Leading Aircraftman William Deuchars

Leading Aircraftman William Deuchars was killed in one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history and the largest in the UK. Only three other larger blasts were recorded during World War Two, those at Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the US New Mexico desert nuclear bomb test.

In 1937, 450 square feet of disused gypsum workings in Staffordshire, England were purchased by the Air Ministry for weapons and ordnance storage. On Monday 27 November 1944, at 11.11am, an explosion occurred at RAF Fauld, No. 21 Maintenance Unit Bomb Storage Dump. Up to 4,500 tonnes (3.6 million kg) exploded, including 3,500 tonnes of bombs packed with high explosives. It created a crater with a depth of 30m and 230m diameter. A nearby reservoir containing 450,000 cubic metres of water along with several buildings including a complete farm were obliterated in the incident. Flooding caused by the destruction of the reservoir added to the damage. In addition an open dump of incendiary bombs caught fire and it was allowed to burn itself out without further damage or casualties.

It is estimated that 70 to 78 people died because of the explosion. The rescue work took months and was hindered by pockets of gas, 6 million gallons of water and 10,000 tons of rubble. The entire mine completely disappeared, seismographs recorded the shock waves at Casablanca, Morocco.

A court of inquiry found that the likely cause of the explosion was due to a site worker removing a detonator from a live bomb using a brass chisel, rather than a wooden batten, resulting in sparks. This was in direct contravention of the regulations in force at the time.

Leading Aircraftman William Deuchars, RAFVR, 1341152 was 38 years old and the son of Mr John and Mrs Christina Deuchars, King Street, Crieff. William was a painter before he joined the RAF and a keen member of Crieff Bowling Club. He is buried in Crieff Cemetery.

Research by Ken Bruce

Perthshire Advertiser 2 December 1944
A close-up of the memorial plaque at the Fauld Crater by Humphrey Bolton, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
ROYAL AIR FORCE MAINTENANCE COMMAND, 1939-1945. (CH 20852) Oblique aerial view of the crater caused by the detonation of 3,500 tons of high explosive in the New High Explosive Bomb Area at No. 21 Maintenance Unit at Fauld, near Hanbury, Staffordshire, at 11.11 am on 27 November 1944. RAF Fauld, situated in a former gypsum mine, was the main repository of HE ordnance in the country. The explosion, calculated at some 4 kilotonnes, constitutes the world’s … Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205023032
ROYAL AIR FORCE MAINTENANCE COMMAND, 1939-1945. (CH 3043) Storemen stack 250-lb MC bombs in one of the tunnels at No. 21 Maintenance Unit at Fauld, near Hanbury, Staffordshire. RAF Fauld, situated in a former gypsum mine, was the main repository of high explosive ordnance in the country. Part of the MU blew up on 27 November 1944, – the World’s largest non-nuclear explosion, – and 70 servicemen and civilian workers were killed or declared missing. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210082
ROYAL AIR FORCE MAINTENANCE COMMAND, 1939-1945. (HU 93007) A light railway train loaded with 500-lb GP bombs outside the entrance of No. 21 Maintenance Unit, Fauld, Staffordshire. The wagons are being given a final check before travelling up to the mainline link at Scropton, roughly one mile to the north of the underground storage depot. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205211421
ROYAL AIR FORCE MAINTENANCE COMMAND, 1939-1945. (CH 3046) 250-lb MC bombs being transported out of No. 21 Maintenance Unit at Fauld, near Hanbury, Staffordshire, by light railway. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210083