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Remembering the Freckleton air disaster of 1944
Freckleton Holy trinity School before the disaster, with the Infant's wing to the left
The school before the disaster, with the Infant's wing to the left

At 10.30am on the morning of Wednesday 23 August, 1944, two American Liberator heavy bomber aircraft left Warton Airfield on a routine test flight.

But they were soon in trouble as the weather turned, and the aircraft crashed into the village of Freckleton.

The crash destroyed the Holy Trinity Church of England's reception classroom and the Sad Sack Snack Bar.

A total of 61 adults and children died. One of the teachers killed had only arrived at the school the day before.

Miraculously the children in the rest of the school were unharmed.

At the time of the crash the small village of Freckleton was called Little America with 10,000 Americans based there. Air force crew at the base serviced and repaired aircraft.

Into the storm

The two American United States Army Air Force B-24 Liberator heavy bomber aircraft took off from Warton on a test flight, but they were soon in trouble as a violent storm swept in from the Irish Sea, with heavy rain causing flash flooding.

One plane managed to head north but the other flew on into the storm.

First Lieutenant John Bloemendal struggled to keep the B-24 in the air
First Lieutenant John Bloemendal struggled to keep the B-24 in the air

In the 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 to lose.

Already flying very low to the ground and with wings near vertical, the aircraft's right wing tip first hit a tree-top, and then was ripped away as it impacted the corner of a building.

The rest of the wing continued, ploughing along the ground and through a hedge. The fuselage of the 25 tonne bomber continued, partly demolishing three houses and the Sad Sack Snack Bar, before crossing the Lytham Road and bursting into flames.

US servicemen dig through the rubble of the Snack Bar
US servicemen dig through the rubble of the Snack Bar

A part of the aircraft hit the infants' wing of the Freckleton Holy Trinity School. Fuel from the ruptured tanks ignited and produced a sea of flames.

In the school, 38 schoolchildren and six adults were killed. The clock in one classroom stopped at 10.47am.

In the Sad Sack Snack Bar, which had been opened to cater for American servicemen from the air-base, 14 were killed: seven Americans, four Royal Air Force airmen and three civilians. The three crew on the B-24 were also killed.

Ruby Currell was one of only three children to survive the inferno that engulfed the classroom.

Ruby Currell was one of only three children to survive the inferno
Ruby Currell was one of only three children to survive the inferno

In 2007, she recalled the experience for the BBC's Inside Out programme. She remembered the events as vividly then as she did over 60 years ago: "The morning was a bright one, assembly had finished and we were at our desks receiving instruction of the lesson we were to do that morning.

"Suddenly the sky went dark. So dark the lights in school had to be put on.

"It started to rain heavily and then the most violent storm started - that in itself was frightening enough but what was about to happen was a terrifying experience.

"During the storm an aeroplane trying to make it back to the airfield about a mile away was struck by a thunderbolt.

"It brought it down in the centre of the village, hitting the two infant classes of the school, a snack bar and two cottages across the road from the school.

The rows of tiny coffins bear silent witness to the village's loss
The rows of tiny coffins bear silent witness to the village's loss

Special journey

"Although the rest of the school was still standing the older children had to be got out to safety quickly.

"On that fateful morning seven children and two teachers were pulled from the rubble of the infant classes, but as the hours and days passed, the teachers and four of the children lost their battle for life, their injuries too severe.

"I was looked after by American doctors after the accident. I was bandaged almost head to foot and had to sit with my arms out straight because of all the burns.

"One day not long after the disaster we were told to expect a special visitor, and then in walked Bing Crosby. I didn't know much about him being five but I know my mother loved him.

Those who died were buried in a mass grave
Those who died were buried in a mass grave

"He had heard about the disaster from the American Services - he was over here entertaining the troops, and he made a special journey to come and see the survivors.

"He said he would sing for us, but when he came to me and saw how badly injured I was, he broke down and said he couldn't sing in the same room as us.

"So he went outside into the hall outside the ward and sang for us there. I seem to remember he sang Don't Fence Me In and White Christmas, of course.

Bing Crosby was in the country entertaining the troops
Bing Crosby was in the country entertaining the troops

"It's a strange memory to have but a good one because he was a very nice man and he was genuinely saddened by what he heard of the disaster and seeing anyone who had survived.

"Counting one's blessings is a daily routine for me now and I consider myself to extremely lucky that I am alive to do so.

"Even now I have a dread of thunder storms that I cannot shake and scars I have learned to live with."




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