BACK in January I went for a run on various trails from Otley through to Menston and then onto what’s known locally as Burley Triangle, before heading on the road into Burley village itself along a path adjacent to Wood Head Beck.
I ended up in a small park on the corner of Main Street, near what was once the Malt Shovel pub.
As I left the park I noticed a plaque on the back of a stone post that had been placed there by Burley Community Council in 1997, and was in memory of 20 soldiers from the 6th Canadian Infantry Reinforcement Unit who had died nearby in a road accident in June 1944.
When I got home I went online to see what I could find out about it; there were just two identical items taken from Telegraph & Argus newspaper of 15 June 1944, and which I’ve transcribed word for word below.
Not having heard of the incident before, and with the 70th anniversary of it approaching (along with that of D-Day on 6 June) I thought it was something that deserved to not be forgotten. I got in touch with various news organisations; and one or two thanked me for doing so.
Now that 15 June has passed I’ve checked online to see if the accident’s anniversary was reported. Nothing.
I’m hoping that by reproducing the story on my blog site and by using my social media skills to reach a wider audience it won’t be forgotten.
Here’s the transcript from the Bradford Telegraph & Argus, 15 June 1944.
Nineteen out of 21 soldiers were killed at Burley-in-Wharfedale early today when an Army lorry, in which they were travelling, crashed into a house on failing to take a sharp bend in the road.
The canvas-topped lorry was coming from Ilkley, and is said to have contained the members of a picket and a mixed party of soldiers. Instead of taking the bend in the main road at the Malt Shovel Hotel, the lorry appears to have gone almost straight forward and hit the house, 26, Main Street, the home of Miss Florence Roe.
It turned on to its side. Most of the men were found to be suffering from head injuries. When neighbours, hearing the crash, turned out to give assistance, they found that many of the men were still inside the lorry.
Four men were still alive, and were taken to a wardens’ post nearby, but two of them died there. The other two were taken to hospital in a serious condition. One of these is said to have been the driver of the lorry.
First-aid ambulances and medical assistance were secured from the surrounding district. One man who came through Burley soon after the accident, said: ‘There were bodies and blood all over the place.’
Apart from a broken fall-pipe and scratches on the wall and door, the damage to the house is not so much as might have been expected. So far as can be ascertained there does not appear to have been anyone in the immediate vicinity who actually saw the accident.
The corner has been the scene of many previous motor-accidents, but never one so serious as this.
Miss Roe, who lives alone in the house hit by the lorry, remained in bed.
Graphic stories were told by neighbours who were on the scene shortly afterwards. Two of them were Mrs Madeline Ewan, of 5 Woodhouse Lane, and Mrs Jessie Nelson who worked like heroines to succour the men.
The lorry was canvas-covered, the canvas being held up by iron bars. And when the lorry struck the house and overturned these iron struts collapsed and pierced the heads and bodies of the men.
The sight was a ghastly one, and Mrs Ewan told a ‘Telegraph and Argus’ reporter it was ‘like a ‘plane crash.’ ‘I went into the street,’ she said, ‘and met a soldier of the same unit who said he had been signalling the lorry to stop, as he was walking in the road, and it seemed to be slowing down when it struck the house side. He was nearly trapped.’
HELD UP IRON BARS
Mrs Ewan said Mrs Nelson held up the iron bars with her own body while she (Mrs Ewan) attempted to get the trapped men out. ‘One of them died in my arms,’ she said. ‘We persisted in getting the trapped men out until Mr Bill Clark, of Horsfall Terrace, arrived on the scene, and he, with superhuman strength held up the top iron bar which formed the main support of the canvas. Most of the men were killed outright.’
The next door neighbour to Miss Roe, a Mrs Brear, brought water to bathe the men, and she was present when the doctor arrived to inspect the bodies.
By Richard Hamer.