Hats off to History

On a snowy day in early 1945 an 8th USAAF Bomb truck skidded and crashed on a quiet country road outside of Luton. In the immediate aftermath the African- American driver of the truck was to become a hero.

Sadly, tragedy was to strike moments later. The true tale of this momentous event has recently been uncovered in the archives of Luton Library. And now we need  your help in finding out more about those involved.

We’re looking to hear from local people who remember the explosion, and to find out more about the hero of the day Corporal Riggins Earle.

So if you can help track down people to record who remember the event, or can help us find out more about the people involved, please let us know!


The crash occurred on 8 January 1945. Three people were killed and eighteen injured when a USAAF bomb truck, carrying over five tonnes of explosives, caught fire and exploded on the Luton to Hitchin road near Offley, Hertfordshire. The crash took place outside Glebe Farm and less than a quarter of a mile from the row of cottages known as The Flints,

The road was slippery with ice and there had been a snow fall earlier in the day.  The collision jammed the fire extinguisher on the American truck and soon the flames had got too big to be put out.

The African-American driver of the American truck,  six-foot tall Corporal Riggins Earle, warned Mr & Mrs  Sutton, who lived at Glebe Farm and then ran up towards The Flints to warn residents of the impending explosion.

The Luton News of the  reported witness saying how  Corporal Earle waved his arms in the air and shouted

‘Bombs, Bombs’

His desperate dash succeeded, for although every window in the row was shattered, a children’s party was being held in one of the cottages and Corporal Earle’s actions meant that all the children reached safety and no on was hurt.

However, an Eastern National bus came on the scene and had stopped nearby when the heat exploded the bombs.

The explosion happened just five minutes after the trucks collided. The explosion also set fire to a British Army oil tanker which had stopped because of the blocked road after the collision.


The scene at Glebe Farm after the explosion.


The scene at Glebe Farm today.

The driver of a Vauxhall test lorry was killed and most of the other casualties were on the bus. Injured people are reported as having received treatment on the grass verge before being taken to the Luton & Dunstable Hospital.

Altogether three men – two from Luton and an American Staff Sergeant, were killed.  They where

Henry Soton  , 42, of 21 Harefield Road, Luton – a butcher.

Frank H Chambers, 44,  of  48 Avondale Road, Luton – Driver of a Vauxhall test vehicle. ( His name is recorded on the Vauxhall War memorial, Luton)

The third person killed was Staff Sergeant John S. Walters of the 8th USAAF. John served with the 357th Fighter Squadron, 355th Fighter Group ( RAF Steeple Morden) He is recorded as being buried at the Cambridge American Cemetery at Madingley.

The Luton News featured an interesting  spotlight about the explosion under the heading ‘ The British Spirit’


At the inquest into the men’s deaths the coroner commended Corporal Earle for his actions in saving the local people from the explosion, including the party of children. The story even made it to the pages of the Chicago Tribune.

We’d really love to find out more about this story and honour the bravery of those involved on the day, so please get in touch if you can help!