CRASH OF A MOSQUITO
OVER SUBURBS OF SYDNEY, NSW
ON 2 MAY 1945
Mosquito PR.XVI HR576 of 618 Squadron RAF (UK) disintegrated over the inner western Sydney suburbs of Leichhardt and Petersham on 2 May 1945 during an air test flight. The crew of two were killed but fortunately no one on the ground was seriously injured by the falling debris of the Mosquito. The Daily Telegraph of 3 May 1945 stated that two civilians were injured and a total of 18 properties were damaged. Five houses were set on fire by the falling debris.
It was suspected that a violent pull out from a power dive, with its associated high 'g' forces may have lead to the structural failure of the aircraft. The two crew members tried to eject from the aircraft but they were not high enough for their parachutes to open.
Wendy Harvey was only 6 weeks old when her father Flight Lieutenant David Rochford (RAF 106025) of Oxford, England was killed in this tragic incident. LAC Charles Boydell (RAAF 44485) from Mosman was the other crew member killed in this crash. F/Lt Rochford's body was found in the playground of Petersham Public School while LAC Boydell's body was found on the roof of a railway building about 100 metres away.
Shortly after the crash, Miss Knight, the headmistress and some of the students planted some silky oak trees in their memory. Unfortunately the trees have since perished.
Bill Fitch who was eight years old at the time of the crash, remembers hearing what he described as a petrol tank exploding. He ran into the playground and discovered one of the airmen's body embedded in the bitumen.
Photo: Ray Littley
The large windows were the 6th grade class room
looked onto the Moreton Bay Fig Tree mentioned below. (now removed).
Photo: Ray Littley
The Memorial Flag Pole above a plaque located in the school garden.
Ray Littley was twelve years old and in sixth class at Petersham Primary School at the time of the crash. He was a very keen observer of all things to do with the war and recalls this particular incident as possibly his first personal contact with death.
Ray's classroom faced onto Gordon Street. There was a set of very large windows facing onto a very old and large Moreton Bay Fig tree located between the street and the classroom wall. The playground surface was bitumen.
Ray described the incident as follows:-
"We had returned from lunch and were about to have a dictation test when there was a terrific crashing sound outside and over the roof, followed by a ‘white out’ through one side of the tree."
"We all ran out and were confronted by the two story building that used to be a tuck shop across the road in flames (I believe a fuel tank went through the roof and set the building alight)."
"Then I saw that the crewmember (possibly the pilot) had crashed through the tree branches with a shredded parachute and struck the ground with such force that he left an imprint in the bitumen."
"Debris rained down on the school and about the suburb, the two engines smashed into homes almost one mile apart causing damage but no loss of life."
"We were given a half-day holiday and instructed to get home ASAP."
"With that I hopped on my bike and toured the suburb and inspected the damage, and naturally being a young boy looked for souvenirs."
"I am not sure how true it was but one young enterprising lad had a cannon taken off him by the police the next day. I am not sure how he managed to remove, or carry it; perhaps he had a billy cart to help."
"A memorial was placed in the school grounds and two trees were planted in memory of the two airmen who lost their lives."
"I visited the school, now a TAFE College and brought them up to date with my observations of the incident as a child."
Les Johnston contacted me on 5 December 2016 and shared his memories of this tragic event:-
I was a student at Leichhardt High School on that day and remember looking the window and seeing a wing with an engine on fire spiraling vertically down in the sky over Petersham."
"52 years later I saw a notice saying there would be a Remembrance Ceremony on the anniversary of the event to be held at the Petersham Campus at 12pm, 2nd May 1997, I decided to attend and find out more about the events of the day."
"A friend of mine from our school days at Orange Grove Primary school was a pupil at the Petersham Girls School when the plane came down in an open field next to the school."
"The fact that the school was not hit was believed by "witnesses" to be the actions of the Pilot intentionally steering the stricken plane into the open field next to the school."
"And so the Legend was born, every one likes a hero story so I decided to say nothing of what i saw until now."
Kenneth McDonald contacted me on 14 April 2017 and shared his memories of that day as follows:-
"I was in class at Leichhardt High School when the plane over Petersham exploded, told my teacher, Mr Culey, who promptly gave me 6 strokes of the cane for disrupting the class. Knew nothing of the details of the incident until now when my daughter found details on the net following general discussion on the subject. I was 12 at the time, now 84, your coverage is most interesting."
In Memory of
DAVID GEORGE ROCHFORD
618 Sqdn., Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
who died on
Wednesday, 2nd May 1945.
SYDNEY WAR CEMETERY, New South Wales, Australia
Grave Reference/Panel Number: 2W. B. 14.
In Memory of
CHARLES BROUGHTON BOYDELL
444885, Royal Australian Air Force
who died age 24 on 02 May 1945
Son of William Guy Broughton Boydell and Roi St. George Boydell, of Mosman.
Remembered with honour
SYDNEY WAR CEMETERY, New South Wales, Australia
Grave Reference/Panel Number: 2W. B. 8
Brett Cobby's mother was an eyewitness to the crash. She was attending a nearby school at the time.
The following information is from my mother, Yvonne Cobby, who lives in Gosford NSW.
Yvonne was in Year 6 at Orange Grove Primary School in Perry Street Leichhardt. This school was (and still is) on the main approach to Runway 16 at Sydney Airport. She can recall that something happened to an aircraft one day. She can remember looking up into the sky with all the other children in the playground and seeing a cloud of debris fluttering down.
The debris seemed to be like pieces of paper and some of these lightweight pieces fell into the school grounds. Yvonne always thought that perhaps two aircraft had collided. As it was wartime, this incident was not reported in the media to her knowledge. Until reading the account of the Mosquito accident on this web page she was unaware what had happened. Yvonne cannot be certain if this happened at recess or lunch because a lot of class time was outdoors anyway.
There is usually a prevailing southerly wind in the area, which would have blown any of the lighter debris in a northerly direction. Brett Cobby believes that the aircraft must have broken up somewhere in the area bordered by Norton Street, Marion Street, Balmain Road, and Lilyfield Road. The heavier pieces of debris would have fallen in this area.
Michael Rochfort contacted me on 18 July 2000 and said that both his father and father-in-law witnessed the crash from a distance. His father was working at AWA at Ashfield at the time. Uncannily, the pilot's surname was Rochford, very similar to Michael's surname!
Vic Whiteley was born on September 13, 1942, and was approaching his 60th birthday in late April 2002.
The crash was his earliest memory...Vic was not yet 3 years old at the time of the crash.
Vic was living at his grandmother's house at 63 Hawthorn Parade, Haberfield, with his mother, while his dad was away fighting the Japs in Borneo.
The house backs onto the goods railway line that, in those days, went to Darling Harbour. The line is on a raised embankment and now terminates at Rozelle.
Vic remembers a loud crash and running out into the back yard with his grandmother to see small black pieces of debris floating down. They appeared to be up and over the railway line, which would have been towards Leichhardt. They seemed to be floating down very slowly, and resembled birds.
Vjc does not know where his mother was, as, whenever he recalled the incident later in life, she did not remember it.
In fact, when Vic used to recall it, the rest of his family would laugh and say that he was imagining it.
They have all passed away now, so it's too late to say "I told you so".
I'd like to thank Kenneth McDonald, Ray Littley and Les Johnston for their assistance with this home page.
"Beaufort, Beaufighter and Mosquito - In
By Stewart Wilson
Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?
"Australia @ War" Research Products
© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 26 September 1999
This page last updated 28 July 2018