When tragedy struck at Knightshayes

A USAAF combat airforce plane dipping its wing over Knightshayes, Devon

In 1944, Knightshayes became a USAAF rest home for the American Air Force. Here, men could take leave to rest and recover away from military routine. It wasn't possible for the men to go home for their leave, so some English country homes and hotel became re purposed to provide for the men who needed a break from the war.

A home from home

The men were able to relax and enjoy games, activities and the tranquility of Knightshayes. They played golf in the gardens, clay pigeon shooting on the cricket ground in the parkland and tried to leave behind the horrors of war. The airmen were entitled to a week of leave, which they could take in hope they'd be refreshed and recuperated to return to war.

The Air Service Command enrolled an administrative commanding officer, and adjutant and helpers. A medical officer also circulated rest homes in order to provide any care required.
American Red Cross volunteers acted as hostesses, arranging games and activities as well as the catering. 

Knightshayes has a small archive of images from the second world war, containing images of the men and Red Cross volunteers enjoying games and golf. There's images of snowball fights in the winter and the groups enjoying the terraces in the summer months. 

Knightshayes joins the programme

Knightshayes became a USAAF Rest Home on 6 October 1944. It had enough space to have 40 officers and was allocated to the 1st Bomb Division. The grounds also served as an airfield for two small military spotter planes attached to the army artillery unit whose staff headquarters were based here.

Saluting the residents

It became customary for those who had convalesced at Knightshayes to fly over the estate and dip their wing as a salute to those who were still staying there. On 1 May 1945, Lieutenant Albin Zychowski, set out to fly over Knighthayes and tip the wing of his P47 Thunderbolt in a 18 strong plane formation. 

Unfortunately, his plane clipped the top of a tall pine in the grounds, causing the fully armed plane to crash. It exploded near the waterworks in Chettiscombe, which borders the estate. Despite the efforts of bystanders, Albin couldn't be saved as there was a considerable explosion. It was just three days before the end of the war. It was a reminder to everyone, how cruel the war was. 

American airforce plane dipping its wing over Knightshayes in Devon

Albin Zychowski's parents sent roses to be planted at the base of the tree he hit. What is now the 'garden in the wood', was inspired by those roses, and the garden continued to develop and be grown around them.