Ford, William “Bill” Hendrie

We do not want Bill to be forgotten. He was born on the 3rd August 1918 in St. Kilda, Victoria and enlisted in Melbourne on the 3rd February 1941. His death occurred on the 27th February 1943 when he was posted to 55 OB (RP). Bill’s name is recorded at Sandringham Roll of Honour, Victoria.

The Capstan aircraft referred to in the story below was, in the early part of the war here in Australia, the code name for the newly arrived Spitfires. This poignant report about the horrific crash, submitted by his fellow officer, Flying Officer Hal Whillans, is as follows:

I have to submit this report in connection with the accident of Capstan Aircraft No.BS175 in which Flying Officer Ford lost his life.

The crashed aircraft was sighted from the air at 1700 hours on the 6th March 1943, location being Easting 362, Northing 330 on the map of Darwin Area, Sheet D53 (8 miles to 1 inch). The land party left Batchelor on that date and arrived at the scene of the crash at 1130 hours on the 12th March 1943. Various difficulties had to be surmounted owing to the flooding of the roads; also a crocodile infested river had to be negotiated by swimming. The crash itself was located in extremely rough country.

Judging by the angle the aircraft struck the ground, it is my considered opinion that the aircraft, which was fitted with a 90 gallon belly tank, spun into the ground and on striking the rock mountain side, blew up and caught fire. Debris was strewn about the country side. The body of the pilot was completely incinerated; great difficulty being experienced in dissecting the charred mass. No identification discs or anything of value was found.

Following a consultation, it was decided the best possible expedient was to bury the remains at the scene of the crash, there being no facilities available to bring the charred remains, a few big bones, back for burial. A rock grave was built on which was placed the propeller. A tombstone was made from the armour plating.

It is my opinion that the official exhumation party may reach the scene of the disaster when the weather has become more settled, if it is decided that such action should be taken.

The position of the aircraft from the Tin Mine Muckinbar (marked workings on map) is a bearing of 215 degrees.  Distance by air, approximately 5 miles. The Capstan crashed on the west side of Table Top range.

In addition to the above report, No.7 RSU Operations Record Book has the following entry:
Pell Field 1943.
N.W. Area. Mar 6 Capstan aircraft BS175 crashed between Wyndham and Strauss. Salvage suspended owing to transport unable to reach scene of crash through the roads being impassable.
A further entry dated June 23 stated: Salvage completed on Spitfire BS175 from Wyndham for 452 Squadron by No.3 Salvage.

An edited version of the relevant part of the Aircraft Log for A58-69 (BS175) is as follows:
Accident; missing 1710 hrs 04/03/43 on ferry flight between Strauss and Wyndham with five other Spitfires, escorted by a 13 Squadron RAAF Hudson. Last seen climbing to 1500 feet after switching formation position from outside starboard echelon, to port side to form 3-1-3 in relation to the Hudson before entering storm clouds. Pilot; Flying Officer W.H.Ford Service No. 401429 missing, believed killed. Search aircraft sited wreck 1700 hrs on 06/03/43 some 5 miles from Tin Mine at Muckinbar, on the west side of Table Top Range. The aircraft , carrying 90 gallon slipper tank, had stalled on climb, crashed, and was totally destroyed by fire. AMSE Approval to convert to components per File#9/16/722 Min#5 05/04/43.

The following is an extract from Darwin Spitfires by Anthony Cooper:
The wet season weather was a hazard in itself, as shown by what happened to Flying Officer Bill Ford on 27 February, during a transit flight to Wyndham by six aircraft from 452 Squadron in company with a 13 Squadron Hudson. Encountering a wide front of severe thunderstorms with 10/10th cloud, the Spitfires closed up on the Hudson, their pilots concentrating on holding position in the murky turbulence while the Hudson pilot flew on instruments. Flight Lieutenant Ted Hall, the Flight Commander, saw Ford suddenly break away from the formation and climb steeply, disappearing into the blanketing mass of dark cloud that was piled up above. When the formation emerged into clear air on the other side of the weather, Ford’s Spitfire was nowhere to be seen, and neither did he respond over the R/T. FordWilliam Hendrie Pic 2

The wreckage of the aircraft was discovered the next day by air search, its twisted debris strewn all over the precipitous rocky slopes of Table Top Range. A ground party led by Flying Officer Hal Whillans, one of Ford’s squadron mates, undertook an expedition to the crash site – forced by flooded roads to leave their vehicles and by necessity to swim a ‘crocodile infested’ river before reaching the wreck on 12 March. Disoriented by the cloud, Ford had spun in, descending vertically, his aircraft exploding against the hard ground and shattering into small pieces. His body was incinerated in the fire, so Whillans and his men had ‘great difficulty’ in ‘dissecting the charred mass.’ All they got were a few big bones, and these they buried under a stone cairn surmounted by the twisted propeller of Spitfire BS 175, with its seat armour propped up as a headstone.

Hal Whillans and Julie Halliday
Updated by Vince Conant
The Spitfire Association