Sunday, 9 January 2011


Royal Aircraft Factory FE2b fighter similar to that of Sergeant Joyce  
Photo Wikipedia

No 36 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps was formed in 1916 at Cramlington in Northumberland.  It was a home defence squadron, created to protect the east coast of England, from Newcastle upon Tyne to Whitby in North Yorkshire, from the Zeppelin menace.  There were detachments at Ashington, Hylton and Seaton Carew.

Sergeant Arthur John Joyce, service number 9932, was a member of A Flight at Hylton Aerodrome (later to become RAF Usworth).  He was from Clapham Common in London.  On the night of 13th March 1918, he took off on a routine patrol in his Royal Aircraft Factory FE2b fighter  registration A5740.  He got into difficulties for unknown reasons and was seen to circle the area around Pontop Pike three times before attempting to land.

He landed in a field at the side of Loud Bank, Annfield Plain, County Durham.  It was a rough landing and the aircraft turned, over burst into flames and exploded.  Sergeant Joyce was killed.  He was buried at Earlsfield Cemetery, Wandsworth, London, near his home.  Looking at the ground in daylight, you can see that it is fairly rough, steeply sloped and not the best landing site.  This might not have been so obvious to Sergeant Joyce even though it was a clear night and his home base, some 20 miles away was shrouded in mist. 

He is commemorated on a roadside memorial near the spot where he died; a stone column with a memorial plaque surrounded by a rail paid for by public subscription including a moving poem written by local man, Albert Laws, which was printed and sold in aid of the fund .  In 1959 it was restored by the local Royal Air Force Association; the rail was replaced by a low stone wall and the memorial was re-dedicated to all airmen killed in action including Sergeant Joyce’s son, Sgt Dennis Arthur Joyce, who died in the Second World War.  He went missing on a mission over Germany on the night of 13th September 1940 - a sad case of history repeating itself.  His name was added to the base of the memorial. 


Sergeant Joyce was buried at Earlsfield Cemetery, Wandsworth, near his home in Clapham Common, London.

 The gravestone of Sgt Arthur Joyce in Wandsworth Cemetery, London

I have recently come across a publication by Fred Wade - a 1986 reprint of the 1966 original - "The Story of Annfield Plain and District."  The following additional details are extracted from that document, with my thanks to Fred's daughters for having the foresight to republish the manuscript.

The monument originally had 3 ft high iron palisade railings but these were removed for the war effort during the scrap metal drive in World War II  It was made and erected by Messrs Lee and Dunn at a cost of £50; this was raised by public subscription as described above but a large amount of it was from school childrens' pennies.  The fund was organised by Mr W. J. Mackay, then Headmaster of Greencroft Council School (which was adjacent to the crash site), Mr Albert Laws and Mr Vincent Shanley. According to This is Money website, that would be £2,729 in February 2012.

The monument was officially unveiled on 14th May 1919 by Mr Mackay's wife and the Chairman of Annfield Plain Urban District Council, Mr Sam George presided over a Memorial Service which was caonducted by the Reverend Fisher Ferguson, Vicar of Collierley, and the children of Collierley School sang appropriate hymns under the direction of Assistant Master, Mr George Gain.

Mrs Joyce could not attend the ceremony but visited the monument two weeks later and stayed for a few days with the family of Mr Albert Laws in Annfield Plain with her two sons.

Mr E.N. Carr, a resident of Loud Terrace, was standing only about 15 yards from the scene of the crash.  He ran to the scene and tried to rescue the pilot but the wreck burst into flames within seconds and he was forced back by the flames and exploding ammunition, followed by an explosion of the petrol tank.

The inquest was held in Annfield Plain Co-operative Hall by Coroner Graham, and Mr Carr was the principal witness; Fred Wade notes that he logged the proceedings using a quill pen!  At the end of the meeting he gave each witness a new half crown (12.5 pence) coin - which was quite a substantial sum at the time.

After the 1959 renovation, the monument was re-dedicated and unveiled by Air Vice Marshal Sir Geoffrey Bromet, KBE, CB, DSO on 12th July 1959.

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