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Bomber Zulu

Anglezarke Moor was the location of a tragic air crash on the 16th November, 1943.  Wellington Bomber Zulu 8799 lost control over Hurst Hill on the moors, and all the crew were pronounced dead at the scene.  A fitting tribute exists at Lead Mines Clough, lest we forget.

The plane had taken off from 28 Operational Training Unit at Wymeswold in Leicestershire on a night time training exercise, known as a Bullseye mission.  Its pilot was Flight Sergeant Joseph B. Timperon, who came from far away Alice Springs in Australia and was attached from the Royal Australian Air Force approximately 8 months prior.  Timperon was only 24 years old when he died, and precious little is known of the five young British crew members who died with him.

The memorial at Lead Mines Clough - a fitting tribute with a fantastic view.

The memorial at Lead Mines Clough – a fine tribute with a fantastic view.

Nothing was heard from Flight No. Z8799 after take-off and at 0240 hours, the aircraft was officially recorded overdue. By this time, the crash had already happened.

Tragedy In The Mist

The aircraft had got into difficulty whilst flying low over the moors.  The pilot wrestled with the controls, trying to lift the plane above the closing peaty summit below, but she would not rise.  The engines screeched as the aircraft crashed, and the wreckage was scattered over a large area.  The RAF investigation which followed decided that the tragedy had most likely been caused by a ‘loss of control in cloud, possibly due to icing’ which may have led to structural failure as it went into a high speed dive.

A Wellington Bomber of the type that crashed into Anglezarke Moor's Hurst Hill.

A Wellington Bomber of the type that crashed into Anglezarke Moor’s Hurst Hill.

There was also a slightly different theory, suggesting that the emergency dinghy broke free from its stowage compartment and damaged the tail of the plane.

Both explanations have the same conclusion; Flight Sergeant Timperon, who had been a member of the Royal Australian Air Force for just under two years, could not pull out of the steep dive which ensued.

Rescuers had no modern equipment to locate the wreckage, and had to rely on the reports that had been given to them without particular note of grid reference.  As dawn broke on Hurst Hill, five out of the six crew were found close to the main wreckage of the plane, but the tail gunner was found a good distance away.

Chilling Testimonies

A revealing witness account comes from local resident George Telfer, who was living at Siddow Fold at the time of the incident:

“The steady throb of the engines became irregular.  A screaming sound followed as the machine tore itself apart in a rapid descent.  There was a final crash, and then silence”.

Reports also came from Chorley’s Royal Observer Corps.  The most revealing account was written by a Police War Reserve Constable, C.H. Swift from Chorley, in 1955, to a relative of one of the crew members.

PC Swift witnessed the final moments of the stricken aircraft and was one of the first at the scene of the crash:

“That night was not a very dark one, neither was it stormy, yet for several nights previous, it had been intensely cold, with frost up to 15 below zero. I was on night-duty; it was a starry night, with white culimnous cloud, hiding a 3/4 full moon. I had been given 1.30am as my supper period, which we had in the Chorley Police Station. It was a 1/2 hour break and I remember the heavy drone of an aircraft at what seemed overhead, as I entered the station. Half an hour later, I left again in company of a Police Patrol Driver, to resume a given area of patrol.

Strange it seemed, the noise of the aircraft was still hanging around. My friend remarked how cold it must be up there, we could not see anything of course. For ten minutes or so, I had his company, he was finishing his night’s duty and I was alone, making my way to a Police point expecting a visit there from the Sergeant or Inspector. It so-happened that I was passing a branch of Leyland Motor Works, when the noise of an aircraft, increased tremendously. I looked up, there descending, almost over my head was an aircraft. It bore a yellow and green light on each wing tip, and I could see two engine cowlings on each at the front. My personal feelings at that moment was enemy aircraft – bombing the Leyland Works – but the plane was then only 2 or 3 hundred feet above with both its engines running at-full throttle, when over the houses in front of me, it disappeared.  Two or three seconds later a crash came, it shook the ground where I stood, though the crashed plane was found 5 miles away, from that point. The time I shall never forget was 28 minutes past 2 in the morning.

I ran to the telephone kiosk 30 yards ahead of me, when I heard running feet approaching, it was the Police inspector and the Sergeant.  They had heard all, but did not see anything. I confirmed a plane crash, and rang for a car.  By 2.30AM, along with the Inspector and Sergeant, we were on the way to the countryside.  The inspector asked me for an area likely to contain the crash, so we arrived at the edge of Anglezarke Moor, and proceeded to search the woods, but had to give up.  We returned to the Police Station for reinforcements and left again at 7am with a party of 6.  I was given the lead so I made immediately for the Moors again and with coming light, continued the search.  I discovered a rabbit dead, but not frozen, so we alerted all, and ahead of me was seen something unusual.  It was a turret (rear gunner), and a petrol tank.  Twenty yards to my left was a Wellington Bomber lying on its back.

We recovered five bodies, a sixth was later found beneath the front of the bomber. We had to search for identification purposes, discovering the first to be an Australian, another if I remember rightly came from Sheffield, the rest from the South of England. They had in their possession identity cards, this proved to us that the bomber had not been over enemy territory. I remember to one of the crew had a long envelope, on the front was printed ‘your photographs’ one 1/2 dozen – inside was on 1/2 dozen photographs of the airmen and a pretty young lady. That must have been one of the last things he did, collect his photographs, for none had been taken out.

You can have my opinion for what it is worth. The crash was not due to engine failure, for at no time did I hear any unusual noise from the engines. I would say the icy conditions forced the plane to crash. I had to make a report and plan of the crash, but that was the last I heard of the incident, I was not called to any Air force enquiry. One of the Bomber’s engines was missing, but recovered 12 months after in a wood, some 10 miles away in Darwen area, Lancashire”.

With one of the engines being discovered so far away, it is no surprise that it took a while to find.  There was a local story that told of a bomber being lost over Darwen moor – this does not tie in with any other aircraft losses, so Z8799 was clearly lost at height.

Vickers of Weybridge

Bomber Zulu 8799 – or Z8799 for short – was one of a batch of 250 Wellington Mark Ic and Mark VIII aircraft delivered between May and November 1941 by Vickers of Weybridge.  The contract number was B71441/40, and Z8799 was one of the early batch Ic type. It was assigned to 115 Squadron, 20 Operational Training Unit and then to 28 Operational Training Unit of the Royal Air Force.

The Vickers Weybridge works, where the aircraft was built.

The Vickers Weybridge works, where the aircraft was built.

Z8799 might easily have never seen the light of day – the year before she was built, the factory was bombed in a devastating attack by the German Luftwaffe.  14 Messerschmitt Me 110s tore through the sky and unleashed a torrent of destruction on the Vickers factory.  Eye witness records indicate that one scored a direct hit on an air-raid shelter, another hit the old racing grandstand and a third fell inside a repair hanger.

The aircraft carried a full complement of six crew.

The aircraft carried a full complement of six crew.

In the book Raiders Overhead, author Stephen Flower wrote that one of the bombs crashed through the stairwell leading from the first-floor canteen. It landed on top of a heavy press in the machine-shop and exploded close to the clocking-in machine, killing many queuing workers.

The specification of Wellington Bomber Zulu 8799

The specification of Wellington Bomber Zulu 8799.

Although it was all over in three minutes, it was the worst single incident of the Battle of Britain up to that time.  As well as the 83 people who died, 419 others were injured.  The full story of the Vickers factory attack can be read here.

The Wellington was the primary craft of RAF Bomber Command during the introduction of wartime night operations.  It had a simple but incredibly strong “geodetic” (lattice-work) construction, which was iconic of the craft, and it could sustain relatively high damage as a result.  It was nicknamed “Wimpy” after the character from Popeye,  J. Wellington Wimpy.

The interior of a Wellington Bomber.

The interior of a Wellington Bomber.

Heavier bombers later superseded the Wellington – the Stirling, the Halifax and the Manchester.

A Fitting Memorial

In June 1955 a simple stone memorial was erected above Lead Mines Clough in memory of the six men who died in the Wellington Bomber crash.

The idea of creating a permanent tribute to this tragic loss of life came from the Rotary Club of Horwich, as part of the club’s special activities to mark the Golden Anniversary Year of the Rotary Movement.

The names of the crew of the ill-fated aircraft.

The names of the crew of the ill-fated aircraft.

Permission to erect the monument was sought from the landowners, the Liverpool Corporation, and full co-operation was received from the tenant farmers, who helped in every way.  A local man, Mr. J. Dougill, voluntarily offered his services as a stonemason to dress a suitable piece of stone which he obtained from Brazley House in Horwich.  A simple plate bearing the names of the crew was attached to the memorial pillar.

The unveiling ceremony was performed by Wing Commander B. I. Dias OBE, DFC of RAF Padgate, and the dedication by Rev. David Dick BD, President of Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland.  Among those present at the service were relatives of all the crewmen including the aunt and uncle of the Australian pilot, whose parents were unable to visit the memorial until the following year.

Following the solemn words of the dedication, the silence was broken as three rifle volleys from the RAF firing party were fired across the valley.  As the last echo died away, two trumpets sounded the Last Post and Reveille, the traditional tribute of the Service to fallen comrades.  Wreaths were laid at the base of the stone from relatives, the RAF, the RAAF and also the Rotary Club.

Fifty Years Later

It was on Remembrance Day, Sunday 14 November 1993, that more than 300 people gathered on the windswept hillside above Lead Mines Clough to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the crash of the Wellington Bomber on Anglezarke Moor.

Several walks were organised by various groups to converge on the stone pillar for a short but moving remembrance service at 1100am.  Two members of the Long Distance Walkers Association, Mr. Eric Unsworth and Mr. Fred Jolly, were at the forefront of the preparations which ensured that the six crewmen were not forgotten.

The service, led by Mr. Jolly, included hymns, readings and tributes, and poppy wreaths were laid at the crash memorial.

Looking over Lead Mines Clough towards the moorland location of the crash.

Looking over Lead Mines Clough towards the moorland location of the crash.

The service was the culmination of almost twelve months of research and correspondence across the globe to find living relatives of the crewmen, in particular those of the Australian pilot.  All efforts were rewarded when the younger sister of Joe Timperon was finally located in South Australia, with the help of the Royal Australian Air Force.

Following the 50th Anniversary commemoration, correspondence between Mr. Unsworth and Mr. Jolly of the LDWA, an the family and friends of the Australian pilot has continued.  Many of Joe Timperon’s associates from his home town of Ardrossan have sent tributes and recollections of their short time with him, including poems written by his mother following his untimely death.

An album containing all these interesting reminiscences is now in the care of Mr. Unsworth.
The Rotary Club of Horwich also marked the actual date of the crash, the 16th November, with a special commemorative service held at Rivington Parish Church.

A service is still held at the memorial on Remembrance Sunday each year, and long may it continue.

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