Books Commemorating WW2 Tragedy, Donated To England By The USA, Have Been Lost to History

The memorial in Freckleton. Source: By Peter Foster - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
The memorial in Freckleton. Source: By Peter Foster - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

It was in August of 1944 when the little village of Freckleton, in Lancashire, England experienced a most terrible air disaster. The pilot of an American Air Force Liberator lost control of his aircraft as he was coming in to land at the nearby Warton Air Base, and crashed into the village, finally coming to a stop in a classroom of the Freckleton Holy Trinity Primary School. This dreadful accident resulted in the deaths of 61 people, of whom 38 were children from the school.

Two USA Army Air Force B-24 Liberators had, at 10.30 am on the 23rd August 1944, left the nearby Warton aerodrome on a test flight. However, due to a threatening violent storm, both were recalled. By the time they approached the aerodrome, the wind and rain had reduced visibility to such a degree that the pilot of the B-24 Liberator named “Classy Chassis II,” reported to the control tower that he would abort the landing and “go around.” Shortly thereafter, the aircraft hit the village of Freckleton, destroying three houses and the Sad Sack Snack Bar before crashing into the Holy Trinity School, where it burst into flames.

In the school, where a classroom clock had stopped at 10.47am, 38 schoolchildren, as well as six adults were killed. At the Snack Bar, 7 Americans, 4 RAF airmen and three civilians lost their lives, as too did the three crewmen on board the B-24 Liberator.

Following that crash, approximately 400 books containing messages of condolence were donated by the American nation to the people, especially the children, of Freckleton, each book holding a personal message. These books, detailing American history, as well as the relationship which had developed between Freckleton and the US Army, were gifted to the people of Freckleton by members of the Army Air Force and their families. Many even contained heartfelt messages from those ex-servicemen who had been stationed in the village during WWII.

Recently, and most disturbingly, it was discovered that a great number of these books had “gone.” The Lancashire County Council admitted to having removed 384 of these books from the Freckleton Library’s shelves over a period of several years, and ‘disposing’ of them. Last year 59 of these books were removed from the library, but luckily, the staff who were working there at the time realized their importance and did what they could to save the inscriptions. Some of the well-preserved inscriptions could be kept, while typed copies of some of the pages were made. However, any hand-written messages taken from the collection before last year had been thrown away along with the books. The Lancashire County Council has said that they will replace the books where possible, but unfortunately, the messages inside can never be replaced.

Seventy-eight-year-old Ruby Currell, who survived the crash of the aircraft into her classroom, (she hid under a desk), was angry to learn of the loss of these 384 books, calling it “The taking away of our history.” She further remarked that the books, as gifts,” should never have been removed … [as] …they are not just important to us, they are important to the Americans … [and]… were dedicated to the generation of village children who lost their lives.”

Marjorie Whitehead (councilor) noted that it would soon be the 23rd of August, which is the anniversary day of the Air Disaster. This means that many relatives of American servicemen will come to visit Freckleton, to see where their fathers or grandfathers were stationed during WWII. They will also visit the library to learn more of that history – which is now no longer there – since even the 16 remaining books have been removed from the library for safe-keeping.

For us, looking back over seventy years through the changes brought about by the passing of time and the tremendous advances in technology, it is very difficult to understand just how much pain and suffering came to this small village in Lancashire through the loss of so many of their children. It is dreadfully ironic too, that while Freckleton was steeped in mourning, the rest of the world was celebrating, for this tragedy occurred at the time when Paris had been liberated, the war was nearly over, and the long-awaited victory was in sight.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE