Harrogate airman WWII bomber crash site found

Frank Walton, who made the pilgrimage to the Lake District to see the site of the plane crash (s).
Frank Walton, who made the pilgrimage to the Lake District to see the site of the plane crash (s).

A group of scuba divers have found part of a Second World War bomber that killed a Harrogate airman when it crashed near a lake.

It was only a last minute swap that saw teenage Phillip Royston Mallorie from Harrogate on board the Royal Navy Grumman Avenger, when he took the place of a friend, Frank Walton.

The plane crashed on a night time exercise from RNAS Inskip in Lancashire on January 16, 1945, killing all three crewmen.

Frank, who survived the war and is now an 88-year-old grandfather, has now been re-united with part of the bomber, which claimed the life of wireless operator Royal Navy leading airman Phillip, with whom he had trained.

The former naval airman made an emotional visit to Great Gulley above the Lake District’s Wastwater after Keighley branch of the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) rediscovered the engine of the Royal Navy Grumman Avenger.

The pilot of the doomed flight was Lt Barnard Kennedy, from Hamilton Ontario, a Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve. Also onboard was Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve Midshipman Gordon Fell.

Frank, born in Bradford but raised in his father’s home town of Preston, was a member of Kennedy’s crew but just days before the accident a previous skipper, Sub Lt Bill Walters, had made a request to get his old crew back and Frank returned to his command. It was a decision which saved his life but took that of Phillip Mallorie.

“I joined up on April 3, 1943,” said Frank. “I started as a normal seaman and went out to Butlins at Pwllheli which had been taken over by the navy for training. I was put on an officer’s course but I failed on account of my marching.

From Pwllheli to Canada he was accompanied by Phillip Mallorie who also joined him in Scotland for operational training and who eventually ended up on the three crew Avenger, which was used mainly as a torpedo plane.

“After the accident they didn’t tell us immediately because probably they thought it would be too upsetting. They told us the day after. I felt really down, but I also felt lucky. I was all right but I felt for him. It was a queer thing, I didn’t know how to feel especially when I saw his mother and father at the funeral.”

Frank has been back to Phil’s grave but had never before visited the site of the crash.

“It’s a bit upsetting thinking about what must have happened. It was a terrible thing,” he said.