Dorset ‘forgotten pilot’ died when brand new plane crashed near Beaminster

A lockdown project led to the successful identity of a pilot who died when he crashed at Beaminster, Dorset. Now a memorial to the tragic airman, who was known only as the ‘forgotten pilot’, has been unveiled.

Flight Lieutenant Jean De Cloedt, a Belgian pilot who served in the RAF Reserve during World War II, was killed when the brand new Spitfire he was flying crashed into a wooded hill in the countryside from Dorset. The 25-year-old had delivered the plane to an RAF base in Devon when it fell in thick fog in March 1942.

When F/O De Cloedt’s Spitfire went down in Lewesdon Hill, near Beaminster, Dorset, members of the local Home Guard armed themselves with hazel sticks as they were unsure if it was an enemy plane. The scene was later cordoned off by the Ministry of Defense and the pilot’s body was recovered and buried at Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey. In 1949, he was exhumed and reburied in a cemetery in Brussels.

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Although F/O De Cloedt always had a named gravestone, the villagers of Beaminster never knew the name of the foreign pilot who gave his life to the Allied war effort. Wartime censorship meant the incident was covered up and the identity of the pilot was shrouded in mystery. For decades, all that remained of the crash was a “perfect separation” through the trees left behind by the plane.

Villagers erected a simple wooden cross to mark the crash site and each year they placed flowers there to remember the ‘forgotten pilot’ until the 1960s when the cross was covered in vegetation. Today, the pilot’s story and identity was finally discovered 80 years later by a descendant of one of the Home Guard members who tracked him down.

Andrew Frampton, grandson of Jack Frampton, decided to investigate the accident during lockdown and after studying the records he discovered the name of F/O De Cloedt. He also reunited with his great-niece, Benjamine De Cloedt, in Belgium and yesterday (Tuesday) she was the guest of honor at a ceremony organized in memory of her great-uncle on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of his dead.

Mr Frampton, the descendants of other members of the Home Guard and around 100 villagers joined her at the rally at Lewesdon Hill. Ms De Cloedt, 54, cut the ribbon for the new memorial designed by Mr Frampton and the National Trust, which owns the land. Mr Frampton also presented Ms De Cloedt with the Spitfire’s mutilated cooling pipe which was recovered from the crash site just 20 years ago.

Mr Frampton, 45, whose family has owned the dairy farm under Lewesdon Hill since 1912, said: “My grandfather, Jack Frampton, was in the Home Guard with Jack Wakely and Doug Studly the day the plane went down: “They scrambled the top when they heard the engine sputtering – they had no guns so they armed themselves with hazels. They didn’t know if it was a German plane.

“I remember my grandfather telling me about a foreign pilot who crashed but he didn’t know who he was or where he was from. Most of the villagers thought he was Polish.” adding “You can still see a perfect hallway through the trees left behind by the plane.”

Mr Frampton discovered F/O De Cloedt’s Spitfire had just left the factory and was on its maiden flight from RAF Burtonwood in Warrington, Cheshire, when it crashed. He was en route to RAF Bolt Head, near Salcombe, Devon, where a squadron of Polish RAF pilots were based to defend Exeter and Plymouth from the Luftwaffe. Mr Frampton said: ‘Jean came to the UK and joined the RAF after the Nazis invaded Belgium.’

Mr Frampton added: “He was color blind so he couldn’t take part in combat missions and delivered planes all over the country and then found his way back to base.

“There was nothing in the papers the day after the crash – it was kept secret as it would harm the war effort.

“Everyone at the crash scene thought it was a foreign pilot but they didn’t know who it was or where it was from.

“His body was taken away and buried. It was never lost, just forgotten.

“Only two items were recovered from the accident – the propeller which is now in the Beaminster Museum and the pipe from the exhaust cooling system.”

The plaque in memory of F/O De Cloedt includes archival photos of him and information about the accident. It also has a QR code which, when scanned with a smartphone, takes readers to an online web page that tells the story in depth.

Ms De Cloedt said: “It was a very emotional event. I heard a lot about my great-uncle because he was very close to my father. He was my father’s older brother. If he hadn’t suffered from health problems, my father would have been here.

“My great-grandmother raised Jean and when he died in the war it was really hard on her and she never got over it.

“We knew he had crashed his plane but we didn’t know any other details. We didn’t know people from the village had found him and he wasn’t alone.

“I think when he hears about the ceremony and all the people who were here, it will be a great comfort to my father.”

Scott Welland of the National Trust said: ‘We would like to thank Andrew for the time he spent researching this fascinating story. adding “We are honored to place a memorial to Jean De Cloedt on Lewesdon Hill on the 80th anniversary of his tragic death.”

Are there any other forgotten Dorset stories you would like to see honoured? Let us know in the comments below

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