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70 years ago Ashbourne bomber crashed in field

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: July 24, 2014

By Zena Hawley

  • Crew of the Ashbourne bomber which crashed in field 70 years ago

  • Site at Mugginton where Ashbourne bomber crashed 70 years ago

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Seventy years ago today, the peace of the Derbyshire countryside was shattered when a bomber crashed into a farmer's field at Mugginton, between Derby and Ashbourne.

THE aircraft, an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley MkV BD230 bomber, was from 24 Operational Training Unit at Ashbourne.

It had a history of problems and had required major repairs at Armstrong's works at Baggington, Coventry.

The ill-fated five-man crew had taken it out on a cross-country training flight.

In the early hours of July 24, 1944, having aborted a landing at Ashbourne due to an obstruction on the runway, the crew were climbing to prepare for another approach when the starboard engine – of the two 1280 hp Rolls-Royce Merlin X engines – caught fire and the extinguishing system failed.

Minutes earlier the crew had been over the Welsh borders and blacked-out heavy industries of the north Midlands.

The young pilot fought to gain height and retain control but six miles and only a few minutes later the flight was over.

Robbed of critical airspeed, BD 230 stalled, heralding a terminal dive before it crashed into the field at Leasow Farm at Mugginton.

The oldest person on board was pilot Flight Sgt J W F Cooper, aged 24. The rest of the crew were wireless operator Sgt W C Norcross, 21, navigator Sgt H Cowan, 21, air gunner Sgt M M Lyons, 18, and bomb aimer Sgt W B Smith, 21.

Only two bodies were recovered. Sgt Smith is buried at Ashbourne and Sgt Lyon's grave is in his native St Helen's in Lancashire.

The remainder were entombed in the forward section of the fuselage, buried some 18 to 19ft in the ground.

A year after the crash, the crew's bereaved families decided to erect a memorial on the site to mark the last resting place of their loved ones.

The crash had left a huge crater, which had to be filled with ballast from a nearby quarry and all the surface wreckage removed.

The families contracted Parsons & Sons of Derby to design and erect a five-foot-high stone cross over the crash site.

A dedication service took place and was attended by farmers and people from local villages, supporting the bereaved families.

The memorial was looked after by a local man for a number of years but he had to give it up because of his age.

Some 30 years ago, the Allied Air Crews and Historians' Association took custody of the site, providing new guard rails for the memorial.

It still organises a memorial service which is incorporated into the Remembrance Day Sunday service at Mugginton Church.

To visit the memorial, start from the road junction at the Cock Inn, Mugginton. About 150 yards north is Highfield Lane. Walk 200 yards down the lane and you will find a drive on the right, leading to Leasows Farm, where you may be able to park with permission. Half a mile east south-east, across two fields, is the memorial.

FLIGHTS WHICH ENDED IN TRAGEDY IN DERBYSHIRE

DOZENS of planes crashed in Derbyshire during the Second World War. Here are just a few of them: July 31, 1940, Magister Mk.I N3811, Darley Dale; September 5, 1940, Spitfire Mk.I P9563, Hartington; February 12, 1941, Wellington Mk.IC L7811, Conksbury Bridge, Bakewell; March 26, 1941, Master Mk.I N7870, Youlgreave; April 15, 1941, Stinson Reliant W7982 Brassington; May 22, 1941, Oxford Mk.I N4641, Tissington; July 3, 1941, Blenheim Mk.IV Z5870, Kinder Scout; July 31, 1941, Wellington Mk.IC W5719, Kinder Scout; August 21, 1941, Magister Mk.I L6908; Chapel-en-le-Frith; October 16, 1941, Defiant Mk.I T3921, Buxton; November 22, 1941, Spitfire Mk.IIA P7560, Harpur Hill, Buxton; December 5, 1941, Magister Mk.I T9823, Atlow, Ashbourne; December 17, 1941, Tiger Moth BB811, Matlock; October 12, 1942, Master Mk.III W8455, Kings Sterndale, Buxton; January 30, 1943, Wellington Mk.III X3941, Gladwins Mark, Matlock; March 3, 1943, Oxford Mk.I BG197, Matlock; April 10, 1943, Wellington Mk.III DF611, Newhaven, Ashbourne; May 13, 1943, Whitley Mk.V EB338, Alsop-en-le-Dale, Ashbourne; June 11, 1943, Wellington Mk.IC DV678, Chatsworth; August 16, 1943, Mosquito N.F. Mk.II HJ929, Matlock; January 1, 1944, Wellington Mk.III BJ652, Bakewell; March 30, 1944, Albemarle G.T. Mk.I Series II P1463, Haven Hill, Ashbourne; September 29, UC-64A Norseman 43-35439 Shining Tor, Buxton; November 3, 1944, Oxford Mk.I HN429, Axe Edge, Buxton; March 4, 1945, Oxford Mk.I NM683, Rushup Edge, Edale; May 18, 1945, Lancaster B. Mk.X KB993, Glossop.

There were also six RAF flights lost in Derbyshire crashes between 1918 and 1928 and several civilian flights.

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