Local War News

Berkhamsted Gazette ; Sat Nov 24 1917 ; Local War News

Further information has now been received bearing upon the accident which resulted in the death of 2nd Lieutenant J.W.D. Needham, R.F.C., reported in last week’s “Gazette.” (27.3.2017) The following letter from his commanding officer explains the sad circumstances:-

Dear Mr. Needham,-

It is with very great sympathy and regret that I have to write you about the death of your dear son, Joseph, which occurred at about 11 p.m. last night (12/11/17).
Your son was engaged on an offensive patrol over the German lines, and apparently lost trace of his comrades and consequently lost his bearings.
Thinking that he was a long way over the German lines, he apparently flew West until dusk, when he endeavoured to land his machine.
Up to the present I have not been able to find anybody who actually saw the accident, and can only surmise, by judging from the wreckage, that he lost control of the machine in endeavouring to reach a good landing ground.
From the moment he crashed he was unconscious, and did not regain consciousness again.
His observer, 2nd Lieutenant Evans, had a wonderful escape, and is, so far as one can tell at present, not in danger of losing his life.
I cannot tell you how sorry and grieved the whole squadron are at the loss of your son, who had been with us for so short a time, and from whom I had expected great things in the future, as he was such a keen and sturdy soldier.
I will let you know as soon as possible when and where your son is buried.
Please convey my most heartfelt sympathy to Mrs. Needham.

I am, yours sincerely,
H.S. Shield, Major,
Commanding — Squadron, R.F.C.
In the Field,

Lieutenant Needham was buried on the 14th inst. at the Military Hospital, Etaples. His flying instructor in this country on being informed of his death wrote:-

I cannot tell you how very sorry I am to hear the sad news you have sent me, nor how much I sympathise with you all in your great loss. I had not known Walter very long, but I was a great admirer of his courage, and his death has robbed me of a dear and valued friend. To die as he died in the service of his country is the finest way to die, but poor Walter was so young, which makes his sacrifice all the greater. I hope that time may soon soften the agony of your trouble, leaving a proud and glorious memory of what he was and what he had done.
Mr. Needham has received the following telegram from Buckingham Palace:-
The King and Queen deeply regret the loss you and the Army have sustained by the death of your son in the service of his country. Their majesties truly sympathise with you in the sorrow.
(Keeper of the Privy Purse).

Berkhamsted Gazette ; Sat Dec 29 1917 ; The Late 2nd Lieut J.W.D. Needham.

Further information had been received relative to the death of 2nd Lieut. J.W.D. Needham, R.F.C., in a letter from Lieutenant Evans, the observer, who was taking a flight with him on the day the fatal accident occurred, and who although himself in hospital as a result of the accident, was believed at the time not to be in danger of losing his life:-

December 14th, 1917.

Dear Mr. Needham,
I have just returned from hospital and the C.O. has asked me to write you giving as many particulars as possible of the fatal accident on November 12th. We left the ground on the Monday afternoon at 2.15, and the return signal was fired by the leader at 4.15. Heavy clouds were about, and our machine lost the formation while going through a thick bank, and your son told me he would steer west. We shortly found one of our patrol but we were then too much west and too far down the coast. I pointed this out to him, and he turned the machine towards home. Shortly afterwards he yelled out to me that he would have to go down, and as I was making to stand and enquire the reason why, I was pitched forward and remember no more until waking up in the hospital, 18 hours afterwards. Personally, I am of opinion that something went wrong with the machine. I think my head came into violent contact with the gun mounting on being thrown forward, which completely laid me out, as I have a scar on my left temple. Your poor son never recovered consciousness and died two hours after the smash, so the doctors at the hospital informed me. He was laid to rest in a beautiful little cemetery at Camiers. I hope this letter will give you a little satisfaction, and I only wish I could be absolutely certain of the cause of the accident. Of course, I was awfully cut up when they told me the news, as being together in a machine binds a pilot and observer so. I should be very glad if you would let me have a photograph of Walter.

I am,
Yours very sincerely,
J.E. Martin Evans, Lt.


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  1. There is a photo of J.W.D. Needham, in his R.F.C. uniform, in the book ‘Talks with Spirit Friends Bench and Bar’, published by John Watkins, 1932.

    1. Hi Robert, thanks for that & sorry for the tardy reply – your comment didn’t show up in my email inbox for some reason. I will investigate. Thanks again, I shall look up the book next time I’m in the Brit. Lib.

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