Unsung heroes of the air


FROM our house in Lancashire we can see Pendle Hill, which rises quite abruptly from the valleys each side of it to a height of 1,827ft (557m).

On the west side is our market town of Clitheroe, on the east the old mill towns of Burnley and Nelson. A country road crosses the hill through a pass called the Nick of Pendle. A few yards from the summit of the road is a small memorial stone.

The stories behind it remind us that the casualties of war are often not on the front line but doing no less essential tasks, often with little training or experience.

Flight Sergeant John Leslie Goulter, aged 22, was from Queensland, Australia. He was delivering a Boulton Paul Defiant Mk 1 interceptor aircraft from RAF Manby in Lincolnshire to Number 10 Air Gunners School at Barrow-in-Furness.

The flight is recounted by Nick Wotherspoon of the Lancashire Aircraft Investigation Team in an article with many interesting pictures here, and I would like to acknowledge his work.

At 10.40am on October 24, 1942, F/Sgt Goulter took off for the estimated one-hour flight. Although he was an excellent pilot he was relatively inexperienced in cross-country navigation, and this was his first such ferry flight, collecting an aircraft from an unfamiliar station.

Although he had been briefed for a route via Doncaster, Selby and Harrogate, he took a more direct route. When he arrived over the Lancashire town of Barnoldswick at about 11.30am he encountered a severe hailstorm. It seems likely that he lost control of the aircraft whilst flying on instruments in the cloud. Witnesses saw the aircraft come out of the low cloud at a steep angle of approximately 45 degrees and dive straight into the ground under power with a loud explosion. Those who ran to the scene within sight of Pendle Hill found the bulk of the aircraft embedded deeply in the ground with fragments scattered about. The pilot’s body was found some hours later by Home Guard personnel digging on the site and recovered next day. F/Sgt Goulter is buried in Barrow-in-Furness cemetery. 

Flight Officer John R Runnells, also 22, was from Philadelphia. This account is drawn from another article by Nick Wotherspoon. F/O Runnells was the third in a group of five pilots ferrying P-47D Thunderbolts from East Wretham in Norfolk to Warton, an American base near Preston, for modifications on February 6, 1944. The group was led by Captain Charles Francis, the only one with any serious experience of flying during winter weather in England. Just before takeoff Captain Francis was told conditions over Warton were poor and he was advised not to go, but he decided to proceed. At 2.50pm the flight taxied out and took off. Almost immediately the second pilot lost contact with the others and carried on alone. When the other four approached Liverpool they ran into zero visibility and were forced to fly on instruments. Another pilot lost contact but landed safely at Ringway (now Manchester Airport). It is not known exactly what happened to F/O Runnells but he probably became separated from the remaining two other craft and carried on flying in the hope of finding a break in the cloud. As his fuel ran out he managed to clear the summit of Pendle Hill and appeared to be attempting a forced landing on the far side, but the plane hit rough moorland and broke up. That was not the end of the day’s tragedies, as Capt Francis was killed when his plane dived into the ground on approach to Warton at 4.30pm.

F/O Runnells is buried at the Cambridge American cemetery, and Capt Francis lies nearby.

The memorial on Pendle Hill is part of a project by Clitheroe Youth Forum to honour 25 people killed in 15 air crashes between 1940 and 1949 in the Ribble Valley.


Sheep of the Week

THIS IS a Wensleydale sheep, or a Wensleydale Longwool to give its full name. The fleece is exceptionally long and lustrous. Its head is blue, if you can see it under the forelock, which is called a ‘topping’ and is traditionally left uncut.

The breed originated early in the 19th century in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire, when a ewe from a now extinct type in the area of the Tees was crossed with a Leicester Longwool ram named Bluecap.

(This is a Leicester Longwool ewe; I couldn’t find a picture of a ram.

These are now very scarce and I will write about them in another column.)

The breed may be unique in that its foundation sire’s details have been recorded. Bluecap was born in 1839 in the hamlet of East Appleton, five miles from Bedale in North Yorkshire. His qualities were his dark skin, superb quality of wool and massive size – 448lb (203kg) as a three-year-old. For comparison a Texel ram like this one which I photographed last year

weighs on average 264lb (120kg). Bluecap’s descendants are said by the British Meat and Livestock Commission to be probably the heaviest indigenous breed, though today’s rams are not on the Bluecap scale, being on average around 300lb (135kg).

Since Yorkshire folk are stereotyped as argumentative, it is not surprising that two rival breed societies were formed in 1890. These were the Wensleydale Longwool Association and the Wensleydale Blue-faced Sheep Breeders’ Association. After 30 years they managed to come to terms and amalgamated in 1920 to form the Wensleydale Longwool Sheep Breeders Association. You can read more about the sheep on their website

This is the best video I could find – at least you can appreciate the beautiful wool. I would have thought it would be kinder to cut the forelock so that it does not obscure their vision, but they look cheerful enough.


This is very short but cute.


IN JANUARY I wrote about the fungus disease called dieback which is afflicting ash trees all over the country, to the extent that the Woodland Trust estimates that 80 per cent will be lost. The fungus penetrates the leaves and stems of the tree, blocking its water transport systems, and causing the leaves and stems furthest from the trunk to blacken and die, as you can see here. Mature trees respond by sending out bunches of new stems from dormant buds in a process called epicormic growth, and I pictured this tree as an example.

Here is the same tree on Thursday, and a sorry sight it is. At this stage recovery is out of the question and soon the weakened tree will be at risk of falling.  

Lancashire County Council say they are surveying ash trees to determine which ones are dangerous and need felling, so I hope they get to this one reasonably soon. I am not sure if it is on private or public land, but if it is private it is the owner’s responsibility to fell it.

As an aside about ivy: the dying ash is covered in ivy, but so is the tree on the other side of the road as you can see in the winter picture, and that seems to be doing all right. Which is no help in the debate about whether ivy harms trees or not.


FINALLY, don’t forget that reader Kathy Nel (‘linuslimmy’) is collating anecdotal evidence about bird and insect numbers, either increases or decreases (or even static). Send your comments and observations to this address: missingcritters@yahoo.com.

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