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Ian Pearce graphically recalled, with contemporary photographs, the events of 1940 when a Lockheed Hudson that had just taken off from RAF Thornaby crashed on Easby Moor, close to Captain |Cook’s monument. Ian also described the people involved & the reasons for the accident.  Dr Pearce is an engineer by profession & was employed by ICI & Durham University before his retirement. One of his interests in retirement was local history & he is a prominent member of Great Ayton Local History Society. One of his projects was the investigation of this aircraft crash..

The Hudson, code letters NR-E, was from 220 Squadron Royal Air Force Coastal Command & its mission, together with two other Hudsons, was reconnaissance in the North Sea & Heligoland Bight to locate & attack German minesweepers known to be in the area.  The aircraft took off in poor visibility at 04:10 on Friday, 9th February 1940, on a bitterly cold morning with light snow falling.  The pilot & captain was Flying Officer Tom Parker, whose brother Sir Peter Parker was subsequently head of British Rail. The second pilot & flight engineer was Harold Bleksley, the wireless operator was Corporal Norman Drury & the air gunner was Leading Aircraftman Atholl Barker. There were also two pigeons on the aircraft to carry a message   home if the plane ditched. The aircraft was armed with bombs & aluminium powder marker bombs for use against submarines.

Immediately after takeoff, the aircraft was struggling and unable to gain speed or height. After turning towards the North Sea, the aircraft struck the hillside at Easby Moor at a glancing angle, skidding up the slope, through a wall at the top & coming to rest in a group of larch trees. The gap can still be seen to this day & is exactly 60 feet wide, the wingspan of the Hudson. Three of the crew perished. The fourth, the air gunner, miraculously survived, as did Polly, one of the pigeons.  Atholl Barker was initially unconscious but revived & crawled in search of help with two broken ankles. He was found at 06:00 by William Hodgson at Borough Green Farm who sent his son to raise the alarm.

The cause of the accident emerged when another Hudson was almost lost in similar circumstances. Ice had formed on the aircraft wings while it was standing outside in freezing weather. Even a thin layer of ice was shown to be sufficient to cause disastrous loss of lift. De-icing fluid sprayed on the wings solved the problem.  The detonation of the aluminium powder marker bombs probably caused the death of the other three crew members.  Atholl Barker had survived because he was in the rear of the aircraft lying on the crew rest bed. When the floor of the Hudson was ripped out on contact with the wall he dropped into the heather. Atholl Barker was apparently a very jaunty character & was promoted repeatedly to become a Flying Officer. Sadly he lost his life in a Lancaster shot down over Hannover on 22nd November 1943.  The descendents of Polly the pigeon live on.