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Barnsley Tales: The day a plane crashed in our town!

In January 1942 Britain was in the middle of the Second World War with Germany. I want to tell you the story of how the establishment can cover up bad news.

A plane crashed in the town and the news was covered up until the end of the war in 1945. It happened at ten past ten on the morning on January 6th 1942. The plane crashed into a clay pit near Cresswell Street at Pogmoor.

Credit: John Irwin

Tom Parnham has done a lot of research into the incident. The RAF plane, with a 5 man crew, had left Dalton airfield, near Thirsk, in North Yorkshire to bomb the German occupied Cherbourg docks in Northern France.

It was a Whitley bomber and it developed a starboard engine problem over the French coast. The engine was switched off and they decided to return home.  The plane began to lose height on their way north and they jettisoned the bomb load on the high moors, 12 miles to the south west of Sheffield. They then tried to restart the faulty engine. This caught fire as they approached Barnsley.

Three of the airmen safely bailed out on Broadway. The 23 years old Canadian Flight Sergeant Alexander Buchanan was killed when his parachute caught in the chimney of a council incinerator. He was from North Battleford, Saskatchewan.

This was roughly where the Penny Pie roundabout is today. The plane crashed into an ash filled pit and killed the 22 year old pilot Sergeant Alexander Hollingworth who was from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

Sergeant Alexander Hollingworth

Mark Green in his book ‘Barnsley at War 1939-1945’ said the plane missed the Cresswell Street terraced houses by inches. The ash in the quarry covered all the houses ‘like the Hiroshima atomic bomb’. What followed next was a complete news blackout.

Apparently the plane’s wreckage and the crew’s bodies were removed the same day and even though a lot of people witnessed the crash the news was suppressed. Obviously it was done in the interests of national security.

The Barnsley Chronicle of Saturday January 10th had no mention of the incident. The main news was of a jumble sale being held in Wombwell. The two pilots are buried in the Rose Hill cemetery at Doncaster.

Tom Parnham has discovered an amazing twist to the story. He has researched the ancestry of the Australian pilot Alexander Hollingworth. His ancestors, who were from Langdendale in Cheshire remarkably owned farm houses and land in ancient Pogmoor in 1660. At that time they were owned by John Hollingworth and William Wordsworth, the famous poet.

So incredibly the Australian pilot, who saved Barnsley, died on the same land that was originally owned by his own family.

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