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Logo: Tom Bates, Derbyshire Local Histrory writer  
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The Smerrill Wellington

Posted Saturday, July 7, 2007

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The Smerrill Wellington:

`a strange and exciting discovery'

It was whilst metal-detecting with my partner at Smerrill Grange, a medieval Monastic Grange originally built by the Monks of Roche Abbey between Middleton and Gratton in the White Peak, that we made a strange and exciting discovery.

Our detectors were emitting signals like crazy in a relatively small area on the top of a steep bank just below the farm buildings and we began to dig up dozens of small fragments of alluminium.

`the biggest tractor that had ever existed'

The metal was occasionally accompanied by scraps of perspex, and though slightly mystified, we concluded that we had stumbled upon an old agricultural dump, probably bits of old tractor. But if this was true then it was the biggest tractor that had ever existed because the `bits’ seemed to be scattered across a wide expanse of the hillside!

The scraps of alluminium provided no clues - until we unearthed a small piece of metal with the words, `Pilot’s Light’ clearly visible.

“It’s off an old gas cooker” suggested my metal-detecting partner Simon, I’ll bet this is an old rubbish dump”, he added, disappointingly.

No, I replied, `look, it says Pilot’s Light, - not pilot light”.

We continued our search and within a couple of hours had accumulated dozens of metal and perspex fragments; including a broken bakelite panel displaying the words, `interior lights’; `pilot’s port light’; and `pilot’s starboard light’; a 3”x2” metal plate bearing the legend `Overload Tank Cock’; a smaller metal plate with the words `call light’ imprinted on its surface, and the toggle of a zip fastener with the letters `am’ stamped beneath a crown.

We came excitedly to the conclusion that these bits had to be from an aircraft of some sort and as darkness closed in we headed towards Smerrill Grange Farm.

At Smerrill Grange owner and farmer Barry Yates confirmed our suspicions; after we’d shown him our finds he said, “Yes, an aeroplane did come down during the war, and it crashed only about 50 yards from the farmhouse. He added, `Of course, we were’nt here in those days, but they reckon the farmer had a lucky escape because it hit the daleside and the steep bank absorbed the impact, otherwise the blast could have destroyed the farm.”

We were eager for more details but Mr.Yates couldn’t help, “but, he said, `there’s a memorial in Middleton by Youlgreave that will tell you more”.

Sure enough we found the bronze memorial plaque in the village square and it confirmed some facts of our tragic find at Smerrill.

In Memory of the crew of Wellington BomberRAF No.BJ 652 which crashed at Smerrill on January 21st, 1944”.

There followed a list of the names of the crewmen who had perished and the words; “Erected by the Parish in August 1995 on the 50th Anniversary of the end of the War

We were intrigued. Why had the Wellington crashed – was it shot down? There must be information about it somewhere, newspaper reports, - and although it was almost 60 years ago perhaps there were eye-witnesses still alive?

We began investigating. Of course, we drew a complete blank with the local newspaper archives. There were no reports of the tragedy because we had been at war with Germany and any information had been surpressed by the War Office. But we did find an eye witness!

In 1944 Joe Kenworthy was a 20 year old, and his father Bernard had farmed Lowfields Farm near Middleton for sixty years. On the night of January 21st the family were sitting in the parlour when they heard a strange noise. Joe Kenworthy, now a 77 year-old who farms at neighbouring Gratton takes up the story:

“As I remember it was a quiet, still and frosty night. We were sat having supper in the parlour when suddenly there was a great rushing sound, like a roaring wind passing overhead. My father and I raced outside and looking up the dale we could see all the hillside below Smerrill lit up”.

Joe’s father told Joe to stay with the family whilst he went up the dale to see if he could help.

“My father said they found six bodies scattered in the paddock next to the farm and he helped to carry them into an outbuilding which was used as an emergency mortuary, explained Joe, adding, `One of them was a giant of a man with ginger hair and a beard who didn’t seem to have a mark anywhere on his body. There was smouldering debris all over the steep daleside, but the bomber had hit near the top of the banking and the airmen had been catapulted over the top and into the paddock”.

According to local folk at the time, the Wellington had flown low over Youlgreave on a night training flight, and south up the valley towards Elton. The valley turned eastward,- the plane didn’t!

Joe remembers that the local police and the Army had cordoned off the whole area and allowed no one near the crash site until the debris had been removed.

“It was four days later before we were allowed to investigate” lamented Joe, “and then I went up there to see what I could find, you know, like you do”, he added, with a twinkle in his eye.

Did he find anything? “Oh yes, smiled Joe, describing his grisly find, `under a hedge on the hillside I found a flying helmet, - and it still had bits of hair and scalp inside”. Joe wanted to keep it as a souvenir – But my father made me hand it in to the authorities, he said, adding somewhat wryly -“Might have been worth a few bob by now, eh?”

Our `finds’ may not have constituted `buried treasure’ and have little or no monetary value, but they are reminders of the tragedy of war that sometimes we all too readily forget as it recedes further into our island history.

Perhaps it is appropriate that having just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and a famous air victory over the Luftwaffe, we remember the names of those who survived that battle only to perish on a training flight over Derbyshire on the night of January 21st 1944 in the `Smerrill Wellington’.

R.A.A.F. Flying Officer Keith Jobson Perrett aged 27 of Brisbane, Queensland.

R.A.A.F. Flt. Sgt. Frederick Popham Deshon aged 27 of Brisbane, Queensland.

R.A.A.F. Flt. Sgt. William Thomas Barnes aged 27 of Queensland.

R.A.A.F. Flt. Sgt. James Kydd aged 26 of Wynnum, Queensland.

R.A.A.F. Flt.Sgt. Lloyd George Edmonds aged 25 of Unley, South Australia.

R.A.A.F. Sergeant Thomas Dudley Murton aged 19 of Tatura, Victoria.

“Their names liveth for evermore”

Contact Tom: reblee.tom@gmail.com

 
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