Here I am at Endcliffe Park in Sheffield where an American bomber crashed and killed the whole crew of ten men. You may have seen something about this on the television as a 75th anniversary flyover was arranged to honour the dead. The centrepiece of the programme was Tony Foulds who has tended the memorial for decades out of guilt and gratefulness. In February 1944 the eight-year-old lad was in the park when he witnessed the B-17 Flying Fortress crash and explode. They pilot needed to land on the field but Tony was there and they crashed into the trees.
I drove over to Sheffield to salute at the memorial not knowing I’d meet Tony himself. I’d bought a Smart Fortwo car and went for a burn up over the Snake Pass to Sheffield. It’s tiny and I squeezed it into a small space running along Endcliffe Park. There was a funfair on the field. I had a sandwich playing with the new buttons in the car then went to see if I could the memorial stone. I started in the wood at the rear and headed down toward the sounds of the funfair on the field. A passing shower forced me under trees and from here I saw a man below. I moved from one tree trunk to another. Blimey, it was the 82-year-old Tony I’d seen on television. As I jogged down I could see he was stood in front of the memorial. I thought I’d seize my luck and go and chat to him before he walked away (I didn’t know he spends hours there most days.)
I had a chat with Tony before his attention was taken by a group of people. He’d bore a burden of guilt nobody should have to bear. As a lad he’d been on the field in the park as boys from two rival junior schools were fighting. It was Tuesday 22nd February 1944. Suddenly a B17 Flying Fortress bomber was returning from a mission to bomb an airfield in Alborg in Denmark. The pilot hadn't dropped any bombs as there'd been too much cloud cover and he'd been made aware of Danish civilians below. Though it had returned to the UK and unleashed its bombs into the North Sea it was too badly damaged and desperately needed to land. With only one engine the crew would have seen the fields at Endcliffe Park as a possible landing place. The pilot Lieutenant John Kriegshauser would have seen Tony and other children and forced to circle. By the time he brought the plane around again (just missing the top of the houses) he was waving his arms as a warning. Tony and the boys thought he was waving so they waved back. The bomber circled again but was losing power and the engine stopped as it was trying to get over trees. It thudded into the ground, burst into flames and exploded. Everyone on board died.
Tony said he visits every day out of guilt and duty. As you can guess the bombing burnt itself into his 8-year-old brain. He started taking more of an interest in the crash site when he was about 17-years-old, visiting the site every week and sprinkling flowers in the woods. The permanent memorial you can see now was built in 1969 and Tony began looking after the rocks and wood, keeping it tidy and planting flowers. It’s taken over his life and he stands there for four hours six times a week. As I was chatting we kept getting interrupted by people wanting to shake his hand. Since the flyover he’s become a bit of star around Sheffield. He said it’s the least he can do “because they saved my life” as they could have landed on the field. I asked if he was on the internet so I could direct him to the Victoria Cross graves part of my website but he didn't have a computer.
His story would have gone untold but BBC breakfast presenter Dan Walker who lives nearby walks the family dog in the park and kept bumping into Tony. He did a terse tweet about the inspiring man he’d met in the park and the avalanche of responses pushed the BBC to galvanise the British and American Air Forces to perform a flyover. Some pomp and publicity meant the main news channels gave away much of their time to the flyover and remembering the dead.
I had a thorough look at the memorial which is surrounded by ten American oaks (that day 430 American aircrew in 43 aircraft had been lost over Europe that day.) Nobody knows what really forced the B17 to crash. It was 80 miles off course and was supposed to be heading back to a base in Northamptonshire. Some of the crew were probably injured and may have been dead. As none tried to bail out they were either dead or staying inside with the hope of surviving a crash landing.
I didn’t get to say goodbye to Tony (a granddad of four) as more people wanted their photograph taken with him. I crossed a stream and made my way onto the field. I saw the rows of terraces the bomber appeared from. To me the field didn’t look long enough to accommodate a landing. The bomber could have got its wheels down onto the grass but it would have surely smashed into the trees. Perhaps the crew would have fled before it set ablaze and the fuel exploded.
I like Sheffield (even its hills) and will drive over the Snake Pass to see Tony again. His hands were shaking a bit so I hope he’s okay and not getting to cold. He told me that he’ll remain at the memorial forever as his ashes will be sprinkled there. I found a full pencil embedded in the grass and will think of him whenever I use it. I did a salute while looking toward the memorial behind the trees and left.
The crew were...
First Lieutenant John Glennon Krieghauser, pilot.
Second Lieutenant Lyle J Curtis, co-pilot
Second Lieutenant John W Humphrey, navigator
Second Lieutenant Melchor Hernandez, bombardier
Staff Sergeant Robert E Mayfield, radio operator
Staff Sergeant Harry W Estabrooks, engineer / top turret gunner
Sergeant Charles H Tuttle, ball-turret gunner
Sergeant Maurice O Robbins, tail gunner
Sergeant Vito R Ambrosio, right waist gunner
Muster Sergeant George U Williams, left waist gunner.
Blimey, I couldn't believe it when I saw Tony there...
BBC presenter Dan with Tony. They met at Dan walks the family dog in the park and he bumped into Tony...