7 Heyfords

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7 Heyfords

Saturday 12 December 1936. A formation of 7 Handley Page Heyfords – biplane bombers – left RAF Aldergrove (now Belfast International Airport) bound for their base at RAF Finningley in Yorkshire.

There had been a spell of bad weather which had contributed to the Croydon Air Disaster just a few days earlier (at the time the country’s worst; a KLM DC-2 crashed shortly after take off in thick fog).

Fog and snow caused the formation of Heyfords to break up after crossing the Irish Sea, and of the 7 biplanes, only 1 made it to Finningley that day.

Lost in the fog and circling Oldham, Flight Lieutenant Charles Patrick Villiers at the helm of K4874 didn’t know where they were, and rather than ease down through the cloud, he instructed his crew to abandon the aircraft.

The crew parachuted down, though not without injury; Flight Lieutenant Villiers landed on the roof of a cottage and fell off, breaking his leg, while the wireless op, Leading Aircraftman John Mackan, landed on top of a mill, slid down the roof and fell through a skylight.

The abandoned Heyford eventually crashed here near Shaw.

These images below relate to 2 more of the 7 Heyfords.

Here at Disley in Cheshire two of the Heyfords came down. K4868 flown by Squadron Leader Charles Attwood managed to land safely in the field below, but following him down, Pilot Officer Michael Clifford’s aircraft, K6898, struck a hedgerow, a telegraph pole and finally a fence, tipping the plane up on end.

Heyford K6898. Photo from the Stockport Express.


We knocked on at the farm in which these two Heyfords came down, but there was no-one in (or they thought we were selling something and pretended to be out). The closest to the site we could get was the boundary of this cricket pitch.

Heyford K6900 was the only aircraft of the formation to crash with the loss of life. This is the site Paul and I located near Hebden Bridge a couple of years ago.

Handley Page Heyford K6900

Of the 7 Heyfords then,

K4868 landed at Disley and
K6898 crash landed at Disley.
K4874 was abandoned and crashed at Shaw near Oldham, while
K6900 crashed with the loss of 3 crewmen at Hebden Bridge.
L5188 was landed safely at York by Flying Officer John Edwin Campbell Gasgoine Flemyng Gyll-Murray
K4864 crash landed at Blyborough in Lincolnshire.

The one Heyford to make it back to base that day had nothing to be investigated, so its identity was not recorded.

43 comments on “7 Heyfords
  1. nondesigner59 says:

    Excellent historic info.. Great work..

  2. bill_fawcett says:

    Another superb narrative Ian – always great reading.

  3. Tech Owl says:

    Great series again Ian – fabulous sky on the top shot too

  4. cgullz says:

    fabulous series, always an interesting read – locked in from the get-go. incredible that so many got into so much trouble, but then they didn’t know anything about human factors in those days, and sweet f.a about ‘limits’ and IFR! sad to hear of loss of life when surely any one of the pilots was thinking "this can’t be right, getting airborne in this" …

  5. stopherjones says:

    You really bring history to life. Stark contrast between the tranquil scene above and the events that day

  6. mick cooke says:

    brilliant work ian and great photos ,dedecation comes to mind
    take care and have a great week

  7. amyrey says:

    Grand series Ian..

    1 out of 7 ain’t great odds…..

  8. andyholmfirth says:

    Something of an epic flight !

  9. P_H_I_L_L says:

    Lovely landscape shot. How did you know where the crash site is?

  10. redrocker_9 says:

    Wonderful images as always Ian and of course your history lessons are terrific!

  11. IANLAYZELLUK says:

    Nice Landscape Shot.

  12. SolarScot. says:

    must be really scary to fly through snow,its bad enough driving through it

  13. Neal. says:

    Did they not have an open cockpit?

  14. het broertje van.. says:

    Simply beautiful!!!


  15. вnвσnạ says:

    wooow wonderfull Nature !

  16. Ian D B says:

    Thanks everyone.

    Yeah, crews were open to the elements.


    We have books giving us the grid references, though sometimes we have to do a bit more research than that.

  17. nilliske says:

    Wow, this is phenomenal! love it

  18. Ray~Watson says:

    Great landscape nicely captured… good history too… great work Ian!

  19. Reflective Kiwi %-) says:

    Another interesting read and beautiful photograph! %-)
    Pity they didn’t have the glorious weather YOU had when you took this shot!

  20. Stezzer says:

    Tragic history to such a beautiful shot, makes me look a little deeper into your image and see those blue skies in another light. God bless those soldiers and their families, who fought for our freedom.

  21. Razan alhammad استغفر الله says:

    Wow beautiful place

  22. pasujoba says:

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/31878512@N06] There were crew places within the aircraft too, this was one of if not the first aircraft to have a turret beneath the aircraft which was retractable .

  23. pasujoba says:

    A terrific presentation Ian , You have brought the flights story and crash sites together excellently. I had forgotten what lovely weather we had that day

  24. Ian D B says:

    Is that right? You learn summat new every day.

  25. Martyn Fordham says:

    Thanks for the story, mostv interesting….

    Seen on your photo stream. ( ?² )

  26. P_H_I_L_L says:

    I wonder if you’ve heard about this recent find in Ireland…


    Lots of pictures here:


  27. jr55 (John Richardson) says:

    Great story Ian, complete with a stunning landscape image.

  28. Ian D B says:


    I hadn’t read that Phill, thanks for the links. The guns still worked!

  29. Anonymous says:

    the sky is breath-taking

  30. Mustang Koji says:

    Ian, the top image is stellar…!

  31. Daydream shots says:

    Very beautiful record!

  32. Jainbow says:

    Looking at that view it’s hard to imagine the sad story behind it.

  33. Kingsdude/Dave says:

    Interesting story as ever Ian – from your pictures I assume that this is the cricket ground at Disley Amalgamated ( where I spent most of my misspent youth by the way ! ) and if so I used to know the owner of the farm you mention. I had no idea of this story but given the geography of the area I`m not surprised they came to grief 🙁

  34. Hans-Jürgen Böckmann says:

    wonderful , nice sky 🙂

  35. sugarplum.8.16. says:

    beautiful landscape capture!! i love those clouds! 🙂

  36. Ian D B says:

    Thanks again everyone.

    Hi Dave, don’t think there are other cricket grounds in Disley, so this must be the same one. How about that! I think the farm may have changed hands in recent years though.

  37. Kingsdude/Dave says:

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/maycontaintracesofnuts] More than likely Ian – I am talking probably over twenty years ago since I was there !

  38. Diego Fco. says:

    Your photos are amazing and beautiful just by themselves… but they gain a mystery atmosphere because of the history attached to them. Excellent job!

  39. Richard says:

    Squadron ORB (Air 27 807/1 available to download from UK National Archives at https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/D8385195)records the pilot of the only aircraft to make it unscathed to Finningley as a ‘Sergeant Biddulph’ but no serial or other crew members on this aircraft are named.

  40. shane bates says:

    I have in my possession an exhaust manifold nut from K6898. My grandad “salvaged” it. He was working in a field nearby when the crash happened. The nut made of what looks like phosporbronze now has pride of place on our fireplace.

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