the survivor's story
- tragic loss of lives following an air crash
Like Aberfan, Freckleton in Lancashire should be a name on
the lips of the nation.
The village's wartime tragedy is one of the
best kept secrets of the Second World War.
An American B-24 Liberator bomber
on a test flight crashed during a storm onto the village school and café.
destroyed the Holy Trinity Church of England's reception classroom.
children who were aged between four and six-years-old had only started school
the day before.
Inside Out goes in search of the forgotten story of Freckelton,
the victims and the survivors.
August 23rd 1944
was the day when 38 infant school children died and 23 civilians and air crew
perished in the village of Freckleton, near Preston.
The crash came as Paris
was being liberated by the Allies.
Although it was reported locally that
61 people had died, many now believe the story was censored by the Government
so that morale would not be affected and the Americans would not be blamed.
who died were buried in a mass grave.|
The Liberator bomber
demolished the Sad Sack Café and then struck the school.
gallons of fuel erupted like a fireball.
The children and those who died
in the café were all buried in a mass grave in the Holy Trinity church
cemetery just yards away from where plane crashed.
The grave is looked after
by local man Harry Latham.
He was also in the school that day but in another
Miraculously the children in the rest of the school were unharmed:
feel I'm doing this for the children," he says sadly.
the time of the crash the small village of Freckleton was called 'Little America'
with 10,000 Americans based there.
Less than a mile away was the former
RAF Warton airfield which became home to the Americans Base Area Depot 2.
force crew at the base serviced and repaired aircraft.
are carried away from the crash site|
On August 23rd two Liberator
bombers took off from Warton on a test flight.
But they were soon in trouble
as a ferocious thunder and lightning storm swept in from the Irish Sea uprooting
trees, plunging day into night, with heavy rain causing flash flooding.
plane managed to head North but the other flew on into the storm.
skies above Freckleton First Lieutenant John Bloemendal began a desperate struggle
to keep the Liberator, known as Classy Chassis, up in the air as the storm struck.
It was a battle he was tragically to lose with devastating results.
plane broke up on impact killing First Lieutenant Bloemendal and his two crew.
Young American airmen clawed at the debris at the scene
of the impact with bare hands trying to rescue children.
It soon became
obvious no-one else had survived.
Ruby Currell remembers the disaster and
the moment the plane hit the school:
"I remember... all
hell broke loose. I saw a girl fall over and I got under a desk.".
also recalls the scene of total devastation, "There was nothing left - it
was flattened all gone."
Ruby suffered severe burns to her body, and
while recovering in hospital she had a surprise visitor - Bing Crosby, the legendary
He was entertaining troops in Britain and made a special
trip to see the Freckleton survivors.
Crosby agreed to sing for them but
broke down when he met Ruby.
Ruby still bears the physical and mental scars
of the crash to this day.
And the village, which was left alone to grieve
all these years, has never really recovered.
Nick Wotherspoon and Russell Brown are members of the
Lancashire Aircraft Investigation Team.
They've been investigating the
Freckleton disaster for many years, and recently managed to obtain key witness
statements from the U.S. Army Air Forces investigation into the crash.
documents were classified and restricted after the War.
mass funeral for the Freckleton victims|
The American investigation
into the crash reveals that a local woman saw the plane hit by lightning and concluded
by urging all American airmen in the future not to underestimate the British weather.
housing was controversially built on the old school site a few years ago.
is no plaque either to let people know what happened here.
is a poignant reminder of the tragedy in the Holy Trinity Church - a book of photographs
of all the children who died.
It is kept there for all to see
says, "Seeing the faces of the children is almost unbearable
why Ruby's vowed never to forget.
"Every month she puts fresh flowers
on the grave."
Although the tragedy was covered up at the time,
for many in Freckleton they will always remember the the day their world caved
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