DESTRUCTION AT DARRINGTON
It was shortly before 7pm on 18th September 1943, that with
all checks carried out, Sergeant E. J. Wilson started each of
the Merlin engines in turn, ready for a night flying
cross-country exercise. The Halifax lumbered round the airfield
following other aircraft on the same exercise and the ones in
front were taking off in turn. The aircraft arrived at the
runway and lined up, and then a green flare gave them permission
to start their take off. Sergeant Wilson released the brakes and
the aircraft rolled slowly forward, gathered speed, and the
bomber hurtled down the runway at Riccall. Little did those on
board know that this would be their last flight and they would
not return to the station which they had been training at for
the past three weeks.
They set course for the first leg which took them to the
southern tip of the country at Lands End and they had been in
the air for nearly four hours by the time they were making their
return leg, flying in an easterly direction, before joining the
Riccall circuit. Suddenly there was a loud explosion from the
port outer engine which was followed by the propeller and
reduction gear falling off, causing some difficulty to the pilot
in trying to maintain a straight course. The aircraft was losing
height and the pilot struggled in vain to regain control but he
was fighting a losing battle.
In the small village of Darrington, which straddles the A1 just
east of Pontefract, three sisters, Mable, Gwyneth and Nona Dean,
made their way upstairs to bed at 10.30pm, leaving their mother
and elder sister, Ellen, downstairs. Their father and brother
were out at the Darrington Hotel in the village. The sisters
heard them come in just after 11pm. They then dropped off to
Just before midnight they were awakened by a loud explosion.
Sergeant Wilson had lost his battle and his aircraft, BB245, had
crashed onto the cottage in which they lived at Chapel Hill,
which is just on the eastern side of the A1. No one witnessed
the crash, but the aircraft was heard coming over the village
very low. Passing over the Pontefract-Stapleton road, its height
could not have been more than 20 or 30 feet as it sliced off the
tops of some trees in a nearby orchard before hitting an
electricity pole and crashing. The aircraft exploded on impact
and a sheet of flames engulfed the four houses in the row.
A local resident who lived in a cottage overlooking the damaged
houses described what happened:
"There seemed to be a big swish and the light went out, but
through the black-out curtains I could see the flames. When I
got outside I was surprised to find that there had been a crash
because I thought that it was a German plane which had dropped
bombs. For a time, all these cottages were marooned."
The resident went on to tell how she had helped neighbours to
fill buckets of water and throw them over the flames near to the
old chapel to prevent adjoining houses catching fire. The water
came from outside tubs, baths and tanks, all of which had been
used up by the time the National Fire Service arrived.
The three sisters escaped through the flames after battering
down a door to reach safety. Sadly, their father Harry (68) and
mother (66), together with their brother William (33) and sister
Ellen (36), all died in the ensuing inferno. Four other people
living in the row were also hurt. Midgley Pease (65) had burns
to his hands and face and his wife Hilda (62) suffered from
The late George Percy Rhodes, a well-known local artist whose
pen and ink sketches appear in some of the books by J.S.
Fletcher, lived with his wife in the cottage next door to
Midgley Pease. The following account by Mr. Rhodes was taken at
the time of the crash:
"We were just preparing for bed. We heard the plane, I remarked
that it was terribly low and then there was a tremendous crash
and when I looked out of the window I saw a sheet of flames
around three sides of my house. When I went to the front door I
was unable to get out due to the wreckage outside Mr. Pease's
The late Mrs Rhodes described the terrifying experience of Mr.
and Mrs Pease who were in bed at the time and had to jump out of
a window and scramble over the wing of the aircraft to reach
safety. Mr. Rhodes was trying to reach Mrs Pease from his yard,
but was unable to do so. Eventually she was pulled across the
wreckage and over a wall into a garden owned by the late Mr.
Isle. Mrs Rhodes escaped by another door and over a wall.
Another couple living in the row were also hurt. John Wardell,
the local joiner and undertaker, and his wife Alice, found their
home completely devastated. John had a cut to his head and his
wife suffered from shock. All the injured were taken to
Pontefract Infirmary where they were detained.
The families Wardle and Pease along with the three Dean girls
and another couple who lived in the last house in the row, all
lost their possessions. These included clothes and furniture.
Mr. Rhodes' house was saved from the fire due probably to an
extra thick wall which divided his house from the Pease
household. However, as a precaution, all the furniture was
removed including a heavy piano, and all were lifted to safety
over a wall and taken into a field by soldiers, who were
billeted at Darrington Hall, and other helpers with the aid of
The National Fire Service from Pontefract received the call at
12:15am and arrived quickly with two machines. The officer in
charge, found that the blaze was more than he could cope with
and more help was needed. He sent for additional machines, a
foam tender and a hose carrier. These all came from various
districts but were all at the scene within twenty minutes.
The wrecked aircraft and houses were such a mass of flames that
the Fire Service could only concentrate on preventing the fire
spreading. To achieve this, they required a local static water
supply which they obtained from the fish pond at Stapleton Park,
some 1½ miles away. Seven fire engines pumped the water in
All the fires were out shortly after dawn, but it was 11:00am on
Sunday morning before the last body, that of a crewman, was
The National Fire Service, it is said, “worked like Trojans all
night”. They were helped by Police, civilians, air raid wardens,
special constables, etc.
The soldiers assisted in removing some of the armourment and
ammunition from the aircraft for although it was on a training
flight it was still armed in case of enemy action. For some
hours, machine gun bullets continued to explode and at least one
fire officer was treated for a leg injury from an exploding
The National Fire Service canteen, together with one from the
County Council, were in attendance to provide much-needed
refreshment to all the workers and these stayed until noon on
Sunday. The National Fire Service's Divisional Officer, Thomas,
and District Officer's Wright and Firth of the ARP services, as
well as training officer Cooksey and Inspector Downhill, all
assisted at the scene.
Some of those who had to leave their homes were grateful to
Special Constable Fisher of Darrington, who was one of the first
to arrive; as well as to a hospital nurse who gave first aid,
and to Mr. and Mrs Singleton who provided refreshments and
(In the interest of learning, the old chapel and some of the
houses are mentioned in J.S. Fletcher's novels.)
Mr. Dean was a partner of the old established Dean & Furbisher
wheelwrights at the Wood Yard in Darrington. William was
employed as a saw-man. The company still trades under the same
name and is still located on the original site.
The Dean family were greatly respected in the village and were
supporters of the Parish Church where they gave valuable service
to the choir, of which Harry Dean was a member for 60 years. All
three sons and daughters were also loyal members.
The funeral service took place at Darrington the following
Thursday and was conducted by the Vicar of Darrington, Cannon
Whittington. The crash left the whole village stunned and nearly
everyone turned out for the service which was attended by the
Countess of Rosse from Womersley Hall. Members of the RAF also
The fourth set of occupants of the row onto which the Halifax
had crashed had a lucky escape. Mr and Mrs Harry Pickering had
gone to stay the night with Mrs Pickering's mother a short
distance away as they had a five-day-old baby.
The crash claimed its eleventh victim in November 1943 when
Midgley Pease died in Pontefract Infirmary. Although he had
recovered from the severe burns, the shock of the crash resulted
in the fatal heart attack.
CREW OF BB245
PILOT: Sergeant Edward George Wilson
FLIGHT ENGINEER: Sergeant Thomas Glyn Roberts - Birkenhead
NAVIGATOR: Sergeant John Arthur Cruddington - Kent
BOMB-AIMER: P/O David Beeley - Rotherham
WIRELESS OPERATOR: Sergeant Edward Cook - Seham, Co. Durham
AIR GUNNER: Sergeant Thomas Clelland - Dysart, Fife.
Halifax II built by London Aircraft Production. Served with 102
Squadron, No 158 Squadron, No 76 Squadron, No 1658 HCU S.O.C.
Total Flying hours: 534
‘Destruction at Darrington’ is reproduced from an
account submitted to us by Mr. Peter Ellway.
The original author
of the above article is not known.