Handley Page Heyford K6900

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Handley Page Heyford K6900

This is the first proper air crash site investigation undertaken; so far, all the sites visited have been following where others have gone before. There was no record of anyone having investigated this particular site before, so we decided to take a look for ourselves.

The crash on Wadsworth Moor near Hebden Bridge was the worst incident of a debacle in which 7 Heyford bombers left RAF Aldergrove in Northern Ireland together bound for RAF Finningley in Yorkshire on 12th December 1936, but only one arrived safely. Beyond the details of the bigger picture, we found little on this crash in books and internet searches, and nothing at all on anyone having identified the crash site itself.

At the local library I copied pages from newspapers of the time which gave eye witness accounts of the bomber flying low over a mill and a farm. Neither were identified on contemporary maps, but with a few questions locally we found the farm and discovered that the mill had been demolished, but the mill canteen still stood. Lining up the site of the mill and the farm, we could determine the line of flight before the aircraft struck the sharply rising moor.

We scouted about for a couple of hours, looking in all the likely spots, having narrowed the search area down to an area of about 150 square metres.

It was like looking for a needle in the old proverbial and we didn’t expect to find the site. We found a tin can and later a horseshoe which immediately brought us luck; recalling reading a witness account which mentioned the aircraft veering to the left at the last instant, we moved North for one last attempt at locating the site before calling it a day and going home and found the site! It was exciting getting a signal in the middle of the moor, and all the more so when we found these scraps in the photo below. They don’t look much, but they identified the site. Twisted and molten aluminium mostly, some traces of cordite and a tiny fragment of glass.


With mud, perpetual rain or snow, and lens that got spattered with bits of wet grass and stuff, meaningful photography was out of the question. We left the wreckage scraps where we had found them and headed back to the car, well chuffed.

The crash, as mentioned, was part of a bigger story. Of the 7 Heyfords, 2 landed safely elsewhere, 2 made crash landings, the crew bailed out of another leaving their abandoned bomber to fall to the ground, and the other was this one, K6900. These were the only fatalities. Heavy icing on the wings caused problems for the bombers as they crossed the Irish Sea and got lost in the freezing fog. The incident was a pre-war alarm call for the RAF, and it led to the development of de-icing technology.


Sergeant V C Otter, pilot (survived)
Sergeant D G Church, observer (survived briefly, died on the way to Halifax Royal Infirmary)
Leading Aircraftman P G Clements, fitter (killed)
Aircraftman C V Bodenham, wireless op (killed)

Sgt Otter not only survived, but by 1967 had risen to the rank of Air Vice Marshal.

A Handley Page Heyford, image from wikipedia commons


32 comments on “Handley Page Heyford K6900
  1. sidewinder54 (Closed For Business) says:

    You must both feel such a sense of achievement… Congratulations to you both.

  2. pasujoba says:

    Brilliant Ian , I knew you would tell it well , its just like he said ….i was there > :-).

  3. andyholmfirth says:

    Good work !

  4. pasujoba says:

    and you cannot imagine how s**t up we got.
    Black brite I believe is the phrase.

  5. Richard Carter says:

    Congratulations. I walk on this part of the moor pretty much every weekend. I’ll keep my eyes peeled!

  6. mick cooke says:

    well done ian brilliant bit of work,
    and a great story

  7. ΞLLΞ∩ says:

    What an adventure! 🙂
    Luckily you’ve found it – and again I believe in horsehoes! 😉
    (No photo of this?)
    Have a nice sunday!

  8. Tony-H says:

    A fascinating story Ian …. can you imagine the headlines if 6 of 7 aircraft were lost on a routine flight today ? It brings to mind those Bermudan Triangle stories of lost US Navy formations in the 40s !

    Well done on finding the site !

  9. stuant63 says:

    Great detective work – this is very impressive.

    Fascinating stuff and I enjoyed your write up very much.

    Isn’t it amazing as well to think that such a huge aircraft as that can completely disappear over the years leaving no trace un
    til you guys came along?

  10. Billy Currie says:

    what an adventure, must be really exciting and rewarding doing stuff like this

  11. redrocker_9 says:

    Well that is a grand adventure you went on, how fun!!

  12. Pleasureprinciple2012 says:

    Ah, metal detecting. That takes me back a bit. Still remember, as a youngster, the look on my mums face as I walked into the house with a handful of live 303 rounds and a couple of 20mm shells as well! Happy days.
    Nice story and effort put into this one, a great achievement.

  13. Tech Owl says:

    On to sleuthing now!! Looks even more interesting. Great to see the scenery of the search

  14. Suzi Creamcheese says:

    fastinating stuff, its hard to believe there isn’t some kind of memorial to mark the spot where these men died.

  15. pasujoba says:

    Thats a good idea Suzi.

  16. Neal. says:

    Yes a memorial would be a grand idea, after all they leave ones to pop stars.

    • Peter Speakman says:

      Yes I am sure a memorial would be welcomed by the families of those who died in this tragedy. Claude Bodenham, the Wireless Operator was my Great Uncle so I am one who has a family connection to this accident.

  17. SolarScot. says:

    do you think Paul could find the watch i lost up the Cheviots?

    well done lads

  18. brooke.tabitha@yahoo.com {thanks, farewell} says:

    Yay!!! Successful trip, looks like. That photo of Paul up top is just lovely (minus Paul :-P). Really. The foreground, and the seen behind with the muted colors is just fantastic. Okay…Paul’s okay too…you guys are regular trailblazers…

  19. RoystonVasey says:

    great account, must be really pleasing to come up with the goods after all that effort. you certainly earned a hosing down!

  20. Mark McKie says:

    Wow.!!!!! You lads are hardcore.!!!!!!!!!!!

  21. bill_fawcett says:

    Amazing bit of detective work – congratulation to both Paul and yourself for the fine job. Again, a great narrative about a bad day in aviation history.

  22. Highy says:

    Really well done guys, I remember you telling me about this. Great work!

  23. Paul says:

    Suddenly feel a need to go back for another look ! 🙂

  24. Geoff Greenwood says:

    Hi there,Ican add a bit more information for you on the crash site at Hebden Bridge.At the time of this incident,my uncle who was Bill
    Savage,worked for the L.M.S.Railway Co.He was a Parcel service
    delivery man,Driving a horse and cart.He was called to go to the crash site to pick up one fatality,which he took to the stables at
    the station,putting the victim on the train the following morning.
    He was sent to Ludlow in Shropshire.Why only one,I can’t answer.
    But all of the wreckage was moved immediatly by the R.A.F.
    That,s why you found nothing.Yours Geoff Greenwood.

    • Ian D B says:

      Hi Geoff, thank you very much for adding these details to the story. We did find a little bit – but not much! Just some very corroded scraps of metal.

  25. Jason says:

    Today I came across the graves of
    Sergeant D G Church
    Leading Aircraftman P G Clements
    In the church grave yard at Finningley
    It was nice to find your page and find out what happened to them

  26. Eric Greaves says:

    I was a five year old in 1936 living in Shaw, Lancashire and on the 12th December a Wet foggy Saturday morning an aircraft appeared circling low over the area of Clough until it crashed into the Moorside near Oldham. I was yanked inside the home but my elder brother aged 13 ran up to the aircraft as the police arrived. There were no occupants.
    There was an article in Aeroplane Monthly some years ago which described the incident of the intended flight of these “Heyfords” from Aldergove, Northern Ireland o Finningley.

    I did research the “Moorside” incident at the Oldham Chronical some years ago.
    Eric Greaves – now 88 years old!


  27. Justeen Stone says:

    Hi, another living relative of Claude Vincent Bodenham here. Again, he’s my Great uncle. Thanks so much for the research its such a sad event but knowing the bigger picture answers many unknown aspects of his death. My grandmother Claude’s sister in law has pictures of Claude and not sure if you would want to see them?

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