When tragedy struck at Knightshayes

A USAAF combat airforce plane dipping its wing over Knightshayes, Devon
Published : 13 Aug 2017 Last update : 28 Apr 2020

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.

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

an image of the American airman who tragically crashed at Knightshayes s

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 in Europe. It was a reminder to everyone, how cruel the war was. 

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. 

A picture of the grass path leading through the flowers and peat terraces of the garden in the wood at Knightshayes

The 'garden in the wood' 

This was the first part of the great garden Sir John and Joyce, Lady Heathcoat Amory developed after the Second World War. Its origins lay in a war-time tragedy in 1945 when a plane hit the tops of trees and crashed nearby, killing the American pilot. After clearing the damaged trees, John and Joyce began to make a new garden in 1946. Sir Eric Savill, who created the famous Savill woodland garden in Windsor Great Park in the 1930s, helped them.


A great post-war garden, 19th-century parkland and grand Gothic Revival architecture by Victorian visionary William Burges