The Forgotten Pilot

The Forgotten Pilot of Lewesdon Hill

80 years ago, on Sunday 15 March 1942 a plane’s engine was heard spluttering above the village of Beaminster, shortly before crashing into the wooded north side of Lewesdon Hill, tragically killing the Belgian pilot, Jean De Clodet, on impact. Jean De Clodet had been flying his Spitfire to No. 317 Squadron in Exeter, unaware the squadron had already lost eight planes that day through failed attempts to land at Bolt Head in Devon – victims of the thick fog blanketing the West Country. The eight planes had been based at RAF Northolt, west of London, and were being relocated further west to protect them from German Luftwaffe raids.

Sunday March 15th, 1942 was a very foggy day in West Dorset. On Home Guard duty that day were farmers Jack Frampton and Doug Studley and funeral director (Jacks brother in law) Jack Wakely . Some 222 miles North at RAF Burtonwood near Warrington, early afternoon a Belgium Pilot Jean Verdun Marie Aime De Cloedt was climbing into his Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vb BL463 named Berar 1 which had been part donated by the Central Provinces and Berar Relief War Fund, India, as part of the war effort and manufactured at Castle Bromwich aircraft factory, Birmingham. He was flying it as a replacement to No 317 Squadron at Exeter.  Jean was born in the St Giles district of London on May 31st 1916 to Belgium parents whom worked at the  Belgium Embassy.

In 1940 Jean was an engineer with the Belgium regiment Aeronatique in Ostend and  as a NCO pilot and was a candidate as an officer in the reserve.He left them to come to England to join the RAF Volunteer Reserve with the Belgian section.  He trained as a pilot at RAF Sealand near Chester on No.61 training course with No.5 Service Flying Training School but because he was colour blind he was not able to join operational squadrons and ended up at No. 3 Delivery Flight at RAF High Ercall, Shropshire, tasked with delivering new and repaired Spitfires as replacements around the country.

Unbeknown to him, as he took off from Burtonwood late afternoon ,No 317(Polish) Squadron at Exeter had lost 8 planes that day ,(6 lost and two damaged )mostly being unable to find their temporary advance airfield at Bolt Head, Devon, which was bathed, like most of the South West, in thick fog.They were usually based at RAF Northolt west of London but had been relocated West to give further cover and protection from German  Luftwaffe raids.

 At 18:15, above the village of Broadwindsor in West Dorset a plane’s engine was heard spluttering and shortly afterwards crashed into the wooded north facing hillside of Lewesdon Hill killing Jean on impact. Armed with only sticks made from hazel,Jack, Doug and Jack made their way up to the hill to investigate not knowing if they would find German airman on the run. Doug's cap kept getting knocked off  on branches as it was so foggy much to the amusement of the others. When they reached the hill, they found the body of Jean De Cloedt. The report of the crash was kept very much under wraps with no media coverage as not to damage local morale. His body was taken to Bridport hospital mortuary and later buried at Brookwood cemetery Surrey, before being repatriated to  Evere ,Brussels on October 20th, 1949.

The day after the crash, some Broadwindsor children skipped school to visit the site. Home Guard Dudley Tolley, from Stoke Knapp farm, found three Jablo propeller blades, which he kept under his bed for 75 years. They now hang in the Beaminster Museum. Villagers erected a wooden cross on the crash site and every year until the 1960s would place flowers beside it to commemorate the anniversary of Jean’s final flight.

To mark the 80th anniversary of the crash the National Trust wil unveil a monument to Pilot Jean Verdun Marie Aime De Cloedt on Lewesdon Hill on tuesday 15th March.