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Air crash at Birch near Heywood (reported as being at Pilsworth)
Photo above shows what could be the field in which P/O Broadhead overturned his Westland Wallace II making a forced landing on 5 April 1936. It is on the edge of the services, near the west bound entrance slip road.
The Bury Times of April 8 ran with the front page headline
Flying from RAF Hucknall near Nottingham to RAF Yeadon, the crew of the bi-plane, Pilot Officer Reginald Malcolm Broadhead, 28 of Nottingham and his observer Pilot Officer George Greaves, 29 of Sheffield, were considerably off course.
The Wallace II was seen circling the area a few times shortly after 4pm, P/O Broadhead looking for a suitable looking field in which to land and ascertain their position. The field he chose was at Lower Whittle Farm, near Heywood, Lancashire.
The Nottingham Evening Post of Monday 6 reported “when nearing the ground, he saw electricity cables just ahead of them and had to dive rather steeply.” The Bury Times quoted P/O Broadhead as admitting he put the nose down too steeply and, having careered across 30 or 40 yards of field, “over we went,” the aircraft turning a “complete summersault” and landing on its back. Fortunately there was no fire and both men escaped with only cuts and bruises.
The Operations Record Book for 504 Squadron confirmed P/O Broadhead applied brakes too hard & aircraft turned over.
However, the Nottingham Evening Post mentioned a ridge in the field, quoting an official at Hucknall aerodrome who insisted it was not a crash but a “landing mishap,” and that the aircraft struck a slight ridge causing it to overturn. The paper goes on to say Heywood police confirmed the ridge theory as the cause of the aircraft overturning and that the ridge could not be seen from the air. To further the case, it added that aircraft had used that same field in the past and that “the ridge had presented some take-off difficulty to the pilots.”
You can’t help but feel that as this was a Nottingham paper reporting on the crash of the County’s own squadron where the pilot was a Nottingham lad, they were going easy on him! It must have been difficult for the pilot, the squadron had only the week before taken delivery of two Wallace II aircraft, K6046 and K6047 from Messrs. Westland Aircraft Ltd. Yeovil.
Below; a painting of K6046 (with what is probably K6047). Given the aircraft was only delivered to the Squadron on 23 March it would not have worn these markings for long.
Both newspapers comment on the aircraft being damaged, the propeller smashed to pieces and scattered about, the pieces doubtless snapped up immediately as souvenirs by the locals.
The squadron Operations Record notes that the aircraft was taken to No 5 FTS for disposal, No 5 FTS being a Flight Training School at RAF Sealand near Queensferry in Flintshire.
Although the Bury Times and the Nottingham Evening Post referred to it as happening at Pilsworth, the aircraft came down near the village of Birch outside Heywood and some of the farmland is now beneath Birch motorway services on the M62.
The field in the lead photo is the only one with electricity transmission cables stretched across it but the route of them could well have been altered during construction of the motorway. The fields to the north and west of Lower Whittle Farm look too uneven for a pilot to even consider landing in them. No locals I spoke with could tell me anything about the event. The crash site is probably beneath the service station.
The Westland Wallace II was a general purpose aircraft and it was an improvement over the Mk I in that it had a more powerful engine and an enclosed cockpit. The first flight over Everest in April 1933 was in a Mk I.
504 Sqn was later retasked to flying Hurricanes. During the Battle of Britain, 504 Sqn pilot, Sgt Ray Holmes was attacking a Do217 lining up to bomb London but upon trying to fire his guns he realised he was out of ammo so instead rammed the bomber. His Hurricane cut the tail of the Dornier off causing it to crash, while Sgt Holmes’ Hurricane survived long enough for him to bail out. The Hurricane crashed near Buckingham Palace, the bomber came down at Victoria Station, an event depicted in the movie Battle of Britain albeit with a Spitfire instead of a Hurricane attacking a Heinkel instead of a Dornier.
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