David Cretney's column: Remembering the Winter Hill tragedy

By A Reporter   |   IOM Reporter   |
Tuesday 15th March 2022 12:16 pm
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The memorial

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This article first appeared in the Isle of Man Examiner of March 8, 2022.

On February 27, 1958, tragedy struck a charter flight carrying a number of people principally associated with the motor trade on our island.

The flight had been delayed for repair to navigational equipment, had to fly lower than its normal height and before impact with Winter Hill above Bolton had been following the wrong directional beacon.

At 9.45am the plane which had nil visibility due to fog and was in the process of changing course flew blind into the north edge of the snow covered hill at 1,460 feet, the summit is 1,498 feet.

The plane had a crew of three who survived. The captain had severe injuries, the stewardess was on only her second flight after qualifying and co-pilot who managed, despite injuries and atrocious weather, to contact engineers who were working at the base which houses the television mast on the summit to raise the alarm.

Thirty-five died as a result of the tragedy, which had followed the Munich air disaster only three weeks before. It received worldwide publicity when tragically 23 died and 21 survived and is most remembered for its Manchester United Busby Babes connection.

The impact of the Winter Hill disaster included 27 wives losing husbands and 33 children including some unborn losing their father.

Only seven of those on board that day survived.

The Rotary Club of Douglas, of which I am now a member, have a plaque and tree planted at Cooill y Ree, St John’s which marked the 50th anniversary.

Together with other members we joined families and friends on Sunday to pay our respects on the 64th anniversary of the tragedy.

The Rotary Club of Douglas has been twinned with the Rotary Club in Horwich for many years. Its members took part in the rescue efforts at the time which has led to this special link.

I spoke recently to Howard Callow, a member of the Rotary Club of Douglas, who was four when his father lost his life in the disaster.

Even today he remembers clearly the sad events as they unfolded as if they occurred yesterday.

He was off school unwell but in bed listening to the radio.

His mum was downstairs making a hot drink for him.

He heard the announcement from the BBC that reports were coming in of a plane crash near Manchester he shouted down to his mother and that started the whole chain of events which led to her finding out that his father was dead.

An old friend of many who survived the tragedy was Fred Kennish, who spent four days in hospital unconscious with serious head injuries, two broken collar bones and a fractured spine and leg.

I served alongside Fred as a councillor and when he was mayor of Douglas he unveiled a plaque in memory of those lost and thanks for those who supported families at the time and since.

There was a good turnout including young people on Sunday which will ensure those lost are never forgotten.

****

It was good to hear a further delay in the proposed imposition of charges on island charities by the Isle of Man Bank announced last week.

I am informed that the NatWest group, within which the island’s bank falls, does not charge charities elsewhere so let’s hope this is the last we hear of this proposal.

Banks have changed much over the years so I thought we might have a look at some of those changes here.

When I was old enough to have a bank account it was assumed I would go to the same bank.

I did and actually met the bank manager Ron Henry, a real gentleman who went on to be supportive in terms of our house purchase, together with the Isle of Man Government mortgage arrangements at that time.

He also understood our needs when opening our shop so many years ago. I know time has passed and it is inevitable in life that things change but I’m not sure they are always all for the better.

Because of the world in which we live - and in particular what are termed ’peps’ (politically exposed persons immediate family members who have nothing to do with politics) have to go through enhanced security. Trying to remember passwords which we aren’t supposed to write down can be a challenge for some.

Despite enjoying many aspects of new technology I haven’t got around to electronic banking yet.

I do my tax return on line which obviously requires a complicated password for obvious reasons so maybe sometime.

How about the changes in the physical infrastructure of banking?

Ann Shimmin was responsible when she worked for the Isle of Man Bank for the property portfolio between 1980 and 1995 and she has helpfully provided me with a reminder of branches now and then.

Let’s look at the existing infrastructure first.

In Douglas 2 Athol Street is the main banking branch, with its lovely ceiling in the fairly newly arranged banking hall.

Ten to 12 Athol Street is the overseas department and NatWest banking branch. Regent Street is now a fully automated branch.

In Ramsey the banking branch is situated in Parliament Street, in Port Erin the branch is situated in Station Road and that’s the lot now, other than the mobile branch which visits Onchan, Peel, Castletown, Kirk Michael and Laxey.

Looking back in Douglas there was the Marina branch now long gone to be taken over by the redevelopment of the Mannin Hotel and what a good job Keith Lord is doing there.

Victoria Street branch has gone to be replaced with the Bohemian coffee house, Prospect Terrace branch has been replaced with a redevelopment of Pizza Napoli, Onchan Main Road branch now houses Bonds restaurant, the Laxey branch in New Road is now occupied by offices, an agency was held in the Palace Hotel but the lease was surrendered.

Back to Ramsey the Bowring Road branch is now Vellikas Indian restaurant, in Andreas an agency is now a private house.

Down south the recent controversial closure of the Castletown branch is vacant and for sale, Ballasalla now has been transformed into the ’cub house’ a play group with cafe and other childrens facilities, the Port st Mary branch was sold for offices, and at Ronaldsway Airport the agency was surrendered.

Turning westward Peel’s Atholl Place branch is vacant and for sale, Main Road Kirk Michael was sold for offices and the former Ballaugh premises is now a private house.

One of the facilities that used to be popular in shops and pubs was accommodation above.

I’m sure with some imagination more of that could again be available.

Anything affording the opportunity to bring more life and people into town centres would get my vote, if I still had one.

Anyway, there were flats above Laxey, Peel, Onchan and Port st Mary branches for the managers to live in. Like the Post Office network the banking facilities have always been welcomed as part of the communities in which they were sighted and those that have gone are missed.

***

Finally this week I received a nice letter from Gordon Cowley of Port Erin.

He will be 100 in October but is still playing the bass trombone in the Salvation Army band as he did in the Royal Marine Band on HMS Edinburgh in World War Two. He has some nostalgic memories to share here next week.

David’s current article is in today’s Isle of Man Examiner, on sale now.

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