Needham History Center & Museum

To Our Friends and Allies Far From Home

The graves of Albert Dawson and Stanley Wells in the Navy Veterans section of Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett, MA (photo courtesy of Henry Hicks)
The graves of Albert Dawson and Stanley Wells in the Navy Veterans section of Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett, MA (photo courtesy of Henry Hicks)

 

Today we commemorate June 6th, the 80th anniversary of D-Day.  Here in Needham, there was another event of the war that took place that day – smaller in scale, but no less tragic for all that. 

 

Today, June 6th, we commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy.  This huge undertaking, which involved thousands of crafts and hundreds of thousands of men, was the start of the liberation of France and ultimately of the Allied victory in Europe.  Needless to say, there were Needham men among the many who took part in the operation.

Here in Needham, there was another event of the war that took place that day in 1944 – smaller in scale, but no less tragic for all that.  Around noon on that day, a training flight flown by two British pilots crashed in the vicinity of Charles River Street, killing both.  In 2002, Needham historian Henry Hicks researched this occurrence, both here and in England, and wrote a brief article about it for us.  I’ll let Henry take it from here:

“Those at home in Needham were involved in the war effort in many ways. Plenty of United States military war craft flew over the town, including at least two flown by Needham pilots-in-training who reportedly “buzzed” the high school.  However, the war touched Needham rather dramatically on that 6th of June, when Needham witnessed the crash of a military aircraft in the town with the loss of its two crew members.

“I had known of the incident through the work I had done with the WWII Commemoration Committee… Then recently I had the great good fortune to meet Bob Haigis of Uxbridge, MA. Bob was an elementary student in Wellesley in 1944, and on D-Day the schools were dismissed around noon.  Bob and a friend made their way by bike to the square. Suddenly, they saw two low-flying planes, one belching smoke as it flew toward the Charles, and then an explosion. On their bikes, they made their way to the corner of Charles River and Grove Streets.  Soon the Needham police and firemen took over to put out the fire in the woods and keep the curious away. The boys saw one destroyed plane and the removal of two bodies.”

This is what we know:  two US Navy Grumman Avengers out of the Naval Air Station at South Weymouth were on a training flight when one developed engine trouble. It was flown by two British Royal Navy Reserve men. When it crashed, it may have been attempting to circle to the only airstrip in Needham, then at Babson College or the nearby Wellesley Golf Club. The Needham police, and the site was quickly sealed off by the MA State Guard.  The Women’s Defense Corps also responded to the emergency. By 9:15 PM a detachment of US Marines took over the guard duties and by early Wednesday the remnants of the plane were carted away.

Remarkably, the Needham papers did not report on this event – whether they thought it was bad for morale, or for some other reason. It was reported locally by the Wellesley Townsman (June 9, 1944) and more broadly by the Boston Globe on June 7th.  The Needham Times posted a story, using eyewitness accounts, in July 2021.

Henry Hicks and Bob Haigis continued their research, and were able to find both the names and the burial places of the two flyers. They were Sub-Lt. Albert John Dawson, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve; and Air Mechanic 1st Class Stanley Clive Wells, Royal Navy.  Albert Dawson was from Stoke-on-Kent, Staffordshire, and was 20 years old.  Less is known about Stanley Wells.  They were buried in the Navy veterans’ section of the Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett, MA, along with numerous US sailors who lost their lives in the war.

Also thanks to Henry and Bob, there is a memorial to the two men at the intersection of Grove and Charles River Streets, near the site of the plane crash, bearing a small Union Jack and a reminder of their sacrifice. Inscribed on the plaque is “To our Friends and Allies, Far from Home.”

 

Gloria Polizzotti Greis, Executive Director, Needham History Center & Museum