Tributes to hero war pilot

HERO: Bill Duncanson with Tom holding a photograph of Tom's Halifax bomber.
HERO: Bill Duncanson with Tom holding a photograph of Tom's Halifax bomber.

A TEENAGE pilot who averted a tragedy by crash landing his burning plane into fields avoiding houses, has died at the age of 89.

Tom Scotland became something of a hero in the villages of Drub and Hunsworth after the accident which happened on Boxing Day, 1943.

The 19-year-old escaped unscathed and went on to have a distinguished war career – completing 63 missions in his Halifax bomber.

The crash was witnessed by four small boys, including Bill Duncanson, whose lasting memory of the pilot was seeing him being helped from the wreckage in Devil’s Glen and taken to the nearby Saville Arms pub where he was given a stiff drink to help him recover from his trauma.

Bill never forgot the incident, and vowed he would one day find him. His search took six decades but he finally tracked Tom down – only to find they had both emigrated to Australia and lived just 10 miles apart.

The pair met up every Boxing Day since to remember what had happened on that day, and both he and Bill had hoped to attend this summer’s Yorkshire Wartime Experience in Hunsworth – the fields which the plane had skimmed as it plummeted to earth.

However Tom was too ill to attend and Bill made the trip alone.

Tom died on August 15, and his wife Laurel, who had been ill for some time, sadly died the following week.

Bill said: “Everyone expected that Tom would have been killed in the crash, but thankfully he went on to have a long and fulfilled life. It was also a testament to his bravery in steering the plane away from houses, that no-one was killed that day.”

Arthur Hobson, one of Bill’s friends, last saw Tom in 2000 when he visited him in Australia, and he also paid tribute to him.

“He really thought God was looking after him on this and other occasions during the war, and went on to become a missionary,” he said. “What happened was part of Drub and Spen Valley’s history and it would be nice to recognise his bravery in some way.”