Cross on Whittle Pike

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Avro Shackletons WG531 and WL743

Not a crash site, this cross on top of Whittle Pike near Bury, Lancashire is a memorial to Flying Officer Geoffrey Molyneux who was one of 18 men killed while on an RAF exercise over the Irish Sea on January 11th 1955. F/O Molyneux was a navigator on Shackleton WL743

The cross was erected by a local Scouts group of which F/O Molyneux was a founder. Another plaque was added in 1992 above the original.

The circumstances of the loss of two Avro Shackletons are unknown. They left RAF St Eval in Cornwall on separate exercises after 10am but for various reasons ended up taking off just a few minutes apart and heading for the same area on a patrol and search exercise over the Irish Sea.

By 8pm however, when both pilots F/O Board and P/O Wood made their hourly radio reports, there was the prescribed 85 miles between the two aircraft.

At just before 9pm P/O Len Wood in WL743 radioed in again and after that nothing was heard from either Shackleton.

Amid various theories, the Board of Inquiry deemed the most probable cause of their disappearance was that they were both in the same target area at the same time and, unlikely as it may seem, crashed into each other.

Despite a 3 day search, no trace of either aircraft was found. 11 years later one of WL743’s engines was caught in the net of a trawler fishing off the south west of Ireland.

CREWS and AIRCRAFT

Shackleton WL743

Pilot Officer L W Wood L (Pilot)
Sergeant H Davies (Pilot)
Flying Officer N Horrocks (Navigator)
Flying Officer G Molyneux (Navigator)
Sergeant D Male (Air Engineer)
Master Signaller I O Cathcart (Air Signaller)
Sergeant C W Scott (Air Signaller)
Sergeant R E Ridgers (Air Signaller)
Sergeant L W Cooper (Air Signaller)

B

_______________________________________________________________

Shackleton WG531

Flying Officer G Board (Pilot)
Flying Officer K G Richards (Pilot)
Flying Officer G Rogers (Navigator)
Flying Officer BH Webb (Navigator)
Flight Sergeant M G Rae (Air Signaller)
Sergeant L R Swann (Air Signaller)
Sergeant J T Goodwin (Air Signaller)
Sergeant EJ Morgan (Air Signaller)
Sergeant G Thompson (Air Engineer)

B

__________________________________________________________________________

This 42 Squadron page has some moving photos of the memorial service and of a Shackleton dropping a wreath in memory of the lost crews.

Unfortunately I cannot recall where I downloaded the aircraft photos from. If you are the owner of either or both, please contact me and I will add a credit or replace the photo with another.

19 comments on “Cross on Whittle Pike
  1. Paul says:

    Well presented story Ian .
    One would think that the most likely circumstance was that the aircraft crashed into each other but I suppose that no-one will ever know the truth .

  2. Bill Fawcett says:

    Tragic and hard to believe that the two aircraft would be at the same place and at the same time!

  3. rob finch says:

    Amazing photo of the memorial site Ian. Tragic indeed and with such a high loss of life. Hard to believe they didn’t know of eachother’s whereabouts though.

    • Ian D B says:

      Yeah, very sad. But interesting. I have known of this cross and that it was a memorial to a dead airman for 30 years or so but only recently looked into it more closely.

  4. ang wickham says:

    really taken with the top image posted, the light / time of day and the presentation of the cross all add to this being a fine shot. excellent too how the ‘arms’ of the cross are aligned with the contrail. somehow contrails add another tribute, i reckon, to memorials for airmen.

    the tale of the two missing a/c – a bit like the Mary Celeste isn’t it, really no-one could ever now and it may simply have been bad luck for either of them simultaneously. how heartbreaking it must have been for the families, to wait for news and not even have a wreckage to ‘confirm’ the worst. there are alot of names on those two lists!

    • Ian D B says:

      Thanks Ang. I was pleased with the alignmemt of the cross against the sky, I was hanging about for 2 hours hoping the clouds would break to get the shot. As for the crash it is, or was a mystery. Some people have claimed, as they always do with things like this, that the aircraft went the way of Flight 19, the Grumman Avengers that disappeared in the Bermuda triangle a decade before (and descended from the spaceship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind in looking somewhat bemused to be in Arizona in 1977!) having been taken up or that they flew out into the Atlantic. Unliklely that would happen to both Shackletons as they were flying independent of each other and the engine being recovered south of Ireland further disproves those theories.

  5. ang wickham says:

    I’m glad you waited the 2 hours, the result is totally satisfying [one for the wall i reckon]. You remember Close Encounters well! All i remember is lots of lights and for some reason, Richard Dreyfuss lol …

    Ae the engine, being fished up – makes you wonder, with modern technology if someone could ‘have another look at it’ – the seafloor that is – sonar etc. Sure, it’s a big sea, and there’d be the effects of storms and currents but still, wouldn’t it be nice to know at least one of the machines / and crew / were found?

    • Ian D B says:

      Indeed it would. But alas the seas around Britain have many hundreds of lost aircraft. Imagine what the sea bed would look like if the oceans were drained!

      • ang wickham says:

        I’ve been reading Neil Olivers, ‘History of Ancient Britain’ and it tells of how the UK was connected to Ireland and Europe in the long distant past – I imagine there’d be something there for everyone!! [war history, naval history, paleo and anthropology nutters and more] 🙂

  6. Claire says:

    Ian, thank you for this post (and wonderful photo). Geoffrey Molyneux was a relative of mine, though I never met him. It’s lovely to see the cross in his name. I hope to join St Marks Scout Troop on their annual walk up Whittle Pike to the memorial, but am unable to do so this year.
    Thank you.

    • Ian D B says:

      Hi Claire, many thanks for your comment. It’s always a pleasure to hear from relatives.

      I didn’t know the Scouts still did the annual walk up to the cross, it’s nice to hear they do.

      Best wishes,
      Ian

      PS as it’s coming up to the 60th anniversary, I shall make this the front page photo.

  7. Claire says:

    I have it on good authority that the current cross was completely repaired in 1983. They carried new wood up to re-make it.
    Thanks again for the stunning photo.
    Claire

  8. Brenda Smith ( Haslam) says:

    I am Geoffrey Molyneux’s first cousin Brenda, born in Bury 1934. I am custodian of Geoffrey’s photos and papers, given to me by my Aunty Edith.Although I am a bush walker still, I will not be able to attend the 60th Anniversary of my cousin’s passing, I live in Melbourne, Australia. I am sending a message to Geoffrey Spencer of Greenmount Bury. He is one of those who will be walking to the summit of Whittle Pike on Jan. 11th.

  9. Liam says:

    Came across the memorial on my walk today,it is beautiful in its simplicity,I felt quite moved on reading the inscription,and am grateful to your website for being able to find out more about the reason for it.

  10. Liam says:

    Sorry Ian,forgot to say, that whoever chose that spot to place the cross,must have been inspired,it invokes perfectly that sense of being lost,but also of looking down from above,as he did then and surely does now,.ps the photo is a great reflection of the landscape.cheers.

  11. Brenda Smith ( Haslam) says:

    Hi Ian,
    I am Brenda Smith, first cousin to Geoffrey Molyneux, the navigator, whose cross you saw on Whittle Pike. Its is 60 years since the Shackleton crash and every January 10th the St. Marks Scouts climb to the cross to commemorate the time of the aircrash.
    The lovely site was choosen by the scouts. Geoffrey was assistant scout master and often led walks over those moors.

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