Halifax DK116 in the Kielder Forest

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Halifax DK116 in the Kielder Forest

15 October 1944. The crew of Halifax DK116 (1667 HCU) had taken off from RAF Sandtoft near Scunthorpe on a cross country navigation exercise when the port inner engine caught fire. Attempts to extinguish the fire were unsuccessful and the crew prepared to bale out. However only 3 of them managed to leave before the aircraft dived into Glendhu Hill in the Kielder Forest on the England / Scotland border.

Various reports suggest the pilot put the Halifax into a dive in an attempt to put the fire out but from which it failed to recover and/or that the remaining crew tried to save the life of the rear gunner who was allegedly trapped in his turret. But really after the 3 men baled out no-one knows for sure what happened.

CREW

Killed

P/O Herbert George Haddrell (Pilot)
Sgt John Neilson (Flight Engineer)
W/O Maurice Fredrick James (Air Gunner)
W/O Geoffrey Symonds (Air Gunner)

Survived

Sgt John Mahony (Navigator)
Sgt Reid (Wireless Operator)
Sgt Hammond (Air Gunner)

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EDIT 19 June 2015 The following is from some very welcome emails received from former civil aviation Flight Engineer Mr Wesley Turnbull. Mr Turnbull also kindly provided the newspaper cutting from 1982 which quotes his father, then aged 73.

I lived at Kielder where my father was a head forester. He was very much involved with the crash of the Halifax as he was also an inspector with Northumbria Police Special Constabulary.

Forestry records at the Bellingham Office show that area was planted during the early sixties. It was not until the Forestry started to plant the fell in the fifties that some of the wreckage was winched out including one of the Merlin engines. As children we used to visit the crash scene.

The first person at the scene of the crash was Mr Adam Steele a shepherd at Willow Bog Farm. He had been at High Long House Farm and was walking home over the fell when the crash occurred.

I have also spoken to Bill Steele, the shepherd’s son. He recalls that on the night of the crash his father had been at High Long House and was on his way home in the dark with the shepherd from there when the Halifax crashed half a mile from them.

They only had a storm lantern with them but the crash site was on fire. The were the first on the scene. They stayed with the three survivors one of whom had a broken leg and one with no shoes on. After a long period a party of locals arrived after a five mile walk from the Forks where they left their forestry jeep. The crew where then taken back to the Forks, one on a make shift stretcher to meet the police and an ambulance.

Bill recalls being taken to the crash site the following day by his father and the wreckage was still smouldering. He remembers the RAF people arriving at Willow Bog clear the site and covered with a camouflage wire net.

The site remained in this state until the Forestry started to plough the fell ready for planting this was done with tracked machines and during this period attempts were made to pull some of the wreckage out but very little was recovered.

Early in the eighties a museum was given clearance to recover one of the Merlin engines (I can’t find out which museum it was) but I spoke to the driver of the machine involved and he says that the aircraft hit a large rock in the peat which caused it to break up. They dug down twenty feet before they found the engine which he says was in a good state as it had been in peat. The engine was then placed on part of the tailplane which acted like a sledge and towed down to High Long House.

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This was a very difficult site to reach, not made any easier by my decision to approach from the west at Roansgreen with what I thought would be a nice stroll over the summit of Glendhu Hill and down to the crash site. It looked easy on paper. Underfoot it was as hard going as anything we had experienced. We expected the forest to be difficult after leaving the trails but the tussocks on the moor were hard work even going downhill, and where the harvesters had felled the trees the land was churned up so much it looked like a WWI battlefield.

Tip if visiting; approach from Leaplish and follow the beck to the debris at NY 57880 86272 (Marven’s Cleugh – see photo below). The main wreck site and memorial is at grid reference NY 57852 86220.

Being so deprived of light it is also a difficult place for photography. Tip number 2; take a tripod!

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Below; debris in Marven’s Cleugh

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Below; photo of a Halifax bomber taken in 1943. Image from wikipedia commons
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12 comments on “Halifax DK116 in the Kielder Forest
  1. Al says:

    Well done for making the effort, looks worth it from your shots. Seems to be a very atmospheric place although I wonder if some of that is down to the lighting conditions.

    Another one I’m going to have to visit!

  2. ang wickham says:

    Great to see your side of this Ian, and i really like the top two shots – the dark backdrop provided by those trees really shows off the deep, dense nature of the forest there. Not knowing much of the location, I have to ask if the forest was there when the crash occured? Either way, from your description regarding the terrain, I guess any kind of recovery would have been difficult!

    • Ian D B says:

      Yes the forest was there I believe. I asked the same question!

      Thanks Ang, lovely to see you on here.

      • Dan Barry says:

        I visited the crash site today, not deliberately, as I was surveying the timber in the surrounding forest as part of my job as a timber buyer. I was very struck by the serenity and peacefulness of the site.

        The forest was planted in 1952, according to Forestry Commission data, so that would mean they planted around the wreckage. The surrounding forest is due to be clear-felled this year.

        I would hope that the harvesting operation will leave a buffer of trees around the site to preserve it from exposure.

  3. ang wickham says:

    It’s great to have an enquiring mind – so long as it doesn’t drive others batty! Thanks Ian, and yes, it’s nice to be back [having no computer access for nearly 2 weeks was a treat, but i do miss visiting!]. btw I often limit my visits as I don’t want to monopolise your time and blog!

  4. Wesley Turnbull says:

    The forest was not planted when the Halifax crashed

  5. Peter stockton says:

    I clearly remember visiting this site in the late 1970s. I remember the struggle trying to get there and then the drama when we did. It was the most amount of wreckage we had seen at a crash site no doubt due to its isolation. I think we found a round of 303 and can remember some big holes with oil coming up from them where it was presumed the engines still lay at depth. Not long afterwards there was a big dig and that was when the human remains were found. I can remember seeing the item on look north.

    Must try to get back there one day.

    • Ian D B says:

      I also would like to revisit. It is a remarkable crash site and very difficult to reach, at least it was the route we took. Won’t do that again.

  6. Tom says:

    Just wanted to say thanks for the co-ordinates. I visited yesterday and agree its tough getting there but well worth the effort!

  7. Sheree Wilson says:

    My Family and I (8 of us) have travelled from South Shields to attend the organised 1820 Halifax walk, to see this site. only to be informed that it was not arranged due to the Winter Wonderland event. We travelled a long way for this and very disappointing, especially when a leaflet was sent inviting walkers to this event.

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