Monday, 23 November 2015

Wartime Air Crash near Earlston

A Poignant Wartime Tale

Earlier this year, the Auld Earlston Group  received an enquiry from the  Aircrew Remembrance Society, who,   on behalf of the grandson of the pilot Paul “Peter” Rogge (left),   was seeking information on the crash of a German bomber at Darlingfield, near Earlston in 1943.  

Local residents recalled the event, with some children taken to see the crash site, but they were too young to know any details.  However Auld Earlston  referred the Society to the Scottish Borders Archive Service at the Heritage Hub, Hawick, who were known to hold police records relating to wartime air crashes.  

With sensitive sections omitted, the information from the Aircrew Remembrance Society website and the Heritage Hub, Hawick, forms  the basis of this tragic wartime story.

The police report read:  
 "At midnight on the night of Wednesday/Thursday 24th/25th March 1943, I received the air raid warning "Red".  At that time aircraft could be heard overhead of Earlston.   Immediately after receiving this warning and passing  it onto the Civil Defence Services,  I went out on duty with Special Constable XXXXAt about 0.10 hours,  when in the Market Place, I heard a burst of machine gun fire  right up overhead....... I heard a roar of aircraft  increasing to a high pitch.   I heard a second short burst of machine gun fire and   this was immediately followed by the abrupt cessation of the high pitch roar. ...there was a great flash of light, followed by a dull thud.     

At about 0.30 hours we received a report from XXXXX of Fans Farm, Earlston  that he could see a number of small fires in a  field  and described them as like a stick of incendiary bomb burning........We located  the site on the  farm of Darllngfield, Earlston and  reaching this field we discovered a German aircraft.  It had apparently dived  straight into the ground and parts of it were still burning in a deep crater with parts strewn over a wide area.............All the aircrew were killed.   

The bodies of the crew were  were removed by ambulance to the RAF station at  Charterthall;  personal property and documents were handed over intact to  to RAF Intelligence, Turnhouse,  Edinburgh

A report was received from  XXXX to the effect that he had discovered three bomb craters  in a plantation known as Racecourse  Plantation on the  farm of Yarlside....apparently made by heavy HE bombs....only partially detonated.  No unexploded bombs were found, and no damage had been done."  

The Aircrew Remembrance Society website relates:

 "On March 24th-25th 1943,  a German Junker plane was on a mission to attack Edinburgh.  "This aircraft crashed at 0030 hours on 25.03.43 at Earlston near Melrose, Berwickshire. Map Ref: U.0756. The cause of the crash is obscure.

The aircraft was heard flying fairly low and three witnesses stated that firing in the air was heard before It crashed and it was almost entirely destroyed or buried, the crew being killed. There are no reports of an interception in this area at the time of the crash. No bullet strikes can be found in the wreckage.

Engines; Jumo 211, these were buried but wooden propellers were traced.

Armament; Appears to be normal for this sub-series of aircraft and included a 20 mm Oerlikon gun.

Various equipment; Dive brakes were fitted and remains of a BZA 1 bombsight were located. There was evidence of a wireless FuG 10 but no opinion can be given as to whether a radio altimeter was carried or not. A Kutonase cable cutter of built in type was traced. It would appear from the wreckage examined that this aircraft was quite new."

On 2nd April 1943, "The Kelso Chronicle" featured a report headed  "Eight Bombers Down:  Enemy Attacks Parts of Scotland".  For reasons of security, the actual detail given was very vague, but includes a reference to:
Four miles from a small town in south east Scotland, where high explosives and incendary bombs fell, some damage was caused.........Not far away, the wreckage of a burned out German plane was found, as well as parts of a propeller, an oxygen breathing apparatus and a German helmet."     

All four members of the crew were killed, with the body of the gunner never found.  Their initial burial place was at nearby Fogo Churchyard, before being transferred to the German Military Cemetery in Staffordshire. 

Amazingly this photo of baby Irmtrud pictured at eight weeks old was found in the tunic pocket of pilot Paul Rogge.   All personal items were returned to his family  via the German Red Cross.

Paul Rogge's  Family - daughters Siegrun and Irmtrud and his wife Gusti

In Autumn 2015 a small memorial to the victims of the crash was unveiled at Darlingfield in the  presence of the pilot's  grandson and daughter (the baby in the picture above) who had never known her father. The moving private ceremony was led by Earlston minister Rev. Julie Wood with representatives of the Earlston community present.  

May They Rest in Peace 

With grateful thanks to Henning Hiestermann. grandson of the plot Paul Rogge,
and also David King and Melvin Brownless of the Aircrew Remembrance Society
 for granting permission to feature information and photographs from its website.  




  1. My mum told me this story years ago and how she and her sister hid under their bedsheets when they heard the plane coming down. She would have been 13 then and if she did not visit the site she definately knew people who had as she described some of it.

  2. Just read through this and it brings a shiver down my neck to think I work the land where this soul perished and never found . To see the pictures of the crew and the pilots family the burned photo of his daughter and the wallet brings it out that they were all family men just like us, doing a job for their country . I was led to belive it was shot down by a spitfire night fighter from Drem but the report say no bullet holes were found . Thanks for the post, very interesting.

  3. I can remember it. My mother wouldn't let me go to see where the plane had come down.

  4. Henning Hiestermann16 December 2015 at 12:28

    Thank you very much for posting this on your page. For my mother and me the visit in Earlston was something very special we never forget and we look forward to further documents relating to the crash. If anyone could help to find photos of the crash site from 1943 or newspaper reports about the crash, I would be very grateful if these are published here. Thank you for your support and best regards from Germany.
    Henning Hiestermann - Grandson of Paul Rogge the pilot of the crashed JU 88.

    1. Dear Henning, it was good to read your comment on our blog post on the Darlingfield Air Crash. Auld Earlston was delighted to help in a small way in your search for information on your grandfather's death. Regarding newspaper coverage, my understanding is that war-time air crashes were not reported in the press, due to matters of security, but I will look into this further now that we have a specific date. With kind regards from the Auld Earlston Group.


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