Halifax bomber JN886, Blackley, Manchester

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Halifax bomber JN886, Blackley, Manchester

Halifax bomber JN886 of 1666 Heavy Conversion Unit crashed in Blackley (pronounced Blake-ley) in the northern suburbs of Manchester with the loss of 3 of the 7 crew members. All but one on board were Canadian.

The bomber took off from RAF Wombleton in Yorkshire on a cross country / bombing practice exercise on the evening of October 4th, 1944. Despite the starboard inner engine failing, the pilot decided to continue, perhaps reasoning that it was good practice for the crew to deal with flying with an engine out? Whatever the reason, after 5 hours of flying on 3 engines, the starboard outer engine also packed in.

Circling above north Manchester, Flying Officer Cooke ordered the crew to bale out while he looked for somewhere to try to crash land the Halifax. Only 3 managed to do so (and they were so low they were injured in the process) before the bomber crashed through the churchyard of St Andrews shortly after midnight. The wreck came to a halt in a field, narrowly missing the surrounding houses. One man, Sergeant Craig, survived the crash.

The priest of St Andrews Church (Rev Ian Fellows, I believe) kindly pointed out the area where he understood the plane finally came to rest, which is over to the left and beyond the trees in the view above. He wasn’t aware of the aircraft scraping the wall of the church as one reference states.

F/O M J G Cooke RCAF, killed
Sgt C G Ayres RAF, killed
Sgt J S Turnbull RCAF, baled out – injured
F/S H A Wintermute RCAF, killed
Sgt J A Murden RCAF, baled out – injured
Sgt K G Rose RCAF, baled out – injured
Sgt J A Craig RCAF, injured

The wreck of Halifax JN886, which narrowly missed the suburban housing.
Photo from the Manchester Evening News

St Andrew’s Church, Blackley, Manchester.

Details from;
RAF Bomber Command Losses Volume 8 (2003) W R Chorley
Moston and Middleton Express (13 Jan 1994)
Manchester Evening News (5 October 1944)

36 comments on “Halifax bomber JN886, Blackley, Manchester
  1. Tech Owl says:

    Full account as usual Ian – interesting shot to go with the detail

    • Stuart Cass says:

      As a 2 year old at the time my father was on leave from the RAF (Tail Gunner in Halifax at Tarrant Rushton in Dorset, also called the secret airfield, they were connected to the OAS).
      We were walking down Victoria Avenue, I remember the fire engines, bells ringing, when we got to the bottom of Crab Lane and Munn Road my father went towards the church as he realised what had happened, my Mother and I went home. We lived on what was then called Heaton park Road ( later renamed Weardale Rd)from our house you could see the flames behind the church. Even as a baby I can remember all the flash lights over the fields, I assume they were looking for survivors. I can’t remember anything else about the night. Years after I was led to believe that the pilot was trying to burn off fuel. As children we used to play on the remains of the aircraft

      • Irvin taylor says:

        Nice to hear your name after many years stuart hope you are well irvin taylor

      • I lived at 56 Broomhall Road,(opposite Heaton Park Road) born 1940, and remember going to the crash site to look for perspex pieces. I know not why.
        There was an R.A.F. man on guard duty, with a rifle, who sent us packing.
        I was baptised and my dad’s funeral was at the lovely St.Andrew’s Church.
        Happy memories of Farmer Whitehead and the cowman George in the farm at the back of the Duke of Wellington pub.

  2. pasujoba says:

    Well done Ian , you finally got to the bottom of it .
    lots of work researching this one by the looks of things .
    Another unusual main photo too . good to mix things up a little .

  3. andyholmfirth says:

    Lovely image Ian.

  4. mick cooke says:

    great story to go with the photos

  5. Pleasureprinciple2012 says:

    Excellent detail dealing with a mighty sad subject. Might just cancel my subscription to "Britain at War" and read your photo entries instead!

  6. obie10 says:

    I remember as a 7 year old visiting the crash scene within hours of the crash,
    also around the same time about 100 yards or so away a barrage balloon which set on fire

  7. Ian D B says:

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/44345774@N07] obie10
    Thanks for commenting. What do you recall of it? Where did the bomber come down in your memory of events? Was the barrage balloon on fire connected?

  8. obie10 says:

    Hello Ian. How well do you know that area. Have had a look on Google maps and the cottages which are in the backgroung in your photo are still there

  9. Ian D B says:

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/44345774@N07] obie10
    Maybe I should go back. I am pretty certain the Halifax came down in the view but where it ended up is probably more to the left. Will need to check again. Would you please send me a Googlemap link to where the buildings are? Is it Crab Lane?

  10. obie10 says:

    I would an need email addres to send a link unless there is ssome other way. but if you like I can meet you there and show you . Any morning will do

  11. Ian D B says:

    Thanks for that. I have just had a week off so it’ll be unlikely I will be free any time soon, kind of you to offer though, may well take you up on that one weekend. Meanwhile you could send the link via Flickrmail or just post it here in the comments? Appreciate your help.

  12. John Sheldon says:


  13. Peter Bamford says:

    I remember it happening and along with all boys we went to collect bits of the aircraft but Police would not let us too near for it was a seen on investigation and me may damage or take evidence

    • Ian D B says:

      thanks for that. In case it disappears altogether, am copying it here

      Manchester Evening News – Unknown Date
      Canadians quest for facts of brave sergeant’s death
      A CANADIAN man is attempting to uncover the full story of how his cousin died in one of North Manchester’s few wartime air disasters.
      Vern Fowlie from Winnipeg, Manitoba, is asking if readers know anything about the tragedy which occurred on 5th October, 1944.
      He Writes: “Shortly after midnight…a Royal Canadian Air Force (or perhaps RAF) Halifax bomber (JN 886) crashed at Blackley.
      “Several of the crew managed to bail out. They were slightly injured and were taken to RAF Heaton Park SSQ.
      “Three of the aircrew did not get out. They died in the crash.
      One sergeant Harry Wintermute, was a cousin of mine. The RCAF pilot and an RAF airman were also killed”.
      Mr Fowlie – who is attempting to write his families history – would like answers to a series of questions including where exactly the bomber crashed. whether there were any civilian casualties or damage, where was the Willard Street Police station where the bodies were taken and what was RAF Heaton Park?
      After our own research we can answer some of these queries.
      Ministry of Defence Air Historic branch research officer, Mike Hatch, found an account of the crash in the book “Over the Wall” by John R Sharp which is a personal history of the war time RAF station at Heaton Park.
      The doomed Handley Page Halifax number JN886 was from a special unit established to train pilots used to lighter aircraft to fly bombers.
      Heaton Park
      It took off from the unit HQ nine miles from Pickering on the West Yorkshire Moors with Flying Officer M J Cook – a Canadian – at the controls.
      It had been airbourne for five hours, five minutes when trouble started.
      Mr Sharp writes: “The episode was a tragic catalogue of events, for at 18’000ft the starboard inner engine caught fire and the pilot was unable to feather the propeller.
      He could not find base and then he lost the starboard outer engine too.
      “It was impossible to maintain height on two engines and at 900ft control was lost and the aircraft crashed and caught fire.
      “The problems were compounded by the fact a crew member pulled a parachute ripcord inside the aircraft.”
      The plane came down at five minutes past midnight on 5th October on Crab Lane, Blackley, now ironically overlooked by a cemetery. There is some confusion in Mr Sharp’s account of casualties.
      He Claims four were killed and three injured but Mr Hatch of the Defence Ministry says the “accident card” reports four injured and three killed.
      Three survivors managed to bail out.
      The manchester Evening News of 5th October describes how the brave pilot maneuvered his plane away from the housing below to land in a field just a few yards from a row of cottages.
      Before coming to rest the plane crashed through St Andrews Churchyard bringing some railings down and damaged a shed and hencote.
      but because of the pilots heroism no civilians were injured.
      Hundreds ran to the scene of the disaster.
      The Evening News reports that Sub-Lieutenant Frank Donough, home on leave at Crab lane pulled the sergeant from the wreckage. Was this Mr Fowlies relative?
      The bodies and injured ended up at RAF Heaton Park which was an Aircrew Dispatch Centre with a Station Sick Quaters (SSQ).
      Before we send the information to Mr Fowlie can any readers add to the account? If you have any recollections contacted us on Express News desk 205 8031 Damaged Graveside Plot

      • Mrs Lesley Condon says:

        My mum always talked about this crash, she held the hand of the pilot when they crashed she lived at 80 Crab lane

  14. Eric Graham says:

    The police station is Willert Street, in Collyhurst, Manchester

  15. Tony Bowden says:

    Hi Ian great web site, found it while researching Manchester police officers who died in military service WW2 most of who were in the RAF. We visited St Andrews Blackley on 31st July (2017)to honour one of our lads P.C.Raymond Findlay Ball and we have some commemorative stuff that can be sent to you if you want. Willert st police station has gone but police reports/photos of the Halifax crash may still exist in the force museum in Newton St Manchester. let me know how to e mail the comm stuff if you want it
    regards Tony Bowden, Manchester

    • Ian D B says:

      Hi Tony, thank you for your comments. I visited the Newton St museum a while back, thought they had some very interesting stuff in there relating to WWII. I have also used (with permission) some of their photo archives in the past. What is the commemorative material you have Tony? Is it stuff that might be of interest on this site? Please feel free to send anything to me.
      Thanks again,

  16. John Higham says:

    This is my local church I only live 5 minutes walk and never knew this thank you for sharing.

  17. john waddington says:

    hi a mate of mine who died a few years back and had a lot of history and photographs of old blackley was stopped from searching the area where the plane went down by the council or goverment . ian db you may know him his name was david waterhouse and he put a lot of old pictures of crab lane on facebook i am not sure if he had a small booklet made i lived on tweedle hill rd from 1953 and david lived on bank house rd

    • Ian D B says:

      I don’t him John but I do remember a website about Crab Lane, which had some old photos on it. Wonder if the facebook page is still there? I will take a look.

  18. Jim Chadwick says:

    I’m amazed! St. Andrews was my parish church throughout the 1960s, with relatives living in the exact vicinity of the crash, and I never new about this until today. I’m a member of a Facebook group called ‘Old Blackley’ and there are some posts on this subject including one which shows a personal effect of one of the survivors, which still exists. Maybe you are aware of it already?

    ” Admin

    Following BernardWynnes post about the Wartime aircrash in Blackley I found out that my friends brother was in possession of a map pouch left by one of the survivors. It seems that a lady from Crab Lane took him in and gave him a cup of tea ( that great British cure for all ills) and the bag was given to her. It was then passed onto my friends brother on her death as he was involved in the British Legion. He has carefully preserved it for years and it looks in remarkably good condition. Unfortunately it is empty and there is no name on it Despite knowing my friend for more years than I care to remember I knew nothing about this until we were discussing Bernards post !!!!!
    Many thanks to Dave for the picture and the story.”

  19. Terry rhodes says:

    Blackley as always been spelt this way

  20. Tony Flynn says:

    I lived in Higher Blackley from 1963-1966, and walked past St Andrews on my way to school, never knew about this crash, thanks for all the research and comments.Share an interesting site.

  21. sam booth says:

    Hi my name is Samantha Booth. As a child I was a resident of Little Lane just off Crab Lane. My grandmother Mary Monks used to work in Martins the GreenGrocers, just near the Cricket Club. As a child I used to play in the St Andrews Grave Yard. I was told as a child that a plane had crashed and that the whole of the graveyard was haunted by the crew. Often you could hear footsteps following you around. It is really nice to see that Crab Lane has held onto its tradition. My grandmothers house is still there. Little Lane was knocked down in the 70s. Does anybody remember Mrs Rogers Mansion ??? I can find no photos.

  22. Mrs Lesley Condon says:

    My mum Gwen Goostry always talked about this crash, she held the hand of the pilot when they crashed she lived at 80 Crab lane

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