Sheppard E. - The OldWinburnians

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E.  Shepard

Full Names

Rank /Unit  

Years at Q.E.G.S.

Edward Eric Sheppard

9 (Airborne) Field Company
Royal Engineers



Date  / Place of Birth

Date  / Place of Death

Age at Death

Lytchett Minster or
Corfe  Mullen

Sunday 17th September 1944
Farrington Gurney, Somerset


Eric was the son of Stanley & Lydia Sheppard who lived at 'Beacon's Cliff', Corfe Mullen.
In the winter of 1936, Eric was in the Christmas Concert.  Form IIIA opened the proceedings with a, "A Whitewashing Incident" from Mark Twain's ' Tom Sawyer ', in which he played a relatively small part.

Early in 1939 he became a boy entrant as a Royal Engineers apprentice tradesmen at Fort Dowland, Chatham. He soon moved to the Army Technical College at Beachley (Chepstow), and volunteered for the Airborne arm of the Royal Engineers on completion of his training. It is not known when he joined 9th Field Company but he was believed to have been stationed at a Royal Engineers barracks in Lancashire when he met Dorothy Geldard from Clitheroe. Their marriage early in 1944 was sadly cut short by Edward’s death at Double Hills. There were no children of the marriage and his widow, who later remarried, died in 1985.

Earlier in the war, Eric had been through campaigns in North Africa and Italy. On the day he died, he was en route to Arnhem in a Horsa glider, which had been towed off from Keevil airfield (East of Trowbridge), by a Stirling, tug aircraft.  Approximately ten minutes after take-off, when the combination was over Farrington Gurney, Somerset, it is believed that the tail section of the glider separated from the fuselage which contained troops and equipment.  It is possible that this could have happened due to the premature  detonation of explosive bolts, which were fitted to permit a speedy evacuation of the glider and reduce the time taken to  get into action.  The loss of all control caused the glider to crash.  It came to earth, just to the west of Nr.  Paulton, Somerset, where a memorial has been placed at Double Hills near Tennis Court Road.

Eric was buried in plot Y298 in Milton Road Cemetery, Weston-super-Mare , together with the two pilots and the other 19 sappers. There is more detail on the Paradata web site.

The following is from Pp 82 - 83.  Arnhem - 1944 : The Airborne Battle.

. . . One incident ended in complete tragedy.  The account by Sergeant Wally Simpson, tail gunner in a 299 Squadron Stirling which had taken off from Keevil towing a Horsa glider, describes what happened.  The combination was flying westwards from Keevil prior to turning and joining the main stream; the pilot of the Stirling was Flying Officer Geoff Liggins, an Australian.


I was watching the Horsa trailing behind when, suddenly, the glider just seemed to part in the middle.  Horrified, I shouted  to the skipper, "My God, the glider 's coming apart. " As the tail section of the glider fell earthwards, its front section was still in tow with the Stirling and falling like a rock to earth. As it fell, the tow rope gave way and fell with the glider still attached to it.  Had the rope not broken when it did, I shudder to think what might have been.  It all happened so quickly.  Even if we had been able to release the glider, I still doubt to this day if the release mechanism would have functioned correctly due to the weight and angle of the glider. During this time Geoff was fighting to keep the aircraft flying; he did an excellent job under extreme circumstances.
We left the formation and gradually lost height and turned back to locate the wreckage.  Noting the spot, we returned to Keevil and then drove by jeep to the crash location.  I described it at the time as being " like a matchbox that had been stepped on. " The bodies of the men had remained inside.  I had no way of estimating how many dead there were.  There were no survivors.  


We now know that the glider had contained two glider pilots,.  5 N. C. Os and sixteen sappers of No.  1 Platoon, 9th Airborne Field Company, Royal Engineers.  The other half of the platoon was flying in a glider just below and watched  the wreckage floating downwards, with understandable horror. Occupants of gliders were not issued with parachutes. The tail was empty and fell in a roadway; the main fuselage fell in a field.  The cause of the accident was never established, various explosive devices were being carried, and it is possible that one of these went off prematurely.

NOTE - The crash occurred close to the village of Paulton, Somerset and the villagers later erected a memorial on the crash site, at which a commemorative service takes place on the nearest Sunday to September 17th each year.  The dead were all buried in the War Plot of Weston-super-Mare Cemetery.

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