The Last Crash | Elvington RAF

Yorkshire Air Museum

Yorkshire Air Museum

Yorkshire Air Museum is not what I expected. A rather well-spoken gentleman with politeness that reminds me of a retired military man, smiles down at us through my husband’s car window. He cranes his head to see into our back seat. 

“The trouble is, you often can’t see the children from this angle,” he says earnestly. “The headrest blocks our view. Just the two of you? That’ll be £26, please. Yes, there is a cafe and today they’re doing sausages. The sausages are delicious and they do really good coffee.” 

We drive on, wondering how many parents must smuggle children in for it to become an issue.

Yorkshire Air Museum is a very large air field in Elvington, a small parish just outside of York. It is built on what remains of the Second World War RAF Bomber Command station. RAF Elvington operated from the beginning of the Second World War until 1992.  

What some might not know about RAF Elvington is that French Air Force Squadrons were based there. In early 1944 Elvington became host to two French Air Force Squadrons who played a major part in the bomber offensive against Germany.

My husband and I have never managed to arrive at any museum without feeling hungry so we head straight for the NAAFI, otherwise known as the cafe. The term NAAFI is the name of the organisation that was run by the British government to run recreational establishments needed by the British Armed Forces. 

H.M. Forces in St. Peter’s Hall in Westminster Cathedral Yard in London Picture date: 1st December, 1939, originally from  https://flashbak.com/mobile-canteens-of-world-war-2-1939-1945-1966/

H.M. Forces in St. Peter’s Hall in Westminster Cathedral Yard in London
Picture date: 1st December, 1939, originally from https://flashbak.com/mobile-canteens-of-world-war-2-1939-1945-1966/

Situated in one of the old buildings, the NAAFI at this museum serves hot food everyday, with a delicious looking dessert selection. There’s a warm, relaxed atmosphere. The queue is pleasant. Volunteers and on site mechanics can be seen taking their lunch among the visitors. We take our trays to a table at the back near the piano and my eyes wander over the model planes hanging from the rafters. The man at the entrance was right. These are the best sausages I’ve ever eaten. The coffee is really good too. 

St. Pancras station in London on Nov. 7, 1939 https://flashbak.com/mobile-canteens-of-world-war-2-1939-1945-1966/

St. Pancras station in London on Nov. 7, 1939https://flashbak.com/mobile-canteens-of-world-war-2-1939-1945-1966/

Our appetites sated we set off around the museum. On the way to the main hanger we get side-tracked by one of the planes outside and gingerly climb aboard it’s inviting steps open to visitors. I’m not a plane person but even I am quite taken. It’s one of those large planes you see parachuters sitting along the sides of in those war films. You know, the films where they open the doors and they all jump out like nutters.

The aircraft is live so there are signs asking people not to play with any dials or they might ruin the calibration. The seats have been preserved and Kevin discovers he is 1 kilo too heavy to sit down on them or he might damage them. Mourning the lightness of youth, we carry on to the hanger, where a large display of planes ranging from pre-world war to post second world war awaits us. 

RAF Bomber Command 1945

RAF Bomber Command 1945

The whole museum is made up of many buildings spread out across the airfield and it is in one of the original wartime buildings under the exhibit entitled “Against the Odds” that a particular story catches my eye.

The Elvington Crash

On the night of March 3rd 1945, around 200 Luftwaffe crossed the North Sea and followed British bombers back to their base. One of these planes, having claimed two Halifax bombers earlier, followed a French Halifax back to RAF Elvington, made a low level attack on a taxi before clipping a tree and crashing the Junker 88 into Dunnington Lodge Farmhouse, killing all 4 crew and 3 British civilians.

It was the last German aircraft to crash on British soil.

The war ended only 9 weeks later. 


johanndreher.jpg

The Pilot

Johann Dreher was a lieutenant in the Luftwaffe. He was born in 1920 in Munich and had awards for outstanding achievements in aerial warfare and bravery, as well as outstanding achievements in combat along with many other awards. His crew who died alongside him were Gustav Schmitz, wireless operator, Hugo Boker, radar operator and Martin Bechter, mechanic. They were all between 24 and 28 years of age when they went down. Johann dreher was only 24. 

Operation Gisela

At the time of his death Johann was part of Operation Gisela, the codename for a German military operation, the last major operation launched by the Luftwaffe Night Fighter Wings. 200 German bombers and fighters were committed to the plan. The plan was quite straightforward. When English bombers returned home from bombing Germany, The Luftwaffe’s experienced Night Fighters would follow the planes back to England discovering their base and attacking it.

Why did he crash?

It was thought for a long time that Johann was confused by the lights or made an error and clipped the tree but later new information came to light. Corporal George Wetherill was on duty that night at the airfield and it was discovered by his daughter later that he had been commended for shooting down the aircraft. His wife said he didn’t like to talk about it because he had known the three civilians who tragically died in the crash.


Who were they?

Who were the three civilians that died that night?

Their names were Richard Moll, the farmer, his wife Ellen Moll and their daughter-in-law Violet Moll. 

In the first few reports I read of the crash, I realised someone was missing. Where was Richard’s son? If they had a daughter-in-law, there must be a son? Where was Violet’s husband during the crash?

At first I assumed he was away at war but after some digging, I found more information.

It was reported that Freddie Moll managed to fight his way out of the house, a fire extinguisher in one hand and their 3 year old son in the other.  

Violet, his young wife, 28, who had ran into her parents-in-law’s room did not get out in time. She was pregnant with their second child. I was shocked by how so many of the reports never mentioned the children.

You often can’t see the children from this angle.

d5ax1.jpg

Richard, Ellen and Violet all died of their injuries at York Hospital. Richard Moll survived his wife and daughter-in-law a little longer but died of severe burns shortly after them. 

I tried to research what happened to Freddie Moll and his 3 year old son after the tragedy but couldn’t find anything more about them.

There is something deeply poignant and stomach churning about these deaths. Four young boys, barely men and three ordinary people, all victims of power and hate. The fact that this was the last German crash on British soil makes it even more heartbreaking somehow. That it was almost all over. Almost finished. As if the great claw of spite was reaching out to clutch its last victims before descending into the unknown darkness from whence it came.     


Richard Hammond crash, Vampire jet car 2006, Elvington Airfield

Richard Hammond crash, Vampire jet car 2006, Elvington Airfield

61 years after the Elvington Crash Richard Hammond, a presenter on Top Gear, the famous car show, ended up in a two week coma following a high speed crash on the very air field that Johann Dreher was trying to destroy. Hammond had been driving a car designed to break land record speeds, the Vampire jet car. He was lucky enough to survive that crash, but only just.  

JU 88 shot down by Mosquitoes over Kattegat

JU 88 shot down by Mosquitoes over Kattegat

He was driving at almost 300 mph when he crashed, close to the top speeds of the JU 88. Like the JU 88 the car was damaged beyond repair. 

I am a person who is fascinated by connections, no matter how tenuous and I do think it’s worth noting that the man who helped build the Vampire dragster car Hammond was driving, which did indeed break the record for land speed, was Colin Fallows...a Former RAF propulsion technician.