Looking back: Heysham teen among air disaster tragedy

A memorial has been unveiled for a 1957 air crash which killed 18 people including a former Heysham police cadet.

Wednesday, 6th April 2016, 7:30 am
Updated Wednesday, 6th April 2016, 8:31 am
The crash site

The RAF Blackburn Beverley aircraft crashed at a farm in Sutton Wick, Oxfordshire, on March 5 1957.

A technician had fitted a valve incorrectly which led to fuel starvation in first one, then two of the four engines.

The plane, which was on its way to Malta and Cyprus, attempted a forced landing at Abingdon Air Station, struck a tree and killed 16 people in the plane and two residents outside.

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William Gorst

Most of the crew from 53 Squadron were killed. Also on board were crew from 47 Squadron RAF who mostly all perished.

Other victims were a women who lived in a house demolished in the accident and a young electricity reader, who was making his rounds.

Also on board were eight RAF police dog handlers and their dogs on their way to help keep the peace in Cyprus – then in a state of emergency.

Among those victims was William Henry Gorst, of Macdonald Road, Heysham, who was just 19-years-old at the time of the crash.

The RAF memorial in Staffordshire

William, known as Bill locally, was a former Morecambe police cadet who went into the Royal Air Force to widen his experience.

Bill was training to be a dog handler for the RAF.

His sister Pearl Butler was 17-years-old at the time and to this day still remembers the moment she heard the awful news.

She said: “It was disastrous, it was weird and ironic because he didn’t need to go, he was exempt from it but he decided he wanted to do RAF dog handling, that was how he came to be there.

William Gorst

“What was even more ironic was that two of the other lads destined to go on the flight were taken ill, so Bill volunteered to go.

“The date kept getting called off and it wasn’t until the third attempt they went and it just got up over Abingdon and crashed.

“We got a telegram, it arrived at my mum’s house, I worked at the chemist at Strawberry Gardens at the time.

“I got the message from my dad saying there was a problem. It was a massive shock, it just came out of the blue.”

The RAF memorial in Staffordshire

Bill was a keen sportsman and attracted a lot of attention from professional football teams and attended Balmoral Secondary School (now Heysham High) and St Peter’s Primary.

He had two older brothers, Ellis, who was also in the police force and Edwin, who have now passed away.

Mrs Butler said: “We were a very close family, Bill and I were exceptionally close, he had a quirky sense of humour.

“When I first got to go out at 16 he made sure he kept an eye on me. I couldn’t have asked for a better brother.

“It is just a shame what happened.

“He had a girlfriend at the time, she was devastated, mum and dad were devastated, they never got over it. I still do miss him a lot.”

Bill is buried at St Peter’s Church in Heysham and also has his name within the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

Bill and the other 17 victims who lost their lives that day will be commemorated at the new memorial on the crash site at Sutton Wick.

Among the other RAF men who were killed on the plane were: A.C.1. T.A. Jones, of Glossop; A.C.1. R. Thorley, of Leeds; A.C.1. C.J. Elsegood, of Middlesbrough; and Sergeant G.M. Woodhouse, of Durham.

The memorial for the XH117 Z of 53 Squadron aircraft has been unveiled by The Memorial Mob, who create memorials to the lost and forgotten events of the Armed and Emergency Services.

The memorial was carved by a resident of Sutton Wick, Brian Eastoe, who himself served with the RAF.

Mrs Butler said: “I think it is lovely idea, we would have liked to have gone to the unveiling. It will be 60 years 
next year.”