April 13th 1953 - A normal Tuesday lunch time in the village, a few people going about their business and a string of horses had just passed through the centre when an eight-wheeled 10 ton tanker carrying 3,600 gallons of jet fuel got out of control and descended down Hungerford Hill. It raced down the High Street at approximately 60mph and in a desperate attempt to save lives the driver was pressing the horn to warn everyone, he manoeuvred the tanker between cars parked on either side of the High Street and across the square but finally lost control, crashing into property, carrying away three shop fronts and wrecking a three-storey building before it overturned across Oxford Street. The driver Mr Reginald Bungay (36) of Jennings Street, Swindon and just recently married was trapped in the cab and killed. As it crashed there was an explosion and the escaping jet fuel running down the gutter, caught fire. Two thatched cottages and three houses were burnt out and some flats were so severely damaged that they had to be evacuated.
Altogether 26 people, including five children, belonging to 11 families were rendered homeless. It was a miracle, that apart from the driver, no one else was injured.
Two of the wrecked shops belonged to Messrs. Wing and Billings, one being a tobacconist's and confectioners and the other a watchmaker's and jewellers. The third shop was Messrs. Edward and Fuller's second hand and antique dealers. Between them a living room, occupied by Miss Maberly, was destroyed, she had been away at the time and had just arrived at Lambourn Railway station when the accident happened.
Next door a three-story building, the front of which collapsed. From the street a large wardrobe could be seen wedged between the first and second floors holding up the attic. This was unoccupied, but on the first floor lived Mr and Mrs Merlyn Read and their daughter. Mr Read was at work but Mrs Read said "I was making the bed at the time, I felt the floor shake and the wall seemed to slip away and I could see into the street"
In the flats adjoining were Mr and Mrs Bolton, Mr and Mrs Haley and Mr and Mrs Deacon. The front of these were damaged by fire and the occupants were advised to leave because the foundations were insecure.
On the other side of the street a house occupied by Mr and Mrs Lambert and Mr Lambert's father was burnt out: two thatched cottages, one occupied by Mr and Mrs Stacey and their two young children, the other by Mrs Dudley, who was over 80, were burnt to the ground. A garage with Mr Billings' Chevrolet was destroyed. Two substantially built houses were gutted. One being occupied by Mr Henry Mildenhall and Miss Mildenhall, the other by Mr W Harris (who is officer-in-charge of Lambourn fire station)
Oxford Street before the crash and the Cottages which were destroyed by the tanker
And again after the crash, Mrs Read searching for any of her belongings that may have survived.
Nine fire appliances were rushed to the scene of the disaster, including a foam tender from Reading. Lambourn brigade were quickly followed Newbury firemen with water tender and major pump. Other aid came from Hungerford, Wantage, Swindon and Farringdon. In the early stages, overhead electricity cables collapsing on the roadway hampered the work of firemen. Men were getting electric shocks from live wires touching the water in which they were standing.
Station Officer, Carey, of the Newbury brigade, said they got to work at once with foam on the blazing lorry and found the driver pinned behind the steering wheel. In his opinion the driver's death was instantaneous and appeared to have been caused by injuries rather than burning. Blazing fuel was flowing down the street into the river and the flames ran over the water scorching trees and hedges on the banks for 50 yards down-stream. Every effort was made to save property into which the fire was spreading and thorough search of the burning houses was carried out to make sure nobody was trapped or injured.
The following day firemen stood by while 1200 gallons of fuel remaining in the overturned taker was pumped into another vehicle. No one was allowed in the area of the cordoned off Oxford Street while this operation was in progress. Throughout the night fireman from Newbury had been standing by and crews from Reading and Lambourn relieved them, in the early hours. The tanker was eventually recovered by its owners, Bulwark Transport, Chippenham while the fire crews hosed the road beneath the tanker in case sparks should set alight to any jet fuel which might remain.
You can watch a short newsreel as reported at the time by clicking HERE