de Havilland Vampire T.11 XE854 Rawmarsh, Rotherham.

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de Havilland Vampire T.11 XE854 Rawmarsh

Note; since this visit, the site has been cleared and a new memorial has been placed near the cenotaph in the village.

This memorial was built over the impact crater of Vampire jet XE854, which dived into the ground on 9 March 1959, by the parents of pupil pilot Midshipman Ian Ferguson Wilson.

His ashes were interred beneath the memorial plaque at the centre, where you can see a few poppies in the photo.

50 years ago this was all fields but in the intervening years a housing estate had been built around it. Not that this memorial was remembered in any way. It was sited within rough ground bordered by houses. This enclosure was unused and had become completely overgrown.

Cunningham noted on his visit in 2006 that the memorial was
“completely concealed…rather in the way of a jungle-swallowed temple.”

With this in mind, I arrived in July 2009 carrying a yard brush and some garden shears. Having scrambled along a muddy ditch, and hacked my way through chest high stinging nettles and bindweed, I arrived at the memorial scratched, stung and covered in creepy crawlies.

Ok, it wasn’t quite Indiana Jones but it was an odd feeling; this crash site was the nearest to civilisation to any I’d visited – the back gardens of houses just metres away – yet it was the most difficult to reach.

I set about some adventure gardening, cutting and trampling down the nettles, pruning back the branches and I hauled out a bramble which had taken root, revealing a boot scraper. I laid some poppies plucked from the edge of a nearby wheat field and sat on the bench for a couple of minutes to pay my respects. By the end of summer it would have all overgrown again.

However before it all grew back, staff from Rotherham Council also visited the crash site and just after my visit (their plans were not known to me when I was there) the area was cleared and a new memorial built near the church, making a nice human interest story for the local press. It is a good thing too that the new memorial was created, the more people who remember these men and the places they died the better.

But the story that Midshipman Ferguson Wilson controlled his out of control jet to avoid hitting some cottages is not impossible just very improbable; it is a common social phenomenon for these stories to emerge when an aircraft crashes near a town but with no casualties on the ground. The official verdict was that he was a young pilot doing some unauthorised low flying over his home as did many others. But unlike the majority who got away with it, the pilot lost control and was too close to the ground to recover.

19 year old Midshipman Wilson of the Fleet Air Arm had been on a training exercise from RAF Linton-on-Ouse near York. Having completed his tasks, he took a detour to buzz his home, not for the first time apparently. The Vampire was seen to fly low above the parish church and roof tops before making a climbing turn and disappeared into low cloud. At this point, Midshipman Wilson lost control of the jet which may have stalled in the climb, or possibly he became disoriented in the cloud. At that height there’s no margin for error and he was killed instantly as the Vampire broke through the low cloud and plunged to the ground.

The plaque at the centre marked the point of impact. Also in the memorial was a stone tablet in the form of an open book, placed by Midshipman Wilson’s Aunties and Uncle on the occasion of what would have been his 21st birthday.

The plaque at the centre read


The other memorial read


UPDATE OCTOBER 2009. Please see comments below.

Details from Peakland Air Crashes – The North (2006) by Pat Cunningham

32 comments on “de Havilland Vampire T.11 XE854 Rawmarsh, Rotherham.
  1. Gary Shield says:

    Great shot Ian, such a shame that the memorial is so overgrown

  2. Tech Owl says:

    That looks a nice little spot though – peace and tranquility, but it is a shame its not cared for

  3. Jan Gunn says:

    Thank you for sharing this Ian

  4. Highy says:

    Thanks for posting Ian,
    As others have said it’s such a pity it’s got to this state. A days hard graft and a bit of periodic TLC would make a lovely place to sit and contemplate.
    I guess when folks donate to something like this, the maintenance isn’t really considered at a time of grief.

  5. andyholmfirth says:

    Cracking story Ian and thats just you getting on site !

  6. Corwin's Trumps says:

    What a bittersweet memorial. Good on you for taking action. What a pity about its neglect, particularly given the very creative means in which the site was turned into a memorial. Good luck with your efforts!

    Seen in 1-2-3 History (post 1, comment on 2, view 3) (?)

  7. McAlister says:

    Wow – what a story. Good for you taking some care of it.

    My grandparents lived in Rawmarsh and I have very, very fond memories of the place. Some relatives still live there.

  8. Deputy Don says:

    Ditto all the above comments – sheer dedication even to get the atmospheric shot, and as always with Ian’s postings, an interesting and well researched footnote to put it in context.

  9. smilla4 says:

    A moving image and commentary. Thank you for making us aware of this sad and lonely memorial.

  10. Ian D B says:

    Thanks everyone. Be lovely if it could be tidied up properly, I’d be happy to muck in, make a proper job of it. As Highy says, a day’s work and some TLC would do it and it would be a nicer place for it, as well as remembering Midshipman Wilson and his family. Best bet would be if a local history group could get involved.

    There were flagstones at one time (looking at a tiny photo of the tree-less memorial that was taken at the time). Looks like the flags have been lifted, so it’s just soil beneath now. Some industrial strength weedkiller might do the trick.

    But it also needs a path cutting and being maintained through the undergrowth, and before that I imagine permission would be needed from the land owners – there is no public right of way leading to the crash site / memorial.

  11. Billy Currie says:

    Yip, looks as though it would be lovely if given a makeover.

  12. richardr says:

    It was good of you to tidy it up – it does look a bit neglected.

    1-2-3 History

  13. pasujoba says:

    Well done Ian , I guess its a similar state of play to our grave yards ,manyof which fall foul of weeds . I guess 1959 stops it being a war grave as such , and the war graves commision will not be interested in its up keep .

  14. redrocker_9 says:

    So odd to me when things like this just get left to the wayside, would be the perfect sitting spot.

  15. humilesspiritu says:

    I like this very much. Very evocative

  16. *Psycho Delia* says:

    This looks like a very peaceful place..

  17. Pleasureprinciple2012 says:

    Another piece of "nearly" lost history, made more ironic due to its close proximity to civilisation. You are to be commended on your efforts to clean up the site but as you say, without proper intervention it will all have grown over by the end of summer. Get some of the community service offenders down there for a days work, make them do something useful for a change.

  18. millermad says:

    I thought you might like to know that with the permission of the Wilson family, the memorial to Ian Ferguson Wilson is to be re-located to the World War 2 Memorial Garden, High Street, Rawmarsh in the near future. The former crash site off Occupation Road has been cleared by Rotherham MBC & artefacts from around the grave have been returned to the family. The original plaque is being incorporated into a new memorial for Ian & this will be unveiled in a planned service at the new memorial site. I will be happy to post more once details have been agreed with the family.
    Regards to all,

  19. skoorbyrret says:

    Thanks for the pics & info.I have often wondered what the story was behind this tragedy.
    I remember the day it happened……At the time I was a pupil at the Ashwood Road Junior School.[just two streets away from from the crash scene].
    I was in the classroom at the time and remember well the bang which rattled the windows.
    Later that day,I recall looking over at the crash scene from the wall of the Old Mines Pumping Station on Westfield road ….most of the wreckage from the aircraft actually finished up at the other side of the Railway Line which ran from the old Stubbin Colliery… the field to the left of the cobblestone path leading up to "Greasbrough Tops"
    Later that week,we had the Police visit the school,telling us not to pick any souvenirs up,it seems several items were missing [ which,according to what we were told by a very stern faced Policeman] resembled "Yellow Cigars" .
    For years after the crash,small pieces of wreckage would turn up in that field.
    I will visit the scene of the new memorial when it’s completed,as I still live locally.

    best regards

  20. Ian D B says:

    That’s a great post, thank you.

    In his book, Cunningham notes that the only damage was done to power lines, which affected the colliery. Otherwise the town of Rawmarsh was unscathed. Could have been a lot worse.

  21. pasujoba says:

    An amazing thread of social history .
    In some ways its ashame it had to be moved , and the crash site presumably lost for ever. but its good that the pilot and the incident is remembered . Thanks to all on this thread for the input which has surely prolonged memories of the incident .

  22. John H F says:

    Hi, I have read all of the above with great interest. I was aware of the crash but not of the memorial.

    Ian Wilson was a school friend of mine at Rotherham Grammar School. In fact we were in the same class for 5 years between 1951 and 1956. As we were arranged alphabetically in columns his desk was always at the back on the teacher’s right and as my surname began with an ‘F’ I usually was at back left. Ian was typical of the really friendly group of boys in our class. I often walked home with him as I lived in Broom and he went on to Heringthorpe. I remember he lived not far from my girlfriend whose house was in Dovedale Road. He had a great love of classical music which was unusual as most of us were into jazz, pop and the beginnings of rock and roll.

    I am particularly interested as my career path was very similar to Ian’s except I joined the RAF rather than the Fleet Air Arm. I went on to be a test pilot and as such became aware of many different aircraft and their characteristics. I never had the pleasure, however, of flying the Vampire. I started training a few years behind Ian and the Gnat had superceded it in that stage. I won’t comment on the crash itself as the inquiry had all the facts and they have said it all. There is always a touch of ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. It is such a sad loss though, particularly to his family. Like me, Ian would have been 70 this school year but we who knew him will only ever remember his friendly youthful face.

    I will think of you all gathered on Friday and of Ian. It is a great thing you are doing.

    With my best wishes,

  23. Ian says:

    Where exactly was the old memorial and the new one please
    I live in Rawmarsh and am researching local history including the church bells of St Mary’s Rawmarsh

    • Ian D B says:

      The crash site is at grid reference SK 43356 95747 off Occupation Road but it may have been built on now. The new memorial is at the church memorial garden at SK 43578 95884.

  24. Roger Firth says:

    My grandparents lived in Westfield Road when the crash occurred. I would have been six then, and I remember them telling me about it on a visit to see them in Rawmarsh. They gave me a piece of the plane, which I still have somewhere, and my grandfather typed a label which he glued on to it.

    They lived just above Occupation Road, and went under the kitchen table when it crashed.

    I had always thought it had crashed in the field behind their house, when housed chickens at the time. I’m really pleased to have found this, but sad that the site has been bit over.


  25. Ricky says:

    So were was the originale sight

    • Ian D B says:

      This (photo above) is the crash site Ricky, this memorial was built over it. Don’t know what the council have done to it since?

  26. Ian Lines says:

    I was nine years old when this happened – living at Monkwood.
    My grandfather, who lived in Rawmarsh near the old tram sheds took me for a walk to see the crater. Can remember feeling very sad.
    We emigrated to Australia in October that year 1959.
    I now live back here since retiring and love seeing and hearing about the places that we used to go as kids.

  27. Paul Allonby says:

    For those interested in the ‘lives saved on the ground’ aspect, the “South Yorkshire Times” weekly newspaper on Saturday March 14th 1959 coverage is worth reading (via British Newspaper Archives on-line). The crash, with several photos, covered the entire front-page and a substantial part of the back page. The photos carry eye-witness statements of the aircraft turning away from houses on Waggon Lane, albeit part of the undercarriage and other wreckage peppered one house and a greenhouse at a third address, on Westfield Road was wrecked. A wing came to rest against a pigeon coop. Worth a look, fair bit of detail on Ian, and his career.

  28. Paul Allonby says:

    Also, there is extensive on-line coverage of the new memorial (from 2010, findable by Googling the pilot’s name, although the ‘Yorkshire Post’ couldn’t decide if he was in the RAF or the Navy….). Again, worth a look.

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