Memories of rail crash victim

Hastings Observer letters
Hastings Observer letters

From: Keith Piggott, Gillsmans Hill, St Leonards

‘Fifty years since tragic rail crash’ (H&SL Observer, Nov. 3, 2017, page 11) brings back memories of Flt.Lt. William David Thomson killed at Hither Green crash among 49 dead and 78 injured.

‘Dave’ graduated with 80 Entry at the RAF College Cranwell in 1961. I was in 83 Entry, I remember him well.

He one of the four Senior Under Officers and a great sportsman. Then most went direct to the ‘V-Force’, a few of the best got Lightnings, but Dave got a highly prized day-fighter ground-attack (DFGA) role on Hunters, as I did two years later.

His courage in the face of spinal injury after releasing his parachute harness caught in Malaysian jungle tree-tops, then crawling to find native civilisation, eventually river borne to medical help, is legend among RAF colleagues. Told he’d never walk again, he fought to fly again and rejoin his squadron.

Each death has its own story, but Dave Thomson’s is particularly poignant. Quote from the annals of Cranwell graduates: “80 (December 1961): W David Thomson while serving on 28 Sqn at Kai Tak had to eject from a 20 Sqn Hunter on 20 Feb 67 in hills at Layang, Malaya, after a stator blade failure and serious engine damage with the crashing a/c [aircraft] fatally injuring a civilian, Chong Won; David suffered severe spinal injuries, was casevaced back to Headley Court, made a miraculous recovery, did a Chivenor refresher course, went to Hastings for the weekend to see his girlfriend and family before flying back but sadly was killed in the Hither Green rail crash.”

Each time I pass through Hither Green I shiver at the thought of his demise, not the way of death he nor any of us would have chosen.

A colleague’s flying helmet bore the legend “Dig here for Jock”; my own bore “Fill this hole”. We all honour Dave Thomson’s legend.