This article was submitted by Derbyshire Volunteer Co-ordinator, Roy Branson
Many aeroplanes crashed in the UK during the Second World War, some as direct casualties of conflict shot down by anti-aircraft fire or in aerial combat, some because they just could not get back to base after sustaining earlier damage. What is lesser known is that in the years immediately following the war navigational and weather problems also led to crashes and the Peak District of Derbyshire seems to have had more than its share of these.
Several years ago I became intrigued by a story about a wartime aeroplane crash site featured in Blood on the Tongue, a crime novel by Stephen Booth. Set in the Peak District, Booth’s geography is fictional, based on a mixture of features drawn from all over the area, but a possible inspiration for the story may have been wreckage still to be found on Bleaklow, east of Glossop. Intrigued by Booth’s fiction, I decided to visit this crash site, which is known to have a memorial.
In 1948, a United States Air Force (USAF) Superfortress crashed near a remote moorland hilltop. It was delivering mail from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire to USAF Burtonwood in Cheshire. The crash occured by a cruel trick of fate: if the aircraft had been ten metres higher it would have cleared the hilltop and would probably have reached its destination.
In view of the location, careful preparations had to be made for my visit to the crash site. Amongst the problems of walking in the Peak District are weather conditions, which can change very quickly, and the sheer isolation. After postponing the walk on the first attempt due to heavy rain, I set off with a colleague equipped with walking gear, maps, compass, gps equipment and whistle (no mobile phone signal in these parts) and emergency rations. The moorland is not called Bleaklow for nothing and we were not keen to become the subjects of one of Derbyshire’s several mountain rescue teams.
In the event, weather conditions were good and leaving Snake Pass, good progress was made along the Pennine Way. After walking for one and a half hours the crash site was reached. The last kilometre was off the path and through boggy peat moorland. Wreckage still covers a huge area and is in remarkable condition after sixty years. Some of the steel components of the undercarriage and engines are now quite rusty but most panels merely possess the patina typical of oxidised aluminium. A few stainless steel components seemed as bright and shiny as the day they were fashioned.
Despite its remoteness the site receives many visitors and has developed the characteristics of a shrine. Many crosses have been constructed; some by repositioning pieces of wreckage, but others are formed from rocks placed in patterns on the bare peat. At least one of these is visible from the air, as users of Google Earth can confirm!
One large piece of panelling forms a rudimentary shelter over a mound of peat which has become covered with wreaths, tributes and small British Legion crosses. Amongst this scene stands the subject of the visit: a sandstone pillar bearing a bronze plaque commemorating the thirteen airmen who lost their lives in a tragic accident.