The deadly toll extracted by beautiful Clee Hills

Beautiful, spectacular – and deadly.

All six on board this American Flying Fortress bomber died in 1944 when it crashed into Titterstone Clee Hill.
All six on board this American Flying Fortress bomber died in 1944 when it crashed into Titterstone Clee Hill.

The Clee Hills are one of Shropshire's landscape jewels, designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

But, says author Bernard O'Connor: "Few residents and even fewer visitors are aware that it is claimed that more people have been killed in air crashes on these hills than on any other highland area in Britain."

He has now told the story of the tragic toll extracted by the Clee Hills in a new book, called simply "Air Crashes on the Clee Hills."

His researches have revealed that they were the site of 19 air crashes between 1937 and 1975 with the loss of 43 lives.

This Junkers Ju88 raider came to grief in 1941.

On the two main features, 23 died on Brown Clee Hill, which is the highest hill in Shropshire, while Titterstone Clee claimed 11.

"It needs to be remembered that 17 survived, either by parachuting out of the aircraft or escaping with their lives, often injured, after crash landing.

"Those who lost their lives were 28 British personnel, six Germans, four Americans, four Canadians and one New Zealander.

"Four Avro Ansons came down, three Bristol Blenheims, two Vickers Wellingtons, a Flying Fortress, a Tiger Moth, an American Mustang, a Miles Magister, a Hawker Typhoon, an Airspeed Oxford, a Jet Provost, a Harrier jet, a Junkers 88 and a Heinkel.

"Many local people came out to help after the crashes. There were agricultural labourers, farmers, the Home Guard, anti-aircraft crews, searchlight crews, troops from the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, and the local police as well as staff from the RAF maintenance (rescue) unit and RAF accident investigators.

"Local hospital staff, clergy, gravediggers and crematorium staff played an important role. Local photographers made a record of many of the crashes and reporters from the local, and sometimes national, press ensured readers were provided with the details."

This Jet Provost crashed on January 24, 1969.

Bernard, who is a retired teacher and lives in Bouldon in the shadow of the Clee Hills, has dipped into contemporary sources including articles from the local press and research by aviation historians Philippa Hodgkiss, Glyn Warren, Adrian Durnell and Tom Thorne to tell the human story of the many disasters, and near disasters.

He says the first recorded air crash on the Clee Hills took place several years before the start of the Second World War.

A Bristol Blenheim, a twin-engined light bomber of 90 Squadron, was on a navigation exercise flight from RAF Bicester in Oxfordshire when it dived out of cloud and crashed into Lyth Bank, Stanton Long.

All three crew were killed.

A memorial on Brown Clee Hill records the 23 lives it claimed, including those of the two crew of a Jet Provost who died when the aircraft hit the hill in misty weather in January 1969.

The monument on Brown Clee Hill

The monument was erected by amateur historian Philippa Hodgkiss, of the Marches Aviation Society, Abergavenny.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, she spent a great deal of time locating the crash sites on the Clee Hills, often assisted by local people, notably Maud Howells and Tom Bytheway, who clearly remembered the tragic incidents.

Deeply moved by the accounts of those who had witnessed the terrible loss of young lives, Philippa vowed that their names should be commemorated.

After much research through the Ministry of Defence and the Air Historical Branch, Royal Air Force, their identities were traced.

Permission was then obtained from Lord Boyne for a memorial to be placed on the Brown Clee.

The memorial on Brown Clee Hill was erected without fanfare in 1981.

Looking for a suitable stone, friends in the Merseyside-based Warplane Wreck Investigation Group helped source a monumental mason who happened to have in his workshop a slate billiard table from the former mess at RAF West Kirby.

This was a wartime recruit training camp – meaning it was not impossible that an airman commemorated on the memorial might have played on that billiard table.

It was put in place without witnesses or publicity by Philippa on Good Friday, 1981.

Bernard's book is available on Amazon and through internet publisher Lulu (www.lulu.com)

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