Does anyone in Mapperley or West Hallam remember the ‘Stanley Bomber’?
On 12th July 1942 an experimental aircraft, Wellington bomber W5795 took off from RAF Boscombe Down with a crew of four and one civilian test observer. By this stage of the war Wellingtons were gradually being replaced by heavier bombers like the Stirling, Halifax and Lancaster but this aircraft was different. It was fitted with a pressurized cabin and was to carry out high altitude flight tests.
Just after 7.30 pm the aircraft was flying at over 35,000 feet and approaching Stanley. Trouble developed with starboard engine and a propeller broke off, penetrating the pressure cabin. There followed a massive explosion, destroying the aircraft and killing all on board.
Wreckage was scattered over a wide area but the main part of the wreckage came down in a field just off Dale Road in Stanley. Three bodies were found in the remains of the pressure cabin, one close to the main wreckage and the fifth some distance away in a cornfield. Because the flight was experimental the wreckage was closely guarded until the bodies had been removed all pieces of the plane had been recovered. No reports of the incident were carried in the Press at the time.
On 11th July 2004 a Memorial tablet will be unveiled in the churchyard of St. Andrew’s Church, Stanley as a commemoration of the bravery of these five men. Their work was as important to the war effort as direct operations against the enemy. It led to the next generation of high flying military aircraft but perhaps even more important, to the development of pressurized passenger cabins which made possible high long distance commercial flights after the war. These and other pioneers led the way to the inter-continental flights of the Lockheed Constellation in the 1950’s and to the transatlantic jets beginning with the De Havilland Comet and later the Boeing 707. We take for granted our holiday flights in (relatively) comfortable aircraft but our comfort has been won by people like the crew of W5795 being willing to risk - and give - their lives. So it is fitting that at last their sacrifice will be properly recognized.
Stanley Churchwarden Bernard Walters and local historian Terry Hall have worked hard with support from Rev. Simon White to arrange this commemoration. The RAF have been invited to make a suitable flying contribution the event.
Donations towards the cost of the commemoration event and future upkeep of the Memorial will be welcome.
On 1 January 1915 with the New Year only a couple of hours old the Fifth Battle Squadron of the Channel Fleet of HM Royal Navy was steaming westwards after exercising the previous day off Portland Bill. Lying in wait was the German Submarine U24, which struck at 2:20 am by torpedoing the last battleship of the line, HMS Formidable, the first Battleship to be sunk in World War I.
On this ship there were at least two local men to this area. 1st Class Boy, William Durow, J/29940, Aged 18, Parents, Joseph and Mary Durow of 132 Station Road, Stanley Village, Derbyshire. Young William is commemorated on a brass plaque inside St. Andrews Church in the village, his name is on the WWI Roll of Honour for the Parish and the plaque to those who did not return in the Porchway to the Church which is a War Memorial built in the 1920’s and his name is inscribed on the Parish War Memorial in the village.
As was the custom during WWI & WWII, for those with no known grave he is also commemorated on Panel 6 of the main Plymouth Naval War Memorial. ‘Billy’ as he was known locally, was an only son and a choirboy at St Andrews Church and had two sisters, Stella, and Nancy who married Wilfred Cooke. Some time after WWI the family moved to 2 New Street off Station Road. George Horsnall (99) of Stanley Common attended and remembers the Commemoration Plaque to Billy being unveiled in the Church by Mrs Harper Sharpe but has no information as to why this task was undertaken by the Durow’s next door neighbour. He remembers Billy as one of the older choirboys, and they were advised he had drowned at sea when HMS Formidable went down.
Also listed as a casualty was Mechanician Harry Phipps, 295127, Aged 41 and whose parents were Enoch & Annie Phipps of Yew Cottage, Victoria Avenue, Borrowash and Harry is commemorated on panel 11 of the Chatham Naval Memorial in Kent. Prior to our Royal Navy shrinking to almost non- existence we were all allocated a base port and though this was not always relevant to our service it is assumed would have influenced the difference of recording on different area naval War Memorials.
Of the crew of 758; 547 officers and men did not survive; the death toll was so high as the other ships in company were ordered not to stop and assist following the tragic loss of HMS Aboukir, Hogue and Cressy (Sept 1914) all within an hour, with the loss of 1,400 British sailors, caused by each ship being torpedoed in turn when they stopped to pick up survivors. The change of rules engagement in WWI were being learnt at a terrible cost of lives.
As HMS Formidable was torpedoed in the early hours of New Years day in 1915, and sank at 4:40am many of the men found themselves on the upper deck clad only in their ‘fearnoughts’, a one piece flannel night garment of the time. When the Captain’s final words went out “Lads, this is the last, all hands for themselves and may God Bless and guide you to safety” the only option was to jump into the cold winter sea or go down with the ship. The Captain, his faithful dog ‘Bruce’ and Commander were seen on the bridge of the doomed ship waiting for the inevitable to happen in true Royal Navy Tradition of the time!
Captain Arthur Loxley RN, was the son of the Rev. Arthur Loxley the former curate of St. Mary’s Church, Northcliffe. During WWI the family would lose two further sons, Capt Vere Loxley RM killed in action on the Somme 13/11/16 and Captain Reginald Loxley RAF who lost his life 18/10/18 only weeks before the Armistice, amply demonstrating the pain of war and loss on an unimaginable scale.
The ship’s Chaplain, Rev. George Brooke Robinson showed great bravery and care of his flock by venturing down below decks to fetch cigarettes for officers and crew despite the fact the ship was due to capsize at anytime. As a Chaplain of the fleet he had visited many parts of the world so it was quite a coincidence he should go down with the Formidable within miles of West Bay, Dorset where he resided.
The suffering of those who did not go down with the ship is recorded in a book on the Formidable, ‘Before The Bells Have Faded’ by Mark Potts and Tony Marks* and I thank them for their kind copyright permission to use extracts from their book. They are from Crewe and were inspired by four names including twins on their local war memorial. The book is to commemorate the 547 men who lost their lives and to rectify a historical oversight that this fine battleship and crew had no literary legacy recorded until now.
There were many acts of bravery and no doubt prayers and one such incident of a prayer (Miracle?) being answered was one of the open boats which spotted a brief light accidentally shone from shore which enabled the boat to head for Lyme Regis and land safely whereas it would have been smashed up on the rocks and all lost. When this boat reached shore all the occupants were in a very bad way with exhaustion and hypothermia. The dead bodies of the sailors were laid out in the Pilot Boat Inn where ‘Lassie’ a rough haired cross bred collie took a particular interest in Able Seaman John Cowan who was thought to be dead. For half an hour the dog continued to lick and nuzzle the body and incredibly he began to show signs of life and willing hands completed his recovery. According to local folklore the incident inspired the Hollywood creation of the immortal ‘Lassie’ on film and TV.
The men in the overloaded Pinnace were at sea for 22 hours in very rough inhospitable weather with no food or water and of the 72 or 73 who started out only 33 survived and all in a poor way. Only Two Hundred survivors are listed and this is recorded as one of the greatest number of men lost on a ship during the whole of World War I.
Young Durow in the prime of his life is one of many young seamen lost at sea on the Formidable and his family’s loss is reflected by the Brass Plaque in St Andrews Church and the very poignant sailor’s prayer.
There are no flowers on a sailor’s grave,
Today the Formidable lies 60 Metres deep (Approx 200 foot) in position 50-13-12N, 03-03-58W and is an official War Grave under the protection of the Military Remains Act and Sea Graves Act 2001 to which HMS Formidable is a controlled site to prevent further disturbance and trophy hunting by an irresponsible minority of divers. Thankfully sixteen wrecks are now protected and diving prohibited unless a specific licence is obtained. (My personal feeling is all wrecks should be treated as the grave of those who were lost, and left undisturbed) Despite lobbying by various ex Service Associations for many years it took until 2001 to get some form of protection for these brave men’s graves, too little far too late.
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.
* ‘Before The Bells Have Faded’ by Mark Potts and Tony Marks - (ISBN 0-9528760-6-10) first published 2004 and available from Maritime Books, Liskeard, PL14 4EL
Stanley Colliery Home Guards in the 1914-1918 War
Who, Where and When? (Newspaper article and photograph)
Stanley Colliery Home Guards in the 1914-1918 war. In the picture are C.O. F. M. Brown (then manager), Instructor Smith, C. Robinson (under manager), Mr. Severn (seated extreme left), who subsequently became manager of Simon Pit, Mapperley. It will be recalled that Mr. Severn disappeared in this pit and no trace was ever found. In civilian clothes and wearing cap on right is Bob Stone, ex-Ilkeston United goalkeeper and well- known local preacher. He died one or two years ago. Second from right, seated, is Mr. T. Clough, now chairman of the Ilkeston Building Society. Next to him (third from right) is Mr. Hartley, who was engine-wright. Photograph kindly lent by Mrs. W. Bloor, of Stanley at the time of the newspaper article. This copy sent to me by Elise in May 2019.