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Bid to remember tragic Priscilla killed in one Shropshire air crash

By Toby Neal | Cleobury Mortimer | Features | Published:

A young woman who was killed in one of Shropshire's worst ever air crashes has been remembered in ceremonies in her native Belfast on the 75th anniversary of her death.

nostalgia pic. Clee Hill. Captain Priscilla Gotto, aged 27, from Belfast, who was killed when a Boeing B17 Flying Fortress on which she was hitching a lift home crashed into the Clee Hill east of Ludlow on Saturday, November 25, 1944. All six on board died. This picture emailed by researcher Chris Ross from Northern Ireland who wants to find a spot for a suitable memorial. christopheross61@gmail.com 02890 763885 (or 263885, cant read my writing). Clee Hill air crash. Library code: Clee Hill nostalgia 2019..

Captain Priscilla Gotto, 27, was hitching a ride home in an American Boeing B17 bomber when the plane smashed into the Clee Hill, east of Ludlow, killing all six on board.

And now Chris Ross, who has researched the tragedy, is hoping to find a spot on the Shropshire landmark to place a memorial.

"We are looking for a contact over there, an organisation which could tell us where it would be appropriate to put it," he said.

The Flying Fortress bomber took off from Stansted on Saturday, November 25, 1944, and was carrying three passengers – Priscilla, and an American Major and Lieutenant Colonel.

The wreckage of the tragic bomber

Its ultimate destination was Northern Ireland, via Burtonwood, but the pilot became lost in bad weather and when he descended below the clouds found himself surrounded by high ground.

As he tried to climb out of trouble a wing clipped the ledge of a quarry on Titterstone Clee Hill at 1,300ft, and the aircraft cartwheeled to its doom.

Chris, from Northern Ireland, became interested in 2013 when he saw the names of two of the American victims on a memorial at the former American military cemetery at Lisnabreeny, which overlooks Belfast.

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A wing struck the ledge of a quarry at Titterstone Clee Hill

That pair had been initially buried there, but their bodies and those of the other American victims, who were buried at Cambridge, were repatriated to America after the war.

"Further research led me to discover that Captain Priscilla Gotto was a young Belfast woman who volunteered with the Mechanised Transport Corps and on visiting her family plot in the city cemetery in Belfast I found her grave had the simple epitaph 'Called Home'," he said.

"I felt it strange that the only person killed in the air crash and still resting in the British Isles had no acknowledgement as to how or with whom she died.

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"Thus began my quest to have a memorial tablet erected at Lisnabreeny to highlight the link between Captain Gotto, her fellow passengers on the flight, and the crew who were buried in England.

Priscilla was remembered in a Belfast ceremony on the 75th anniversary of her death

"During the intervening years I met David Gotto, Priscilla's nephew who not only gave his wholehearted support to the memorial tablet but also embarked on a restoration of the family grave which will in time also indicate how Priscilla died and with whom."

Chris also made contact with the families of some American victims and came up with a plan to erect a memorial tablet at Lisnabreeny, although he said permission was turned down by the National Trust, custodians of the site, on the grounds that Captain Gotto was not an American and had never been buried there.

"Despite this last minute setback the tablet was produced and a small event was held at Lisnabreeny on the 75th anniversary of the air crash. A specially commissioned poem by Maria McManus was read and a wreath was laid in front of the tablet by Mr David Gotto and his sister Anthea," he added.

The wreath and memorial tablet, which could come to Shropshire if a site can be found

"Later that day the guests assembled at the restored Gotto family plot where the poem was read again and a floral tribute was laid by the family.

"It is our hope that the memorial tablet can be taken to Clee Hill and placed as a permanent reminder of the events of November 25, 1944, and any assistance offered by World War Two aviation history groups in the area in assisting us finding a suitable location would be greatly appreciated.

"I am aware that a memorial plaque already exists on Clee Hill which commemorates all Allied and Axis airmen who crashed there, but this tablet highlights the contribution of a woman volunteer and the link between the US and British forces who worked, lived, laughed and died together during a cloudy day on a Shropshire hill."

Anyone who can help can contact him on christopheross61@gmail.com

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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