Remembering the dead in the wildest of crash sites

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A Canadian flag flies as  a permanent memorial.
A Canadian flag flies as a permanent memorial. Photo: Stephen Miles

The Brecon Beacons National Park is an unusual place for a commemoration.

But in early November, it played host to a ceremony on the site where, in 1944, a Vickers Wellington bomber crashed, killing everyone on board.

The Wellington MF 509 aircraft belonged to 22 Operational Training Unit, based near Stratford-upon-Avon. On 20 November 1944, it was on a night-time training exercise when its starboard engine failed.

The aircraft subsequently crashed into Carreg Goch in the upper Swansea Valley.

The six Canadian fatalities were interred with full military honours at the Canadian War Cemetery at Blacon, Chester.

On the same November night, two other Wellington bombers from the same unit suffered problems with their starboard Hercules XVI engines.

MF 505 crash-landed at Wellesbourne Mountford, with no one injured. LN 460 was less fortunate, coming down near Evesham with the loss of three crew.

For one of their regular outings, the Llanelli Ramblers – on 11 November – led walkers to the site where MF 509 came down. It is one of the best preserved of the park’s 30 military crash-sites. The remains of the wings show the geodetic lattice structure, designed by Barnes Wallis, which gave the airframe considerable strength.

The site of the crash on the remote Brecon Beacons. Photo: Stephen Miles

The site of the crash on the remote Brecon Beacons. Photo: Stephen Miles

A total of 11,461 Wellington planes were made, carrying out 47,409 operations under Bomber Command; 1,332 were lost in the course of the war.

Used frequently for military training, the Carreg Goch remains are a powerful testament to the contribution of the bombers, but also to the dangers of flight in a pioneering age of aviation.

Until recently, relatives of the crew knew little of the crash. In 2005, however, correspondence between Montreal’s McGill University and natives of Swansea Valley led to greater interest in the site. Descendants of the crew subsequently joined students and locals to erect a Canadian flag by the wreckage, which has flown ever since.

Past visitors have included Phyllis Allison Burns, sister of P/O William J Allison, who was on board MF 509. At 28, he was the oldest member of the crew to be killed.

The short service held on Remembrance Day included a minute’s silence at 11am, followed by a rendition of ‘Abide with Me’.

By Stephen Miles

This article was published in the January 2020 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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