Monday, April 27, 2009

"Into An Unknown Land"

(Top) Headstone of Flight Sergeant Benet Nicholls, RAF
Warwick Bridge R.C. Churchyard, Carlisle, Cumbria

(Bottom) Dent Fell as seen from Cleator village (taken 2009)

Flight Sergeant Benet Nicholls, R.A.F., Service No 610074, died on 26 June 1942 during a training flight from Crosby-on-Eden Airfield near Carlisle, Cumberland (now Cumbria). The plane crashed on Dent Fell, above Black How Farm, Cleator in West Cumberland. He was flying a single-seater Mk I Hawker Hurricane aircraft (Serial No P2877).

At the time of his death Sergeant Nicholls was 28 years old. He was laid to rest in the Churchyard of Our Lady and St Wilfred Roman Catholic Church, Warwick Bridge, Carlisle. This is about 2 miles from the Airfield at Crosby-on-Eden. On 26 June 1942 Benet Nicholls left the earthly realm for the last time and passed into an unknown land.

For additional information click on 'Comments' below


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

(1) The plane crash

Sergeant Nicholls’ Hurricane was one of three aircraft seen approaching the village from the coast (west) when the engine failed and the plane went out of control. This is confirmed by information on display at the Solway Aviation Museum. It seems that Sergeant Nicholls attempted an emergency crash landing on the fellside near Black How Farm, Cleator, obviously with no engine power. The crash landing attempt was unsuccessful and unfortunately the pilot was killed.

When the crash teams arrived the site to recover the wreckage the aircraft engine had to be pulled from the crater by tractor. After the war trees were planted on this part of Dent Fell. Nowadays, there is little obvious evidence that there was a plane crash at this site.

(2) Sergeant (Pilot) Benet Nicholls, R.A.F.

Sergeant Benet Nicholls was the son of George Nicholls and Catherine Nicholls of Jesmond, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Sergeant Nicholls was serving with 59 Operational Training Unit (O.T.U.), No 81 Group which, between February 1941 and August 1942, was based at Crosby-on-Eden Airfield.

As the plane crashed took place during the day it was witnessed by a large number of people in the Cleator and Cleator Moor area. Because it was a British plane that crashed during a training flight no reports about the incident appeared in the press during wartime. These stories were not told at the time to avoid inadvertently supplying the enemy with information. Consequently, at the time of the crash many locals thought it had been a German plane.

The fact it was a British pilot - Sergeant Benet Nicholls - who lost his life on the fellside above Cleator village is still not that widely known in Cleator and Cleator Moor. However, his name is now listed on the Cleator Moor 'Roll of Honour' and his sacrifice will be remembered. The story can now be told. Sergeant Nicholls is listed on the Crosby-on-Eden Airfield 'Roll of Honour'. He was the 73rd of 81 pilots from 59 O.T.U. to die in WW2 while the Unit was based at Crosby-on-Eden.

Sergeant Benet Nicholls funeral took place on 30 June 1942 and was conducted by the Air Force Chaplain Father Tomas Battle, C.F. Although Sergeant Nicholls came from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which is a little less than 50 miles from Crosby-on-Eden, as referred to above he was interred in the Catholic Churchyard at Warwick Bridge. He was one of two WW2 airmen from Crosby-on-Eden to be buried in this Churchyard. The Church Burial Register entries indicate these two were Roman Catholics.

Sergeant Benet Nicholls' headstone in Warwick Bridge Churchyard is the following citation, which would have been chosen by his next of kin:

With a cheery smile and a wave of his hand,
He has wandered into an unknown land



Richard Davison, Jack Wakefield, Mr Mitchell of the Solway Aviation Society

Our Lady and St Wilfred's R.C. Church, Warwick Bridge

Cumbria County Archives


Further reading:

Smith, D.J. and Stephens, P., 'Active Stations No 3'

Hurst, Michael J. (1997), 'Air Crashes in the Lake District', Airlife Publishing Ltd., Shrewsbury (ISBN 1 853 10 874 X)

Monday, 27 April, 2009  

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