What's in a name?
'Terence Webster Way'
‘Terence Webster’ is taken from the full name of Flight Lieutenant John Terence Webster, DFC, RAF, late of 41 (F) Squadron, stationed at RAF Hornchurch at the height of the Battle of Britain and actively involved in the air war over Essex.
As a full member of the ‘Essex Aviation Group’, I had researched nearly all of the crash sites that lay in and around the area of Wickford. On the 9th September 1978, members of the EAG descended on Bonvills Farm, North Benfleet, after receiving permission to excavate the remains of a Hawker Hurricane P2985 – of 303 (F) Polish Squadron. The pilot, F/O. Waclaw Lapkowski, had baled out of his stricken fighter on the 5th September 1940 after combat with a German Junkers JU88. Having taken to his parachute he had sustained a broken arm and burns to his face and leg. Having survived the Battle of Britain Waclaw Lapkowski was killed on 2nd July 1941 after a series of dog fights whilst leading 303 (F) Squadron. He is buried in Lombardsijde, Belgium. Another Hurricane fell to combat on the 5th September; Hurricane P3204 of 73(F) Squadron was hit from the return fire of a Junkers JU88 and in pulling away and down to avoid the hail of lead collided with a Spitfire that was climbing into the attack. The Hurricane’s pilot, Flight Lieutenant Reggie Lovett, DFC,RAF, baled out and landed by parachute at Rawreth near the Carpenters Arms Public House, his Hurricane falling to earth in a flat spin behind Nevendon Hall. The Spitfire was R6635- EB-M of 41 (F) Squadron, which broke up over the Southend Arterial scattering wreckage across the fields. The fuselage fell in a field near Bromfords Farm, a wing on the corner of Cranfield Park Road, a propeller was found to the rear of Cranfield Park. Diaries, the pilot’s seat, his Mae West and the Spitfire’s Merlin engine were located in the area of ‘Newlands Farm’. The body of the pilot, Flight Lieutenant John Terence Webster, DFC, RAF, was found beside the Southend Arterial Road almost opposite the Nevendon Police Houses. It is said that for many months the imprint of the pilot’s body could be seen on the ground. I have heard many rumours, but with the help of F/Lt. Webster’s widow, Peta, have confirmed the truth. This all took place on one day in September, the 5th, and there were other aircraft falling from combat in the area. But my reason for mentioning these three is because they are linked to the story of F/Lt. John Terence Webster, DFC, RAF. On the 30th September 1940, a young thirteen year old boy by the name of Roland Wilson ventured into the fields on his way home from school and found the severed blood stained remains of a seat type parachute, the ‘chute was clearly marked T. WEBSTER and the location very close to where the fuselage of the Spitfire was found, and the unfortunate pilot’s body. The young Roland took his newly found prize and handed it to PC Frank Baker and PC Starlington at Nevendon Police House.
In researching this incident my search for information led me to RAF Coltishall in the 1990s, the home of 41 Squadron, who were then operating the Jaguar Strike aircraft. Here they gave me full access to original Squadron records, there were further visits to the National Archives Centre and many letters to surviving Squadron pilots and and, most important, the pilot’s widow, Peta, and her only son, John. So you might say, “Why so much research?”. The answer to that is because for many years history has dealt F/Lt. John Terence Webster,DFC, RAF a terrible injustice. Most books on the subject record the action as being Webster colliding with his Squadron Commander, S/Ldr. Robin H. Hood, DFC, RAF. The Squadron Commander and Webster were the only fatalities on this sortie, and neither Hood’s body nor the wreckage from his Spitfire have ever been found. But evidence from one of the other Squadron pilots put Hood and two other pilots in a totally different area at the time Webster was killed. Furthermore, a Squadron combat report made out by Lovett of 73 (F) Squadron states quite categorically that as Lovett pulled away from the Junkers JU88 that was firing at him he dived down and collided with a Spitfire that was climbing into the attack. I have a location for all the Allied fighters that came down on that fated day, except Hood’s. But of all the reports available for the said losses, one British fighter, identity unknown, was seen to dive into the sea one thousand yards off of Scars Elbow point. This has to be S/Ldr. Robin Hood. Peta, Terry’s widow, and son, John, had wanted this injustice put right for years, but usually once something is put into black and white it sticks and is quoted verbatim. My knowledge of the area and the locals I interviewed, plus the material evidence, including death certificate, confirmed to me the fate of F/Lt. John Terence Webster, DFC, RAF. Yes, involved in a mid air collision, but with a 73 (F) Squadron Hurricane, not his Squadron CO. If you are wondering what Lovett could have added to the story, he was killed two days later flying another Hurricane, when he was shot down and killed at Mill Lane, Stock, his Hurricane falling to earth behind the then Catholic school (now Church).
Flight Lieutenant John Terence Webster, DFC, RAF had joined the Royal Air Force in 1935 on a short service commission. Born in Liverpool, he completed his training and served with both 17 and 80 Squadrons. On 21st October 1937, whilst stationed at RAF Debden, he married his wife Peta, and enjoyed flying the powerful biplanes of the era. In 1938 he was posted to 41 Squadron at RAF Catterick who were flying the new Supermarine Spitfire. 41 made the journey down to Hornchurch and in May during the retreat from Dunkirk claimed a Messerschmitt Bf109 and a half share in a Heinkel He111. He has the acclaim of being the only RAF fighter pilot to have wounded the German fighter ace, Meyer Werner Molders, of JG51. On 28th July ’40, in chasing a Messerschmitt Bf109E back across the Channel to France, he spotted a German motor torpedo boat, and in shooting it up was thoroughly amused as he watched its crew diving overboard for safety. At the time of his untimely death on the 5th September 1940 he is said to have claimed seventeen confirmed victories plus probables and damaged. Nineteen days after his death, on the 24th September 1940, Terry’s widow and son John attended by invitation a ceremony at Buckingham Palace, where the lady was presented with the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross by a grateful King.
At the time of my research the then new public house which stands on the corner of Cranfield Park Road, ‘The Darby Digger’, was approached with the view of having a memorial bar, which would carry photographs and the story of this courageous young airman. Everything was agreed, until the brewery remembered that they sold ‘Websters bitter’ and that it might confuse their customers, so they pulled out at the last minute. I went back to the Council who had been so cooperative in the naming of Hodgson Way and put my story to them. Immediately they took up the story and offered me four new roads that led onto new housing development, just off Radwinter Avenue and not far from the original intended site, the Darby Digger. One road and three new side roads were placed at my disposal for naming. The main road leading onto the new housing development would be ‘Terence Webster Road’, Terry had dropped his Christian name John in the RAF because all his colleagues simply called him Terry, which was also his widow’s wish. The first new side road would be ‘St.Omer Close’, named after the Cross of St.Omer which forms the centre of 41 (F) Squadron’s Crest, the second, ‘MacKenzie Close’, after S/Ldr. John MacKenzie who put his crippled Spitfire down in the area, and also a 41 (F) Squadron pilot, and lastly ‘Hood Close’, in memory of 41 (F) Squadron’s Commanding Officer who went missing that day from the same combat and who is still classed as a missing man. I am indebted to our local Council who, in creating new development, possibly against the wishes of many local residents, including myself, at least gave some thought to an historical event in the town’s history. It enables us to remember another member of ‘Churchill’s Few’ who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the fight for victory. You cannot imagine how proud I felt on the 15th April 1994, at 11:45 am, to have not only Flight Lieutenant John Terence Webster’s widow and son stand beside me on the day we opened ‘Terence Webster Road’, but also several veterans of 41 (F) Squadron who had served with F/Lt. Webster during the Battle of Britain, members of Council and Moat Housing Development who also provided a small but very tasteful memorial that was unveiled by Mrs. Peta Webster and son John. My most powerful memory of this occasion is when Peta squeezed my hand and said, “You know, Trevor, Terry’s body was cremated, so really he has no grave. So when I now look upon the name to this road, and the memorial I have unveiled here today, it brings a sort of closure and comfort to know my Terry has now got a marker”. We even had a Spitfire from Duxford laid on to make a low flypast, but it was so windy it was unfortunately called off. The incident involving the death of this young officer spans five large folders and his story told in the detail it deserves would amaze the reader. Both Peta and her son, John, went on to become two very close friends. I had dinner with them at the Thomas Kemble where Peta showed me her late husband’s award of the DFC, still in its box as it was handed to her by the late King. There are very few photographs that exist of F/Lt. John Terence Webster, DFC, RAF. but Peta provided me with copies of everything she had, so I will be posting photographs at a later date.
There is one final twist to this story. One of the pilots who served with Terry was F/O. O. B. Morrogh-Ryan, RAF who was killed later in the war whilst flying a Bristol Beaufighter. Representing his late father at the ceremony was son Mr. Jeremy Morrogh-Ryan and his mother Mrs. N.H. Gardner, widow of F/O. O.B. Morrogh-Ryan, RAF. Mrs Gardner lived in Mill Lane, Stock, where F/Lt. R.E. Lovett, DFC, RAF of 73 (F) Squadron, the pilot who had collided with Terry Webster, was killed on the 7th September 1940. Jeremy asked me if one evening I would show him the site where the young airman had met his end, as living in Stock village for many years, both mother and son knew nothing of the incident. So it was a warm summer’s evening when we strolled down a footpath beside the Catholic Church in Mill Lane, crossed into a field used locally by young courting couples and onto the public foot path that runs the length of the field to the bottom. I soon found the crash site which today is merely an indent in the ground. The spot is beautiful and, although tragic in circumstance, would not be a bad place to end your days. Both Jeremy and I agreed that it was sad that there was nothing in the village to mark the death of this young pilot. So Jeremy said he would like to pay for a memorial plaque to be constructed and have it placed within the confines of the Catholic Church, so that everyone would be made aware of what had happened there during the summer months of 1940. The brass plaque, made of quality yellow brass and suitably engraved was made locally here in Wickford. The Catholic Church was contacted, permissions granted, veterans of 73 (F) Squadron contacted, and yes this time the Spitfire flew, on Armistice Sunday that same year. A packed congregation stepped outside the church as Eddie Coventry’s Spitfire Mk.XV1…TD248, painted to represent a 41 (F) Squadron Spitfire, screamed up Mill Lane, dived down the hill pulled round and completed a victory roll right above our heads. I am a firm believer that nobody in the world does pomp and pageantry the way we Brits can do it. I looked round to see the faces of those assembled guests, the sound of the Rolls Royce Merlin engine, coupled with the reason we were all present was a simple reminder of what we owe the younger generation of 1940-45. The village of Stock now has a permanent reminder of a young man who lost his life on a summer afternoon seventy two years ago. For that I thank Mr. Jeremy Morrogh-Ryan. For myself I have the knowledge that another member of ‘The Few’ will now be recognised by future generations who live in Stock, and as they walk past the spot where he died, might just pause in reflection of how good life is and how great it is to be alive on a summer’s evening, thanks to men like F/Lt. John Terence Webster, DFC, RAF and F/Lt. Reginald E. Lovett, DFC, RAF. Lest we Forget.