Wellington X3171 – Greenhaugh

A little known memorial in the Holly Bush Inn at Greenhaugh remembers six young lives lost on a remote fell in Northumberland.

At around 11:00 hours on 1st March 1943 a Wellington bomber left RAF Harwell for a solo cross-country training exercise. Nothing is known about the route taken but at 15:20 hours the aircraft was seen to be on fire by the shepherd of Emblehope as it dived towards the ground before it exploded on the remote fell to the east of the farm.

The crash was reported to Bellingham Police station who in turn reported it to Hexham at 16:45 hours. The sector station at RAF Ouston also enquired about the crash and at 18:40 hours despatched an ambulance to the scene. The wreckage was still burning at 20:40 hours when the Home Guard arrived to guard the site. Such was the destuction of the aircraft it was impossible to identify the aircraft or the bodies of the crew, although six parachutes were found.

The following day the quiet valley of the Tarset was a hive of activity as the RAF salvage party arrived to recover the aircraft and her crew, which were buried 12ft down in a peat bog. By this time the aircraft had been identified as Wellington X3171 of 15 Operational Training Unit which had been reported overdue by its parent station. The young crew were as follows:

Sgt David Llewelwyn Barley, Pilot, age 20
P/O Joseph Donnelly, Bomb-Aimer, age 20
P/O Thomas Winstanley, Bomb-Aimer, age 20
Sgt Dennis Ronald Bending, Wireless/Air Gunner, age 22
Sgt William Stanley Gibson, Navigator, age 20
Sgt George Marshall, Air Gunner, age 21

The crash site was one which had been on the radar of the Air Crash Investigation & Archaeology group for some time, but concerted efforts in the 1990’s failed to locate the crash site, which was now in an area forming part of Kielder Forest. However, a chance meeting with one of the Tarset elders gave a more accurate location and the site was discovered in 2002 in an area where the trees had been recently felled. The only evidence of the crash were two shallow pools and an oxygen bottle stamped with the Air Ministry crown, confirming that a British aircraft had crashed there. When the water in the pools was disturbed bubbles of oil came to the surface and metal detector readings in the surrounding area confirmed that the aircraft had impacted and exploded over a wide area.

Relatives of Joseph Donnelly were tracked down to Kilwinning in Scotland and the nephew of Dennis Bending was located in Somerset. BBC North East heard of the discovery and it featured on Inside Out and they managed to trace the sister of Thomas Winstanley to Trimdon, County Durham where she still tended to her brothers grave.

Of the remaining members of the crew Navigator William Stanley Gibson came from Newcastle upon Tyne, and he is buried in Stamfordham Churchyard, the nearest cemetery to RAF Ouston where the bodies were removed to after the crash. Pilot David Barley came from Finchley in London and Bomb-Aimer Thomas Winstanley from Stretford, Manchester.

The crash site of Wellington X3171 as we found it.

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