Please take your time to look through some of the WW2 facts and stories of the North Staffordshire area.
Bomber Crashes at Butt Lane
Many thanks to local historian Philip Leese for supplying the information.
It was on the night of 16th and 17th May 1943, when a Short Stirling bomber was on a training flight from RAF Tilstock, an airfield which was close to Tern Hill in Shropshire.
The aircrew consisted mainly of New Zealanders and it was piloted by Sgt. L. C. Wright.
During the flight, the Stirling bomber, BF398 of the 75th Squadron, suffered the failure of two of its four engines, consequently the decision was taken for the crew to bail out of the aircraft, which they duly did apart from two crew members. The pilot stayed with plane to attempt a safe landing and help the other remaining crew member who was having problems with his parachute. The pilot had made an earlier attempt to land the aircraft but realised that he was in a built up area. His second and final attempt could not be controlled resulting in the plane diving steeply into the ground, partially burying itself and killing the pilot.
Another fatality was one of the crewmen who was described as being ‘killed after he left the plane’, we must presume that this was the crewman who was having problems with his parachute. The aircraft crashed in the fields beyond Old Butt Lane, on the site now occupied by industrial buildings and factories of West Avenue.
There are several local people who well remember the crash and its aftermath.
One eye witness was the mother of Mr. C Carter of Hardingswood, Kidsgrove. She woke up her son to tell him that there had been an aircraft on fire, it had come in low over Kidsgrove and it had just missed the gasworks before crashing at Butt Lane.
The story of the fire might explain why the pilot didn’t attempt to limp home on the two remaining engines, but why a fire in two engines as opposed to just mechanical failure.
A special constable at that time, Harry Thompson, remembers meeting two of the bailed out crew who said that they were worried about the fate of the pilot who had stayed with another crew member who had trouble with his parachute. These two crewmen were also concerned about the seven other crew who had also left the plane. If we assume that the seven crew of concern include the parachute troubled fatality, the total crew must have numbered ten.
Over the following weeks, local people, particularly schoolboys, visited the crash site searching for souvenirs. One of the prized items of this activity seems to have been shards of perspex from the aircraft’s windows. These shards were apparently heated and used to make rings!
Mow Cop and the Battle of the Beams
During the first few months of 1940, information gathered by decoding Enigma radio traffic, the interrogation of captured aircrews and evidence which was gathered by airborne radio monitoring, revealed the existence of a German radio navigational beam system. This was being used by the German aircrews to accurately locate targets over the British mainland.
The first system to be discovered was named Knickebien (translated as Crooked Leg) by the Germans and had been developed from the widely adopted Lorenz aircraft blind landing system. A simple but effective countermeasure was urgently needed to prevent the German aircrews from using the system or at least to confuse the navigational information.
A system of radio ‘jamming’ was developed using hospital Diathermy sets which were quickly converted into transmitters and placed at various locations such police stations and public buildings. These transmitters would only be switched on when an air raid was imminent, so as to prevent the Germans from easily discovering that we had found the ‘beams’ and that we were taking preventative action.
X-Gerate was the next system to be used by the Germans. It was very similar in principle to Knickebien, but proved to be a more refined and accurate system needing sophisticated countermeasures. It was to be countered by using specially developed ‘jamming’ transmitters called Bromides, a name presumably chosen because it was to render X-Gerate impotent.
The task of setting up these ‘jamming’ stations fell on the newly formed RAF 80 Wing, Radio Counter Measures, whose base was at Radlett in Hertfordshire. Following the earlier attempts at ‘jamming’ using converted Diathermy sets, purpose made and more sophisticated jamming equipment was developed. These purpose made ‘jamming’ transmitters were known as ‘ Aspirins’, a cure for the ‘headache’ that the system had posed to us.
In the early days of the ‘battle of the beams’, some 28 of these Aspirin transmitter sites were set up. Some were mobile units, the remainder were installed permanently on high ground.
Mow Cop became one of the permanent sites, chosen for it’s unhindered coverage of the major industrial targets of the North West, from Trafford Park and other industrial areas of Manchester to the Liverpool docks and beyond.
Confusion surrounding the exact location of this site came from the account by Brian Johnson, who in his BBC book ‘The Secret War’, gave the location as Kidsgrove, Nr Crewe.
Mow Cop at that time was part of the Kidsgrove Urban District, the most likely cause of the wrong location being cited.
During October 1940, the Air Ministry requisitioned a meadow just of Congleton Rd, Mow Cop to set up the transmitter station. They soon began to install the equipment with the erection of two tall masts, several permanent huts, underground cabling and most significant, a sentry post to prevent unauthorised access. As with other jamming stations throughout the country, the local population would speculate as to the stations purpose. Was it for aircraft counting and spotting, some form of radio detection or a listening station etc. What was it for? It would not be until the mid 1970’s that the true nature of it’s purpose would be revealed. The Mow Cop site was fully manned by 80 wing personnel for the remainder of the war.
On the night of the bombing of Coventry, 14th and 15th November 1940, only six Bromide stations had come into operation, Mow Cop being one of these. Although Mow Cop would certainly have been to great a distance from the target to effectively jam the X-Gerate signals, the choice of it as one of the first six sites must demonstrate the importance that 80 wing attached to it as a jamming station. As it was eventually discovered, some unknown technical aspects of the jamming signal would have prevented it from being effective on that night anyway.
One of the RAF personnel stationed at Mow Cop was Mr. Jim Hickman. At the outset of war he was living at home in Harriseahead, and on joining the RAF was sent to train on radar. It must have been a surprise to say the least when he was given a chitty instructing him to report to the Mow Cop site which was only two miles from home. He was to spend the next two years carrying out his top secret work whilst being able to live at own home.
Another RAF man who served at Mow Cop between 1941 to 1943 was Mr. Cyril Fisher, who on arrival at his new posting in the middle of winter, chose to leave his train at Mow Cop station and was confronted by the arduous journey up the hill, carrying a full kitbag.
In a series of articles in the Congleton Chronicle, A J Condliffe tells us of the time that the jamming was so successful that German bomber crews missed the targets totally and carried on to Ireland before releasing their bombs. Mow Cop of course, got the blame. This and other incidents were confirmed as true by Jim Hickman and Cyril Fisher. A J Condliffe also tells of at least four RAF personnel who met and married local girls.
If anyone has some additional information or experiences of the RAF at Mow Cop, I would be extremely pleased to hear from you. Does anyone remember the two tall masts?
The story of the ‘battle of the beams’ is quite involved but extremely fascinating and is covered well in Brian Johnson’s book, ‘The Secret War’ (published by BBC books – 1978)
A more personalised account of the events by the wartime scientific advisor R V Jones, can be found in his book ‘Most Secret War’.
Kidsgrove, 1 Bomber, 28 Spitfires, 2 Tanks and A Warship
During WW2, the population of British towns and villages, performed some incredible feats of fund raising to equip our fighting men and women.
Stirred by the patriotic speeches of Winston Churchill on the radio and the images of war shown in the cinemas and on poster campaigns, people at home who could not take part in the fighting directly were inspired to involve themselves in fund raising, collecting re-usable materials, items for Red Cross parcels, scrap metal and the like.
All this gave everyone a sense of contributing to the war effort and ‘doing their bit’.
Of course the fund raising needed to be personalised, for example setting targets and measuring the amount of money raised in the numbers of Spitfires, tanks, warships, etc.
In reality the funds would have gone into a ‘money pool’ to be spent on whatever was most urgently needed.
Each time the cost of a new Spitfire etc. was met, it gave the people a great sense of achievement and community pride.
There would always be the exception when a particular ship or aircraft would be given some sort of attachment to a fund raising town, but this was not commonplace.
One such exception is in the account which follows, whereby H.M.M.B.T 76, His Majesty’s Motor Torpedo Boat 76, was identified as a warship funded totally by the people of Kidsgrove and surrounding districts.
The following brief account is that of the efforts of our local community in and around Kidsgrove, North Staffordshire, and is only one of the many examples of outstanding fund raising efforts which took place throughout wartime Britain.
Kidsgrove Local Savings Committee
The Kidsgrove Local Savings Committee was founded in July 1940 by the now defunct Urban District Council with the aim of raising funds to help equip our Armed Forces. Its administrative committee was made up mainly of local councillors, but it also included schoolteachers, doctors, nurses, local businessmen, cinema owners and anyone with the necessary skills to help in fund raising.
In its short life, it managed to raise an incredible amount of funds, particularly impressive when we consider that Kidsgrove and its surrounding areas were not heavily populated during the wartime years.
Between July 1940 and March 1944, it managed to raise the following funds: 1941 – 1942 £111,150, 1942 – 1943 £127,300, 1943 – 1944 £154,706.
The three and a half years total came to a staggering £433,182, an immense amount of money in the 1940s. By March 1944, this money had funded, One Bomber (type unknown), 28 Spitfires, 2 Heavy Tanks and His Majesty’s Motor Torpedo Boat 76, all documented as ‘on active service’.
This was not the end of it, for a week of fund raising activities started on the 25th March 1944, the ‘Salute the Soldier Week’.
We are grateful to the unknown person who kindly gave Kidsgrove Library a copy of the souvenir programme which shows all the weeks activities.
Reading the account of these fund raising activities totally amazed us, for trying to raise £100,000 within the local community in the space of a week, would be extremely difficult, even today. It is unknown how successful the week was, or indeed the wartime total.
One aspect of the activities on Saturday, March 25th, is the venue for the dance, Kidsgrove Town Hall. It is the venue that we always use for our associations 1940’s dances and little has changed since those wartime days apart from a lick of paint.
King George VI’s Message To The School Children
Many thanks to our local historian Philip Leese for supplying this information.
On the 8th July 1946, all the schoolchildren of Britain received a message from the King.
This was in the form of a personal message, thanking the children for all the hardship anddanger that they endured in WW2, also telling them that they should share in the triumph of the Allied Nations.
The back of the message listed all the important dates and events of WW2, and interestingly had a section at the bottom of the letter, ‘MY FAMILY’S WAR RECORD’, where families could enter details of their own contribution to the war effort.