Christmas tragedy at Prestwick (Part 3)

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The initial version of this web page brought responses which shed additional light on the 1954 BOAC crash at Prestwick. Lesley Tutty, who was seven years old and living with her mother and father in Prestwick at the time of the crash, related a poignant story in her first of several emails.

Lesley explained that her father had gone to Prestwick Airport late on Christmas Eve to await the arrival of her sister, Irene, and her husband, Douglas Beauchamp, who were onboard. Lesley’s father witnessed the crash of G-ALSA.

Lesley Tutty’s first email (dated March 16, 2004):

I was astounded to find your website this evening after unsuccessfully searching the web for some time for any information about this particular crash. You see, my older sister (only 25 years old at the time), Irene, and her husband, Douglas Beauchamp, were amongst those passengers killed in this crash. My sister worked for BOAC and her husband was in the RAF. It was the first and, sadly, the last time they had flown together.

London Times of the nose section of Stratocruiser G-ALSA, published December 28, 1954.

I was seven years old at the time and looking forward to seeing them both again for Christmas as we had not seen them for over a year because we had been living abroad with my father who was serving in the army in Singapore. We had recently come back to the UK and were living in Edinburgh. My father had gone to the airport to meet them and, instead, had to bring the dreadful news back to my mother.

All I remember about that Christmas Day, apart from my mother being in tears most of the time, was the front door knocker going and my father telling the reporters to go away. Nobody told me what had happened at the time; it was only when we went down to London for their funeral that I dimly began to realise the sad truth that I would not see my lovely sister and her husband ever again.

Many years later I began to be interested in family history and, as part of my research, went to Collingdale to the Newspaper Reading Room and found some details of the crash on their microfiches.

Lesley soon followed up her initial email with two more, providing more information about the terrible impact the crash had on her and her family. On March 17, 2004, she wrote:

My mother never recovered from the dreadful shock of the awful manner of Irene’s death and died herself of cancer some five years later. Irene and I had different fathers (hers having been killed in action in Norway during WWII).

My childhood was of course shadowed by the tragedy and, until my mother died, we went to the cemetery in London every Christmas Day to lay flowers on Irene and Douglas’ grave. After my mother died, in the way of the young, I pushed the sad event from my mind.

I discovered later that some time after my mother’s death my father had disposed of all my mother’s photograph albums and any other memorabilia relating to my sister in the belief that they would be of no interest to me. My father died in 1986 and had never wished to talk about the crash (not surprisingly I guess, as he had to identify the badly burned bodies), so I am only left with what are now rather vague memories of Irene and Douglas.

Lesley asked if I could help her locate any information about her sister and brother-in-law. She was especially interested in obtaining photographs. Unfortunately, I could only suggest that she search public records, newspaper archives, etc. Eventually, Lesley succeeded in her quest:

Email from Lesley Tutty, dated March 24, 2004:

I have now traced and ordered a copy of Irene and Douglas’ marriage certificate which might give me some further clues. It seems they were married in a church in Ealing and I believe the cemetery where they are buried is also in Ealing, so I can see a visit to London coming up shortly. I understand that microfiches of Scottish death certificates for that year prepared by the Mormons are held at a local family history centre, so I will see if I can go and consult them.

Lesley was eventually successful in her search for more information about her sister, and was able to locate a wedding photograph. She wrote again on October 29, 2013:

~Photo courtesy of Lesley Tutty and her niece, Vanessa Cameron

…I did track down my niece (daughter of my other sister, Daphne) who now lives in Australia and she was able to send me a copy of a wedding photo for Irene and Douglas (they were married on March 24, 1951). However, as she wasn’t born at the time of the disaster she was unable to tell me anything more than I already knew from a search of newspaper archives, your original website, and my own childhood memories….

I now have a copy of the death registration which became available on the ScotlandsPeople website in 2005. This confirms Douglas Alan Beauchamp, 26 years old, died about 3:30 a.m. on Dec. 25, 1954 from third degree burns and shock, and that Irene Joan Beauchamp (née Higham), 25 years old, died about 3:30 a.m. from asphyxia and extensive burns.

Death records of Douglas Alan Beauchamp and Irene Joan Beauchamp (née Higham), highlighted in blue. The last entry on the sheet records another death from the crash of G-ALSA at Prestwick. See a higher-resolution copy of the death registrations of both Douglas and Irene Beauchamp. ~ Courtesy ScotlandsPeople web site

Next, in Part 4: One victim of the crash of BOAC Stratocruiser G-ALSA was Ken Davidson, a well-known badminton expert, cricket player, and entertainer from New York City. To this day, family members cherish his memory.

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