Westland 'Walrus' crashes

Westland 'walrus' crash

Crash at Newton Surmaville in the summer of 1921


The Westland Walrus was a spotter / reconnaissance aircraft built by Westland Aircraft. It was a single-engine, two-bay biplane fitted with an extra cockpit for the observer / radio operator behind the gunner's cockpit, while the observer also had a prone position for observing in a ventral pannier. The undercarriage was jettisonable and the aircraft was fitted with floatation bags and hydrovanes to aid safe ditching, together with arresting gear to aid landing on aircraft carriers. The wings were detachable to aid storage. The prototype first flew in early 1921, proving to have poor flying characteristics, being described by Westland's Test pilot, Stuart Keep as "a vicious beast". Despite this, a further 35 were ordered, entering service with the Royal Air Force in 1921 and being retired in 1925.


The following article is from the Western Gazette's edition of 22 July 1921 and concerns the crash of a Westland 'Walrus' aeroplane in the grounds of Newton Surmaville..

An aeroplane constructed at the Westland Works of Messrs Petters Ltd, was wrecked at Yeovil on Monday afternoon, the pilot, an Army officer, having a miraculous escape from death. The machine was one of a large number which have been built for government service, and was known as a Westland "Walrus". It was fitted with a Napier engine, and had been tested in flight with satisfactory results by Capt. AS Keep, MC (Technical Superintendent, Westland Aircraft Works) and had been passed as perfect. On Monday afternoon Lieut. Shaylor of the Royal Air Force whose home is Dentfield House, Brimscombe, near Stroud, took over the machine to pilot it to Scotland. Lieut. Shaylor took off at the aerodrome at about 4pm intimating that before commencing the first stage of his journey he intended to circle round the district, as he had never before flown in a machine of this type, which was also fitted with new controls.

The machine rose very well, but when over Newton the attention of a number of people seems to have been drawn to it, and the pilot appeared to be in difficulties. Over the grounds of Newton Surmaville the machine turned to the left, and immediately afterwards the nose went down and it dived into the Park. In its descent the left side of the machine struck a large oak tree, and the wing was completely carried away, and grave damage done to the other parts. The left wing hung by its tattered fabric covering in the branches, and huge pieces of the tree were torn and carried away by the machine, the noise of the breaking timber being heard for a considerable distance. The terrific force of the impact swerved the machine round in a half circle, and completely tilted it over on one side with the wheels in the air. It fell nose first and on its side with a terrific crash about a dozen yards away beneath another tree, the fore-part being reduced to a heap of wreckage. Several eyewitnesses of the accident had little hope of finding the pilot alive, but were greatly relieved when a few seconds later they saw him crawl out from the machine and stand up surveying the wreck. Blood was streaming down his face from wounds, and he appeared to be in a bruised and shaken condition. He was, however, able to exchange a few words to the earliest arrivals on the scene, several of whom walked with him to Newton Surmaville, the home of Mrs Bates-Harbin. The Westland Aircraft Co. had in the meantime been acquainted of the accident by telephone, and medical aid was summoned. Dr AN Haig quickly responded to the summons and attended to the pilot's injuries, which consisted of severe cuts and bruises to the face, the former being caused by the smashing of the glass in front of his seat. About an hour after the accident he was driven away in a car by Capt. Keep apparently little the worse for his thrilling adventure.

An examination of the machine made it almost impossible to believe that the pilot had escaped so lightly. His good fortune was undoubtedly due to the collision with the oak tree, which considerably lessened the impact with the ground. It also had the effect of turning it away from a row of iron railings and a high embankment, into which it must have inevitably dived. The front part was completely wrecked, broken wood, wires, and pipes lying in a confused mass. The propeller was shattered into hundreds of fragments, the engine cracked, and the right wing broken away and thrown over onto the opposite side. The cockpit and body of the machine did not suffer so severely, the pilot's seats being intact, although the controls were completely smashed.

The noise of the accident brought hundreds of people to the scene within a few minutes, and youths began collecting "mementos." One actually appropriated the pilot's cap, but was ordered to replace it. An official court of enquiry will be held into the cause of the accident.

A short time after being taken away from the scene of the accident Lieut. Shaylor discovered that his wristlet watch was missing. It was probably torn from his arm in the crash. Members of the Westland Aircraft Staff have searched for it with fruitless results, and it is probably in a damaged condition. It is thought possible that someone picked it up to keep as a souvenir. The watch, although not of great intrinsic worth, has great sentimental value for the airman, and we are asked to make an appeal that it shall be restored to him. It may be posted to Capt. AS Keep, Technical Superintendent, Westland Aircraft Works, Yeovil.


Many thanks to Rob Baker for forwarding the newspaper report to me.




Courtesy of Rob Baker

From the Daily Mirror - the caption read "Airman's Escape - The wreckage of a machine flown by Flying Officer Shaylor, which hit a tree at Newton Park, Yeovil. The pilot was thrown out and somewhat badly cut, but escaped death when his aeroplane was destroyed.