RECENT investigations have solved a mystery plane crash that occurred 70 years ago near Fisher’s Pond, Colden Common. It was long thought to involve a German fighter with wreckage still lying at the bottom of the pond, writes Barry Shurlock.

But a new investigation by a museum curator has come up with a completely different story. It turns out that it was in fact a British training aircraft which crashed near the pond after losing a flap and climbing vertically out of control. The pilot, who died in the crash, was in the process of obtaining his wings two months before the Battle of Britain.

The sleuthing has been done by former Observer Lieutenant Neville Cullingford, who served for many years in the Royal Observer Corps and is now Honorary Curator of its Museum. Outlining his discoveries, he said: “I’ve always been fascinated by the story about the crash, which was thought to involve an enemy aircraft, as reported in the Echo in 1972. I started to ask local residents who had lived in the area during WWII if they had any recollections of this fighter crashing into Fisher’s Pond.

“One account concerned a crash of a Typhoon fighter-bomber at the foot of Crowd Hill near Foulis Court – very close to the pond but not fitting the circumstances. There was also a report of a barrage balloon which landed in the field by the chapel on Pyle Hill, Fair Oak, causing a Hurricane fighter to catch its wing on the balloon cable.

“Several people mentioned two V1 flying bombs that had fallen locally, one within 100 yards of what was then the Clock Inn and the other in Stoke Park Woods. Others mentioned the story – to this day unconfirmed – that spies had been flown from the airfield at Marwell at night, to be dropped off in Occupied Europe. And one had heard of a Tiger Moth – a training plane – that had crashed in Fisher’s Pond – a far cry from a German fighter, but a promising lead.”

Neville’s ROC knowledge led him to the 70 or more WWII message logbooks now in the Hampshire Record Office (ref. 36M96). They were “miraculously saved from destruction during the postwar salvage drive”. He trawled through thousands of routine messages jotted down by observers from September 1939.

The first clue was a message taken at 1216 hours on May 30, 1940. It spoke of “a Spitfire crashing near Twyford” and indeed the Police confirmed that a plane “had crashed in flames near Freasons Farm” on the road between Twyford and Colden Common. In the confusion, another message suggested it might be a captured Messerschmitt 109 which was being test flown in the area.

The real situation became clear in a message from Twyford Police. It reported a smouldering wreck by the side of Portsmouth Road near Fisher’s Pond, with a body and a parachute. Wreckage strewn around was so damaged that the plane could not be identified, other than saying it was yellow.

The full record was in a message written by Duty Controller Arthur H. Vear more than five hours after the original report. It revealed that RAF Middle Wallop had lost a training aircraft, a Miles Master Mk1, serial number N7706. The plane was burnt-out and Acting Pilot Officer Oliver Powell Croom-Johnson killed.

Neville later obtained first-hand evidence of the event from work colleague John Pearce, who had lived as a child in the Queens Head public house on the Portsmouth Road (now closed). He said: “John told me he remembered looking out of the bathroom window and seeing a plane spinning down with pieces fluttering down behind it. Later the pilot’s body had been brought to the Queens Head and laid out in the parlour, awaiting collection. John confirmed that the wreckage had been cleared away and its RR Kestrel engine excavated from the soft earth by the pond.”

The pilot was a married man, aged 27, serving in Squadron 611 of the Auxiliary Air Force. He had been commissioned “on probation” the previous year and was older than many pilots. He was probably being trained for what became the Battle of Britain. He was the second son of the Hon. Sir Reginald Croom-Johnson, who was in his first year as a judge in the King’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice.

Oliver Croom-Johnson is buried in the churchyard of St Peter’s church, Over Wallop. A memorial inside reads: “He gave up everything for the defence of his country”. He is also is also memorialised at Holford in Somerset, the home county of his mother, Lady Ruby Croom-Johnson.

Over the years thousands of plane disasters have taken place in Hampshire alone. Many are listed online ( The very first was on October 16, 1908, when aviation pioneer Sam Cody made the first powered aircraft flight in British Army Aeroplane No. 1 on Farnborough Common, but crashed on landing. He died in another crash in 1913 and is buried in Aldershot Military Cemetery.

The first commercial crash in the county seems to have been on May 1, 1919, on a flight to Bournemouth, when an Airco DH.9 biplane came down in fog on Portsdown Hill. It was operated by Air Transport and Travel, the first company to operate a regular international service and regarded as a forerunner of British Airways.

The Highclere Estate, best known as the setting for Downton Abbey, is another area of high land which has seen its share of disasters. During the last war there were at least eight serious crashes involving a variety of aircraft – including a Fortress, Whitley, Lysander and Mosquito – as memorialised by Lady Carnarvon (

In 1926, Winchester was set up as one of the three earliest aircraft Observation Centres in the country, with headquarters in Abbotts Road. At first it was served by special constables, with a large number of make-do Observation Posts. One of these was in Church Lane, King Worthy, “next to a telephone pole so that a field telephone could be attached to the wire”, according to Bill Page (Worthy History, 2002).

In 1939 what became the Royal Observer Corps was mobilised to record all air movements, including flying bombs, which were often destroyed by fighters working to ROC directions. On D-Day seaborne ROC observers helped gunners to identify enemy aircraft.

Another task of the ROC was to alert RAF fighters to the presence of V1 flying bombs by firing ‘Totter Rockets’, a type of flare which illuminated the area with ‘snowflakes’.

Although ‘stood to’ after the war, the ROC was reformed in the mid-1950s to counter the threat of nuclear attacks, using specialized instruments for detecting nuclear bursts and fall-out. It ceased all civil defence activities in 1991, following the collapse of the USSR, and was finally stood down in 1995.

Plans to locate the ROC Museum at Boscombe Down Aviation Collection in a WWI hangar at Old Sarum have been frustrated by the pandemic, but will be rolled out as soon as possible.