Canadian Spitfire Pilot Memorial Swindon
On a corner of Ermin Street in the Stratton area of Swindon there sits this bench. What follows explains why it’s there.
The bench you see above serves as a memorial to a Canadian airman killed when his Spitfire hit a tree on Ermin Street – the scars from which you can still see on the tree’s trunk.
The Canadian in question was one Sergeant Norman W. Barbeau, aged 20. He was one of six boys in his family, four of whom served in WWII. Two of them in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He left behind a widow, Florence Marguerite Louise Barbeau, of Montreal, Quebec.
On the 7th December 1941, at around 10:10 am as some of Stratton’s youngsters waited to go to Sunday school, Sergeant Barbeau crashed his Mark 1a Spitfire X4354 in Ermin Street cutting in half the Lime tree at Church Street junction. This Canadian veterans’ website has a virtual memorial to the young pilot. There you can see a picture of the plaque erected by Stratton parish council in 2005.
Barbeau’s plane had struck a petrol tanker on take off. Then, when in flight, the port became detached causing the aircraft to go down.
This small piece on a BBC Wiltshire history archive has a somewhat grisly eyewitness account.
‘Ken Head was just a teenager when he witnessed the aftermath of a dramatic Spitfire crash in Stratton St Margaret. The plane landed on the lime tree at the intersection of Church Street and Ermin Street. The tree split down the middle but is still standing 63 years later.
‘All the kids used to come out on their bikes to the crash scenes’, Ken recalls. ‘We used to try and get there before the RAF Police to collect souvenirs.’
It was 7th December 1941 and Sergeant Pilot Norman William Barbeau had left Aston Down in Gloucestershire on a Spitfire training flight. Flying over Swindon, the 20-year old Canadian pilot lost control and nose-dived. He died instantly.
Visiting the scene, Ken remembers the day vividly. ‘I can see it. The wheels. The engine. The tailplane. There was parts of him laid on the ground and by the gutter a knee joint. I pushed it with my foot.’
It appears that people passed buckets of water to each other to douse the fire where the plane hit the tree.
The plane was seen to break up before it crashed, and one wing landed in a nearby street just missing resident who had been hanging out her washing. The local bobby P.C. Phillamore did his best to keep local children from getting too close, two boys, Reuben Scarrott and his mate saw the crash. Bill Taylor helped to cover the body with a hessian sack.
Sgt Barbeau rests in the churchyard of Holy Trinity in Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire.
On 23rd April 2004, the Parish Council erected a plaque in Sgt Barbeau’s memory in a memorial garden.