"to Our Friends and Allies, Far from Home."

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The graves of Albert Dawson and Stanley Wells in the Navy Veterans section of Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett, MA (photo courtesy of Henry Hicks)

Far From Home

Today, June 6th, we commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy. This huge undertaking, which involved thousands of crafts and hundreds of thousands of men, was the start of the liberation of France and ultimately of the Allied victory in Europe. Needless to say, there were Needham men among the many who took part in the operation.


Here in Needham, there was another event of the war that took place that day in 1944 – smaller in scale, but no less tragic for all that. Around noon on that day, a training flight flown by two British pilots crashed in the vicinity of Charles River Street, killing both. In 2002, Needham historian Henry Hicks researched this occurrence, both here and in England, and wrote a brief article about it for us. I’ll let Henry take it from here:


“Those at home in Needham were involved in the war effort in many ways. Plenty of United States military war craft flew over the town, including at least two flown by Needham pilots-in-training who reportedly “buzzed” the high school. However, the war touched Needham rather dramatically on that 6th of June, when Needham witnessed the crash of a military aircraft in the town with the loss of its two crew members.


“I had known of the incident through the work I had done with the WWII Commemoration Committee... Then recently I had the great good fortune to meet Bob Haigis of Uxbridge, MA. Bob was an elementary student in Wellesley in 1944, and on D-Day the schools were dismissed around noon. Bob and a friend made their way by bike to the square. Suddenly, they saw two low-flying planes, one belching smoke as it flew toward the Charles, and then an explosion. On their bikes, they made their way to the corner of Charles River and Grove Streets. Soon the Needham police and firemen took over to put out the fire in the woods and keep the curious away. The boys saw one destroyed plane and the removal of two bodies.”


This is what we know: two US Navy Grumman Avengers out of the Naval Air Station at South Weymouth were on a training flight when one developed engine trouble. It was flown by two British Royal Navy Reserve men. When it crashed, it may have been attempting to circle to the only airstrip in Needham, then at Babson College, or the nearby Wellesley Golf Club. The Needham police responded, and the site was quickly sealed off by the MA State Guard. The Women’s Defense Corps also responded to the emergency. By 9:15 PM a detachment of US Marines took over the guard duties and by early Wednesday the remnants of the plane were carted away.


Remarkably, the Needham papers did not report on this event – whether they thought it was bad for morale, or for security, or for some other reason. It was reported locally only by the Wellesley Townsman (June 9, 1944) and more broadly by the Boston Globe on June 7th. The Needham Times posted a story, using eyewitness accounts, in July 2021.


Henry Hicks and Bob Haigis continued their research, and were able to find both the names and the burial places of the two flyers. They were Sub-Lt. Albert John Dawson, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve; and Air Mechanic 1st Class Stanley Clive Wells, Royal Navy. Albert Dawson was from Stoke-on-Kent, Staffordshire, and was 20 years old. Less is known about Stanley Wells. They were buried in the Navy veterans’ section of the Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett, MA, along with numerous US sailors who lost their lives in the war.


Also thanks to Henry and Bob, there is a memorial to the two men at the intersection of Grove and Charles River Streets, near the site of the plane crash, bearing a small Union Jack and a reminder of their sacrifice. Inscribed on the plaque is “To our Friends and Allies, Far from Home.”


Gloria Polizzotti Greis is the Executive Director of the Needham History Center & Museum. For more information, please see our website at www.needhamhistory.org.

The British Are Coming!

A reenactment by the King's Own, 4th Regiment of Foot

Saturday, June 22 from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm, on the Town Common

The Needham Council for Arts and Culture, working with the Massachusetts Cultural Council, has invited the Kings Own, 4th Foot, to Needham. The King’s Own is a historically accurate group of reenactors who bring the British army of the American Revolution to life. On June 22nd, from 9:00 to 1:00, the King’s Own will recreate an expedition of British soldiers who’ve ventured out from Boston in 1775. Our Soldiers will set up at the Town Common, right next to Town Hall. Such soldiers were sent to Boston to keep an eye on the people of Massachusetts in the wake of events like the Boston Tea Party. Soldiers from the 4th Foot would be the first to die in the American Revolution at the Battle of Concord.

Soldiers will drill, cook, demonstrate weapons and tactics, and engage with the public. There will be demonstrations of musket and bayonet use, as well was aspects of daily life in the dramatic months leading up the revolution. This event is designed to be fun, educational, and family friendly. Needham’s role in the early days of the revolution will be highlighted. See their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/KingsOwnLights/

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Calendar and Events

Visit our Calendar for all our event listings

Save the Date! "Rendezvous with Rachel Revere." Our favorite annual lunch on the terrace of the MIT Endicott House, followed by a performance by Judith Kalaora of HistoryAtPlay. Celebrating the 250th anniversary of the Lexington Alarm! September 19 at 12:00 pm. Tickets and information coming soon.

Read All About It!

The Thursday News is posted every week on our website, www.needhamhistory.org (scroll down to Current Newsletter).  An archive of previous weeks' stories is there as well.

Community Events

Other events of interest, from around town and beyond

Friends of the Needham Public Library to present "The State of the Charles River." June 6 at 7:30 pm, in the Community room of the Needham Free Public Library, 1139 Highland Avenue. The Charles River flows through Needham and nearby communities, defining and enhancing our lives. Once a fetid waterway clogged with trash and polluted with industrial discharges and raw sewage, this iconic natural feature today is hailed as one of the cleanest urban rivers in America. Still, keeping the river healthy is an ongoing challenge. Emily Norton, executive director of the Charles River Watershed Association, will give an update on the river’s ecological health, climate change resiliency, dam removal, public access and the impact of riverside development. She will also discuss legislation aimed at protecting the river. This event is free, but registration is required. Please sign up here: https://needhamlibrary.org/events.

Race Amity Day will be on Sunday, June 9, from 3 - 5pm at Amity Path at Needham Reservoir, 500 Dedham Avenue, Needham. This event celebrates the friendships between people of different races and cultures, and recognizes the collaborations which advance equity and social justice. Sponsored by the Needham Diversity Initiative and the Needham Human Rights Committee. There will be live music, food, a craft activity and fun. Free. www.needhamdiversity.org

Community Art Gallery Show Highlights the Creative Process. April 14 through June 9. Monday-Friday 9am to 3 pm, Sundays 9am to 12pm. In the Upper Parish Hall at Christ Episcopal Church, 1132 Highland Avenue, Needham. The creative process is the theme of a new art exhibition at the Community Art Gallery in Needham. Its mission is to connect diverse communities. The gallery, curated by Lucy Nims-LaFleche, presents work from artists of any age and faith, from novice to seasoned professional. The show includes 35 paintings produced by 11 students and Ms. Brown. Many (but not all) paintings will be available for sale. The artists are pleased to donate 20% of all sales to the Christ Church Haiti Program. In addition to Ms. Brown, artists showing their work are: Jane Christo, Margaret Elizondo, Golnaz Goodarzi, John Higgins, Mitchell Karas, Riseon Kim, Jane Valley Lawson, Carolyn E. Lovit, Margaret Pantridge, Joseph Sardaro and Emily Shedlock.

King's Own 4th Regiment of Foot. A reenactment on the Town Common. June 22, 9 am to 1 pm. See above for details.

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Lead Sponsor - The Needham Bank 

Exhibits Sponsor - Beth Israel Deaconess Needham

Program Sponsor - North Hill 

Gold Sponsor - NC Wyeth Foundation and Reading Libraries

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The Needham History Center & Museum

781-455-8860 / www.needhamhistory.org