Memorial in Forest Row for brave pilot sought

Pilot Officer John Crossman
Pilot Officer John Crossman

Villagers are calling for a memorial to a fighter pilot shot down near Forest Row to be put up close to where he died.

Pilot Officer John D Crossman was an Australian RAF volunteer who was killed when his Hurricane was shot down at Tablehurst Farm on September 30, 1940.

He was just 22 and had been engaging a formation of more than 20 enemy Messerschmitt 109 aircraft.

Comrades said he exhibited ‘stupendous courage’ and shot down a German plane which crashed onto the Ashdown Forest.

But tragically he was shot down himself, his Hurricane crashed and burst into flames.

Peter Wheeler, 77 had been playing in his back garden when the plane plummeted to the ground.

He said: “An uncle who was in the Home Guard heard the crash and rushed over to see if he could help, but there was nothing he could do.”

Every year, on the same date, Peter has visited the site of the crash to pay his respects to the young pilot and he placed a wooden cross there.

Now on the 75th anniversary of the crash, he is asking for a permanent memorial so each generation can remember his extreme heroism.

Mr Wheeler, who now lives in East Grinstead, said it seems strange that hundreds of people visit the Airman’s Grave near Nutley but no-one goes to pay their respects to the Australian.

From his childhood John Crossman was fascinated with aircraft.

Aged 20 he applied to join the RAF, was turned down, but re-applied and set sail for England in August 1939.

Before he finished training the Battle of Britain had already started.

His first action, when once again he showed stupendous courage, saw his squadron attack a formation of about 60 Messerschmitts.

He then found himself airborne up to three times a day.

David O’Driscoll, Forest Row Parish Council clerk said a local historian had told him there were so many wartime crash sites they were not generally commemorated but names were added to village War Memorials.

He also pointed out PO Crossman’s body is buried near relatives at Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire so there would not be a case for the council to fund a separate memorial since he has a war grave elsewhere.

But he did say that if anyone has a strong view that there is a case for an individual memorial, they should contact the parish council directly.

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