Tag Archives: Abergwyngregyn

Llanfairfechan aviator – Captain Val Baker.

4 Jan

Captain Valentine Baker was the youngest son of Mr and Mrs J M Baker of Grove Cottage, Llanfairfechan. His father was for many years agent on the Gorddinog Estate, a large estate near Abergwyngregyn owned by the Platt family. Val was educated at Llanfairfechan National School before being sent to a private school in Bangor. On leaving school he worked as a clerk for Lloyds Bank at both the Bangor and Caernarfon branches. His elder brother, Horace, also worked for Lloyds and was for many years manager of the Llanfairfechan branch.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Baker enlisted in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, Armoured Car Section and was a despatch rider, serving in Gallipoli.  During this campaign he was shot in the neck, invalided out of the Royal Navy and sent back to Llanfairfechan.  The bullet was never removed and remained lodged near his spinal cord for the rest of his life.  After three weeks recuperating he decided to join the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and after a period of training was posted abroad.  On the morning of departure, Baker learnt that he had been accepted into the Royal Flying Corps. Flying was his forte, he felt safe in the air, once telling a friend “the higher the safer”. While serving in the Royal Flying Corps he was awarded the Airforce Flying Cross to go with the Military Cross he had been awarded earlier in the war.  In 1916, Baker married Llanfairfechan girl, Dilys Eames, with whom they had one son, Denys Val Baker, the famous Cornish author.

After the First World War he was given a job with the Air Ministry in Whitehall in the Secret Codes Department. He left this post in 1921 to continue his flying career taking a job with Vickers Limited which took him to Java in the Dutch East Indies and also Chile. He returned to the UK and founded the famous flying school at Heston Aerodrome where he taught luminaries such as Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), his brother Prince George, Duke of Kent and Amy Johnson – the pioneering female aviator – to fly.

When teaching he was a tough task master who demanded implicit obedience from his pupils, “I don’t care two hoots,” he once said, “whether they are titled folk or just Tom, Dick or Harry”.

In 1934, Baker left Heston to join his friend, James Martin, and founded the Martin-Baker Aircraft Company, where Baker was the company’s test pilot. During a test flight of the Martin-Baker MB 3 prototype, the engine seized and he was forced into an emergency landing, during which the aircraft struck a tree stump and caught fire. He died on September 14, 1942 aged 54 and is buried at Denham close to the Martin-Baker factory.

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In search of a crashed Heinkel Bomber

16 Feb

Today I took a break from preparing the museum for the new season (we re-open March 12th!) and headed for the northernmost peaks of the Carneddau range close to the spectacular Aber Falls.  Most people stop at the viewpoint to the falls but the path actually continues and winds its way up through loose scree to the left of the waterfall and then follows the course of the Afon Goch towards Foel Fras.  It is not for the faint-hearted as there is much scrambling over loose rock and steep drops at certain points.  After around ¾ mile the engine of a Blackburn Botha, which crashed on Llwytmor in August 1943 – killing all four crew, was evident in the swollen river, it was at this point the slow climb to the broad summit of Llwytmor began.  The crash site is north-west of the summit.

 

At 3am on Easter Monday 14th April 1941 a Luftwaffe Heinkel 1-11 bomber crashed into Llwytmor injuring three crew members and killing the engineer.  The Heinkel had left Nantes in Western France and had flown over St Georges Channel and the lower Irish Sea on its way to carry out a bombing raid on the shipyard in Barrow in Furness.  A reconnaissance mission the previous night had revealed that the Royal Navy aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious, was docked there.  Fully loaded with fuel for the 1200 mile round trip and armour piercing bombs the Luftwaffe mission was to destroy the aircraft carrier – a great coup for the Nazi propaganda chiefs.  However when the bombers arrived they couldn’t see the warship and were met with a hail of bullets as the anti-aircraft guns opened up shaking the Heinkel and damaging the compass and destroying the radio.  The pilot banked away from Barrow and headed south over Liverpool Bay but with no compass the crew were tasked with looking for landmarks in the dim moonlight over a blacked out Britain.  A short time later the plane crashed on the plateau of Llwytmor and three of the crew were thrown clear of the plane as ammunition and aviation fuel burned around them.  The fourth crew member, engineer Josef Bruninghausen, was decapitated on impact. The survivors stayed on the mountainside smoking cigarettes until dawn when they decided to try and find civilisation and started down the wet and boggy mountainside.

 

Mrs Marion Baxter was preparing breakfast at her home, a farmhouse ½ a mile above the village of Abergwyngregyn, (known locally as Aber) when Gefreiter Kurt Schlender knocked at her kitchen door as she answered it the German airman held his hands above his head and tried to communicate to her in broken English that his plane had crashed.  A short time later the other two crew members arrived at the cottage to find Schlender drinking tea in front of the fire and trying to dry out his wet and muddy clothes.  The local police in Llanfairfechan were alerted and along with members of the local Caernarvonshire Home Guard they soon reached the home of Mrs Baxter and instructed Kurt Schlender to guide them back to the crash site.  Here they placed the body of the plane’s engineer on a stretcher and carried it off the hill.  The pilot, Leutnant Lothar Horras, observer, Feltwebel Bruno Peronowski and radio operator Schlender were taken to the Caernarvonshire & Anglesey Infirmary in Bangor for treatment before being housed at a prisoner of war camp near Oldham; they were eventually transported to a prisoner of war camp in Canada.  The dead Luftwaffe airman was interred at Cannock Chase German Military Cemetery in Staffordshire.  Feltwebel Peronowski was a die-hard Nazi and was hanged later in the war at the Canadian internment camp when he was found guilty of murdering a fellow German prisoner.