FOUR airmen killed on the moors near Kildale during the Second World War have finally been honoured with a service to commemorate the disaster.
But, mystery still surrounds the events of that fateful night, as extensive research by parish councillor Malcolm Bisby reveals.
Folklore has it inhabitants of the village of Kildale, in the North York Moors, weren’t aware a Hudson bomber came down during the early hours of Sunday 11 January, 1941.
The bodies of pilot B L Fox aged 26 from New South Wales, navigator Sgt K B Files (27), wireless operator Sgt W R Martin (25) and airgunner Macdonald Scot Wylie (21) were found some time after the crash and had died from the effects of exposure rather than crash injuries.
By daybreak they would have assumed they were stuck on desolate moorland and the only chance of someone finding them was a farmer out checking his sheep.
This is how the story has been told until Malcolm Bisby, who moved to the area in 1984, started his own research.
There are various accounts as to who actually made the grisly discovery but all accounts feature deep snow on the moor.
As a 12 year-old living at Park Farm, Walter Dowy remembers hearing low-flying aircraft, a muffled thud and then silence. He alerted the rest of the house who ventured out into the snow and freezing fog but couldn’t hear anything and discounted his story.
According to Malcom’s book “Joseph Wedgwood’s Memories of Kildale”, Walter “maintained that had he been taken more seriously the survivors of the crash might have been discovered in time to prevent their deaths from exposure.”
Malcolm says there was no reason to discount Walter’s account but his research has thrown new light on the situation.
It appears a resident from one of the four Little Kildale Cottages was woken at 4am by an aircraft approaching from the Guisborough direction, after it passed over there was immediate silence.
He reported there was no snow or fog. The next day a parishioner saw what looked like a gun sticking up from the moor but when he mentioned it in the pub that night he was quickly reprimanded by an army officer for “careless talk”.
A check of the flying accident card reveals the aircraft was on a ‘night special task’ but there is no mention of what that was. It is noted it took off from RAF Leuchars at 01.17 hours in a south easterly direction.
The plane turned north in a possible attempt to check the accuracy of its navigation and crashed. But why the low altitude and no suggestion of engine trouble?
Malcolm concedes: “It may be that all the evidence points to pilot error and the relative inexperience of the pilot in night flying may have been a significant factor in the accident.
“Perhaps in a peacetime situation this accident would have received a much more in depth investigative effort but one has to understand the war-time situation.”
One fact does remain clear. The people of Kildale never forgot these airmen and with a new monument commemorated earlier this month on the 72nd anniversary, they never will.