The propeller came from a Flying Fortress which crashed in December 1944 while returning from a bombing mission over Germany which was aborted because of fog. The pilot was flying in white-out blizzard conditions, following a weak direction signal to their home base in Cambridgeshire, when the side of a hill suddenly loomed in front of him. Two members of the crew died on impact. The seven survivors made haste to abandon the plane, mindful that it was still carrying a full load of bombs which could explode at any minute. They became separated in the fog. Three of them managed to reach a farmhouse, where they narrowly escaped being shot by the occupants, who thought they were Germans. Once he realised his mistake the farmer lent his motorbike to one of the Americans and he was able to drive to the nearest town and arrange for an ambulance to take them all to the RAF hospital near Berwick. The other four fliers, more badly hurt, had taken shelter from the storm as best they could on the exposed hillside by crawling into a ditch and wrapping themselves in a parachute. They were discovered by a collie dog called Sheila who belonged to two local shepherds who had heard the crash and gone out to search for survivors. The shepherds helped the airmen to the home of one of them and his wife tended to their injuries while his daughter walked several miles in the blizzard to reach a telephone and summon the RAF ambulance. In the 1940s ordinary people did not have phones - indeed they were still not that common in Northumberland in the 1960s.
The PR potential of the story was recognised by the Honeywell company when the boys sent it a switch of its manufacture that they had found among the wreckage of the plane, which after more than twenty years buried in English mud still worked. The company arranged for the memorial to be unveiled in a state-of-the-art transatlantic ceremony. The son of one of the crew members who had died pressed this switch, suitably restored, in New York and a cover in the colours of the USAAF fell off the memorial in the heart of the remote Cheviot hills. This necessitated laying several miles of cable. A bunch of notables in the States made speeches praising the efforts of the local Brits in aiding American fighters during the war and commemorating them now. In the days before the internet it must have been quite something for a group of young lads from Northumberland to introduce themselves to a couple of US generals speaking live from New York. Here is the timetable for the event. My father once remarked on how pleased he was with his photo of the fly-past, but sadly I haven't been able to find it.
P.S. I have now given these papers and photos to the local archives in Berwick, so if you want to see them, call in and ask Linda, the ever helpful archivist.
Absolutely fascinating - as an amateur Historian - and recently been involved in 2013 in Commemorations of this B17 Crash - which involved the Son of Toglier Frank L Turner - one of the fatalities - this is simply poignant - Thank you - Keith CockburnReplyDelete
Thanks very much Keith. As I say in my P.S. these papers are now in the local Berwick archives, where Linda Bankier is able to relate them to other materials on plane crashes in the area. There is now a much fancier memorial to all the airmen who crashed there, but to me it seems sad that the pioneering efforts of the Alnwick boys have been largely forgotten.ReplyDelete