Hayball (08/03/2014)
  • A wooden cross with a plaque was placed at the crash site on Monday the 6th Jan 2014

    By paul davies (09/01/2014)
  • hello what an excellent website in memory of those lost in the accident I am the nephew of L A C BRIAN DAVIES and the cousin of carol whitelock and hoping to visit the crash site on the 60th anniversery 6th Jan 2014 the crew members are named on the memorial wall at the national rememberance arbouretum at ALREWAS anyone interested in organising some sort of memorial or stone please contact me we need to mark the site for respect for these lads !

    By paul davies (22/12/2013)
  • Thanks Andy My grandfather was MSig T B (Thomas Bernard) Lightfoot, hope to visit the crash site soon.

    By Matt Hill (23/10/2013)
  • Here is the list of casualties from the Valetta crash: Flight Sergeant R D Marshall (pilot) from Bournemouth Flying Officer P G Conde (navigator) from Hoylake Master Signaller T B Lightfoot (wireless operator) from Croydon Pilot Officer J K Noyce from Southampton Pilot Officer J A F James from Abergavenny Pilot Officer R Nicholson from Blythe Pilot Officer J D Pell from Leicester Pilot Officer J N Clay from Holt Acting Pilot Officer D H Barton from Barnet Pilot Officer E Casey from Swinton Pilot Officer M Shimwell from Matlock Pilot Officer M P H Pollard from Weston -super-Mare L A C B Davies from Llanelly Pilot Officer A W V Purcell from London SW17 Corporal K C Tatlow from Coventry Flight Lieutenant P Clare from Beacontree

    By Andy Elsen (18/10/2013)
  • Last Wednesday (9/10/2013) I was looking through the 1954 January editions of the Watford Observer in the Watford Library. They had this story in one of papers and followed it up the next week with an article which named all on board and where they came from. Unfortunately I didn’t make any notes or take a copy. But next time I’m in the library I will.

    By Andy Elsen (13/10/2013)
  • I think my grandfather was on this flight, has anyone got further info on the crew and passengers on board.

    By Matt Hill (03/10/2013)
  • In answer to Gordon Smale about a memorial plaque .When I was there last year I was talking to a ranger working and he did say that they were putting a memorial of sorts there also one for the bomber that crashed around the same time but he couldn’t say when but thought it not that far off.

    By carol whitelock (20/06/2013)
  • My dear brother was 22 years old and was one of the Officers killed in the 1954 Valetta plane crash at Tom’s Hill, Aldbury, I have his RAF Flying Log book, the last entry states; 6/1/54 17.15, Valetta ‘F’.Pilot F/S Marshall, Bovingdon (Crash after take-off) My brother was A.P.O. Eric Casey and he was stationed at, No.2 Air Navigation School, Thorney Island. He had flown to Bovingdon as a member of the RAF Thorney Island Rugby team that had played against RAF Halton earlier that day, in his letter to me a few days earlier he says ‘I hear from the chaps who played last year that they are quite a tough bunch so we should have a very good game’, I do hope he did! I was fourteen and a half years old at the time and can vividly remember the arrival of the telegram early the next morning informing my parent that their only son was dead. Eric was born and lived in Swinton, Manchester, until he joined the RAF, I don’t recall where the other casualties came from but obviously they were not all from New Zealand, the only survivor was a young man named Patrick Cliff. Eric is buried alongside several of the others killed that day in the RAF cemetery at Halton.

    By Judith Jones (29/04/2013)
  • In answer to some of the above questions; The Rugby team was from the RAF navigation school at Thorney Island, Portsmouth, Hants. They had played Halton RAF team in the second round of the RAF cup. I have a full list showing all the victims were from the UK, one survivor was P.O. Patrick D. Cliff. My brother Eric was killed in this tragic crash.

    By Judith Jones (29/04/2013)
  • In 1954 I was a young police constable stationed at Tring. On that evening I was on cycle patrol in Station Road when the Tring (volunteer) Fire Engine stopped and told me they were attending an aircraft crash near Toms Hill, Aldbury, so I cycled to the scene. I frequently think of those who died, and have wondered about the lack of a memorial

    By Gordon Smale (13/11/2012)
  • Does anyone know which rugby team was on board? I have a feeling that they might have been Army Apprentices.

    By Andrew MacKenzie (08/11/2012)
  • Hi Carol Whitelock, I have added a page on this subject as my 22 year old brother Eric Casey was in this awful accident,it appears to have gone as a separate page if you would like to read it,as I have only ever seen the sad pictures taken at the time of the crash I would also love to see some more recent happier ones,Best regards, Judith

    By Judith Jones (22/05/2012)
  • Hi Carol Whitelock, I have added a page on this subject as my 22 year old brother Eric Casey was in this awful accident,it appears to have gone as a separate page if you would like to read it,as I have only ever seen the sad pictures taken at the time of the crash I would also love to see some more recent happier ones,Best regards, Judith

    By Judith Jones (22/05/2012)

    By carol (01/05/2012)
  • Hi to carol ann whitelock, I live at the bottom of the hill about 600 yards away from the apparent spot, I was told that the Valetta came down just on the sharp bend by the driveway to the lodge and hit the large broken tree in the deep pit within that bend, My son is hoping to do a presentation at school on this accident and we would both be so grateful if you could email your pics so I can get an exact location. I was told by locals that the B17 bomber that crashed previously had landed around where your description leads too, I’m so interested in finding this info out and it amazes me that as I live only 2 mins walk from the area, I still cannot get anything completely concrete on where exactly the 2 planes laid to rest, please help, I have some pics of the tree I was told it had hit which I can send you too, Stay safe, Paul..

    Please contact the website to get in touch.

    By Paul Foreman (18/03/2012)
  • hi shell rubin, the tree to the right of the cottage just came down by the force and the tre that had a wheel embedded in it is in the centre where the plkane finally stopped, this has been removed they say by someone recently . the crew on board were not new zealanders but british. the snaps that i took show nothing other than a plain spot of land where nothing has grown since the crash and the actual tree they hit there are no relics to see anywhere on the site regards carol

    By carol whitelock (19/12/2011)
  • hi carol, was it true all the men,were from new zealand. also,i was told,that the tree to the right of the cottage that has fallen,had part of the propeller shaft enbedded in it. i would love to see your photos if possible. regards shell.

    By shell rubin (25/11/2011)
  • I have recently visited the site of where the RAF plane crashed at Toms Hill in Aldbury. My uncle was 19 and on this plane. you go through the village of Aldbury and up towards the mountain, you will have a sharp left bend and on your left you will see a narrow dirt lane follow this as far as you can and you will see in front of you the game keepers cottage. As you look at the cottage to your right follow the path about 200yds and you will see a tree which has fallen, turn left at this tree and walk in to the forest where you will come upon a large area of open space with trees that have fallen all around you. This is the spot where the plane crashed and whilst walking around this area you will see a divet of where the nose dived until recently there was embeded in the tree the actual wheel of the plane. When i was there in September 2011 i was told by the rangers that they are in the process of erecting a stone in memory of all on the plane. Also whilst there i was told that the opposite side where the RAF plane crashed in 1942 I believe he said a British bomber plane crashed. They are hoping to get a stone for them also. It was quite eerie whilst i sat on the tree trunk as a plane flew past. it was very peacful and i am so glad that i finally got to see this site. i took some snaps if anyone wishes to see them please get in touch with me and i shall share them gladly

    By carol ann whitelock (14/11/2011)
  • ref:air crash Aldbury.crash location. go to Aldbury ,with the church behind you,and the shop to your right.look upthe hill ,this is toms hill,follow the road up around the bend to the right and then it bears left ,and then right,just as it bears right,there is a dirt road cut thru the trees,it is quite long,but you see a buliding at the end.this old copse lodge,if you watch the pathe news reel you will see it with the wreckage in front.the plane i was told came down where the power lines cut thru the trees. if you look up you can see some of the trees tops missing also the stumps of trees where it tore thru. in the hedge of the cottage there once was a small wooden cross in memory.also I heard the guy that survived came back to Aldbury to see the site an said that in was travelling in the toilet,and that this is what saved him?i was also told that the guys were from New Zealand again I dont know.one last thing if go out past the church towards Tring station, look back towards the hill above the village ,I might be wrong but you can see a big gap in the trees ,I would think this is where it went in.I do hope this is of help to John.

    By shell rubin (01/11/2011)
  • In reply to Mr John Searles request, regarding the crash site of the Vickers Valleta in aldbury in 1954. Last year,i was helping renovate a small cottage on the Ashridge estate Hertfordshire. after a few days on my own,up there in the mist of winter,heavy snow. A local man told me 16 young men had died, just beyond the cottages gate. At first i thought he was,trying to wind me up. But after going on the internet ,that evening i found a pathe news reel,about the crash, and there in the black and white film ,the cottage where i was working,and part of the aircraft lying where my car was parked. This led me to research the crash more,but not much exists about it. But i have spoke to many older locals ,who remember it. One guy ,remembers riding his bike ,to the crash and said how well the RAF ,cleaned the area.

    By shell rubin (31/10/2011)
  • My late wife’s brother was a passenger on this aircraft having played in the rugby match. I am trying to pinpoint the area of the crash site and would welcome information.

    By John Searle (30/08/2011)
  • I was 3yrs of age and in this fatal accident was my uncle Brian Davies and 19yrs of age. I would like to hear from anyone who had family on this plane

    By CAROL ANN WHITELOCK (13/07/2011)