Authors Notes:

-Further research has revealed that the initial press reports included an incorrect spelling of the pilot’s name; it should be Roland and Rowland.

-The village of Birgham is now proceeding with the erection of a  memorial to F/O Marshall.

-This tragedy was also reported in multiple National and Regional English newspapers,The Scotsman - Wednesday 28 November 1945.


Plane Explodes In Mid-Air Over River Tweed at Birgham

A single-seater fighter plane from Millfield aerodrome was flying at a high altitude over the River Tweed yesterday, when it appeared to explode in mid-air. The body of the pilot F/O R.G. Marshall of Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, was found near the main part of the plane which crashed near Birgham, Berwickshire. Dundee Courier - Wednesday 28 November 1945 The main part, of a plane which appeared to explode in mid-air yesterday crashed near Birgham, Kelso. Other parts were so scattered that they landed in three counties —Northumberland, Roxburghshire, and Berwickshire. The pilot, Flying Officer Rowland Gomm Marshall, Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, was killed. His body was found in a field near the part of the plane at Birgham. The plane came from Millfield aerodrome.


Eye Witness Report

Newcastle Journal - Wednesday 28 November 1945

An eye witness, Robert Frizzell, a farm worker, of Birgham, who, with his friend, James Fairley, was coming home from his work, said “I saw a plane coming towards Birgham from the south-west at a good height. It was making loud noises and pieces were breaking off. Suddenly there was a fairly loud explosion, and the tail broke off. There was another explosion, louder than the first, and the plane turned over two or three times falling straight down, with lots of fragments falling and fluttering above it like a flock of crows. It was some time before the body of the airman was found several fields away.”

Bradford Observer - Wednesday 28 November 1945

Flying-Officer Rowland Gomm Marshall, of Hebden Bridge, was killed when the 'plane he was piloting crashed yesterday morning on the Scottish border. The 'plane, which had left Millfield Aerodrome (Northumberland), was flying high when it appeared to explode in mid-air. The main part crashed near Birgham, Kelso, but other parts were so scattered that they, landed in three counties, Northumberland, Roxburghshire, and Berwickshire. Marshall's body was found In a field near part of the main part at Birgham. The Coldstream, Kelso, and Millfield fire services were soon on the scene. Flying-Officer Marshall was 21 and the youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Marshall, Southfields, Heptonstall, Hebden Bridge. He joined the RAF three years ago after being educated at Hebden Bridge Grammar School and in Northern Ireland. His training was done in Canada, where he obtained his wings and commission. He had invariably flown many types of single-seater fighters.

Flying-Officer Marshall was home on leave ten-day’s ago. Before joining up he was in the A.T.C. at Hebden Bridge and was a server at Heptonstall Parish Church. His brother is in the Fleet Air Arm. Flying Officer Marshall – 167288 of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve is buried at Row 7. Grave 10, at Heptonstall (St. Thomas Apostle) in England. Authors Note: In addition to the information stated in the newspaper reports; crash scene recovery assistance was also provided by crews from RAF Charterhall [near Duns]. Source: “The Charterhall Story by J. B Thompson.

Air Accident Investigation Report

Although not a newspaper report, my interest in this particular tragedy led me to search for the existence of an Air Accident Investigation Report.

Amazingly, I was able to trace and retrieve a copy of the report from the National Archives. Excerpts from the report are reproduced herein with the kind assistance of the ‘National Archives’ under the terms and conditions of an Open Government Licence. The pertinent excerpts from the report for this particular publication include the following: “The main wreckage consisted of the engine, cockpit section, the forward three frames of the monocoque and the main parts of both wings as far out as the dihedral angle. It struck the ground inverted, about a quarter mile East by North of Birgham while falling at a high rate of descent and spinning. The pilots body fell about the 300 yards to the East, South East of Birgham….

……From that point the wreckage of nearly four miles, almost due east along the line of the River Tweed, pieces having fallen along both banks and, in the water, and at a number of places splashes were observed indicating that other parts fell in the water. Owing to the nature of the river, few of these were recovered. What is thought to have been the tail wheel fell in the river quite close to the pilots body and the main part of the rudder at Carham Hall, half a mile from the main wreckage.” “The positions of the last two pieces are by no means certain. They were handed in at Coldstream and Cornhill police stations and only very vague information was given of the positions in which they were found. It is probable that the piece of armour plate was picked up much nearer to the main wreckage on the road which runs almost straight from Carham to Cornhill, near which both wings fell.” “A piece of monocoque skin fell in the river but was recovered by a boatman and a visitor who were fishing nearby but could not subsequently be traced.”

Witness Statements: “Mr John Steel standing on the main road near Fireburn Mill Farm had his attention attracted by the noise of an aircraft. He looked up and saw it at a height which he estimated it to be 10,000 feet, apparently diving from East to West. Almost immediately it appeared to blow-up, but it was too high for him to have any idea of what part broke away first, and he was not conscious of any change in the noise or attitude of the aircraft while he was watching it. After it disintegrated, he heard a report like a bomb going off in the distance. Immediately before it had been travelling very fast indeed and he estimated the angle of dive to be at least 45 degrees, and from the sound of the engine he reckoned it was going “full out.”

Two other employees at the farm were standing with Mr Steel and they corroborated his story.” “Mr George Miller, the gardener at Carham Hall was standing in the garden when the sound of an aircraft engine, rather louder than usual made him look up. At that moment the aircraft appeared to him quite normal although it was high and seemed to be turning to the North from a West to East Course. The engine noise then dropped, and the aircraft dived, and he heard the engine running again “at a tremendous pace.” Suddenly there was a loud report and the aircraft burst into pieces followed very shortly after by a much slighter report. There was quite a strong wind from the West at the time and he saw some of the bits falling when they got nearer the ground, particularly two which went into the river at the foot of the garden, one of them raising a column of water about 6 feet high [this is thought probably to have been the tail wheel but may have been a cannon]. He saw no signs of a parachute.” “These are the only two witnesses who could be traced, who had actually seen the aircraft at or before the moment of disintegration.

They were both good country types and could not be shaken in their belief that their statement of the aircraft’s course was correct, one case East to West, the other West to East, but of course, they may not have seen it at the same moment.

The whole population of this area apparently recorded the noise of the engine during the dive, although the valley of the Tweed is a low flying area for 56 OTU [Operational Training Unit] and they are accustomed to Tempests ‘in ones or twelves’ scraping over the house tops at all hours of the day.” Above: The estimated crash site of the main wreckage.

Below: A map showing the Millfield, Charterhall, and Winfield WWII Aerodromes and the crash site.


Below: The estimated crash site of the main wreckage.


 MOD accident investigation report



Text and images:
Gordon Mellis