Tag Archives: Llanfairfechan

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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Saunders Roe looking to Llanfairfechan

21 Jan

Saunders Roe looking to Llanfairfechan

During the Second World War Saunders Roe relocated from the Isle of Wight to a site near Beaumaris, Anglesey. Flying boats were brought here from America and Canada and modified to conform with RAF requirements. Today the derelict buildings still stand overlooking the Menai Straits.

Bachelor’s Baby – Penmaenmawr

7 Jan

On a windswept plateau in the hills above Penmaenmawr is a memorial stone dedicated to five American airmen and their mascot, a terrier called Booster.  They were killed when their B-24 Liberator bomber crashed here in low cloud exactly 70 years ago today – the 7th January 1944.  The aircraft, named ‘Bachelor’s Baby’ by its crew, had left their base in Palm Beach, Florida a month earlier and had taken the “southern” route to Britain, via Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Brazil then across the Atlantic to Dakar, Marrakech and onto RAF Valley on Anglesey.  The plane was then due to fly from RAF Valley to RAF Watton in Norfolk where the American Air Force had a base.

On that fateful afternoon the Liberator took off from the R.A.F. station on Anglesey with orders to follow a B17 ‘Flying Fortress’ which was to act as their escort to their new base in eastern England.  Heavy cloud and drizzle meant that they lost sight of the B17 and to make matters worse the magnetic compass was malfunctioning.  The clouds broke for an instant and they realised that they were too low and despite the best efforts of the pilot, Adrian Shultz, the plane struck a ridge, crashed and burst into flames.  The plane was carrying a huge cargo of ammunition and on impact it started to explode.  The surviving airmen struggled valiantly to help their comrades who were trapped in the burning airframe but sadly for some it was too late.

The bomb aimer, 2nd Lieutenant Norman Boyer managed to make his way down to a local farmhouse near Rowen and raised the alarm.  However local men working at the quarry and PC Hughes-Parry of Llanfairfechan had arrived at the crash site after seeing and hearing the plane in difficulty overhead and on arrival administered first aid before carrying the injured all the way down the mountain to Graiglwyd Hall in Penmaenmawr.  They were treated here by a local doctor before being taken by ambulance to hospital in Bangor.  Before being transferred to hospital Sergeant Harold Alexander, a gunner on the aircraft, pleaded with one of the quarrymen, Ellis Lewis, if he would go back to the crash site and bury their mascot – Booster.  Mr Lewis did as he was asked and buried the little black and white fox terrier on the windswept plateau next to the burnt out aircraft.

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One of the survivors was the plane’s navigator 2nd Lieutenant Julian Ertz.  Before the war he played American football for his high school and later for Temple University in Pennsylvania. He was known to his fellow crew members as the “singing fullback”.  However after treatment at hospital in Bangor and then at American military hospitals he returned to America in a full body cast after breaking his back in the crash but recovered enough to finish studying law and become an attorney.

In 1980 a memorial was dedicated to the crew and today virtually nothing remains of the aircraft, just a scar of exposed rock and soil on which the commemorative plaque stands and where no vegetation grows.  Today, 70 years since the crash, as gale force winds howled across the hillside and the incessant rain beat down we laid a simple cross in memory of co-pilot, 2nd Lieutenant Arthur Davis; engineer, Staff Sergeant Samuel Offutt; gunner, Sergeant William Lorenz; gunner, Sergeant William Nichols; Technical Sergeant Nicholas Cennemo and Booster the fox terrier. Lest We Forget.

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Kay Cavendish

4 Jul

Kay Cavendish was a BBC artiste who was billeted in Llanfairfechan for a couple of years during WW2 while the BBC’s Variety Department broadcast from nearby Bangor.

One of the most popular radio programmes of the war years, It’s That Man Again (ITMA), was broadcast from Penrhyn Hall, Bangor.  It starred Tommy Handley and featured Kay Cavendish.  It regularly drew audiences of over 16 million people and was a comedy series full of topical jokes and catchphrases that became well known nationally, such as Mrs Mopp’s T.T.F.N. (Ta Ta For Now!).

Born Kathleen Dorothy Cavendish Murray in Hong Kong she was a classically trained pianist (she won a gold medal at the Royal Academy of Music) who delivered many classical performances.  In 1930 she became part of a close harmony trio, The Cavendish Three, which toured Britain and performed on the radio shortly after the war began.  She is best remembered for “Kay on the Keys”, a programme of piano and vocal solos, mixing classical, jazz and popular music which ran to over 400 weekly broadcasts.

In July 1943 Miss Cavendish was summoned to appear at Llandudno Court for the misuse of petrol.  During the Second World War petrol was rationed and the wasting of this precious resource was a criminal offence.  When her car needed a service it should have been taken to the nearest garage but instead she took it to a garage in Penmaenmawr, three miles from Llanfairfechan where she lived.  The case against Kay Cavendish was dismissed as it was the BBC’s Transport Officer who instructed her to take the vehicle to the distant garage.  It is unclear if he was then prosecuted.

Bachelor’s Baby

30 Apr

On a windswept plateau in the hills above Penmaenmawr is a memorial stone dedicated to five American airmen and their mascot, a terrier called Booster, killed when their B-24 Liberator bomber crashed here in low cloud on the 7th of January 1944.  The aircraft, named ‘Bachelor’s Baby’ by its crew, had left their base in Palm Beach, Florida a month earlier and had taken the “southern” route to Britain, via Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Brazil then across the Atlantic to Dakar, Marrakech and onto RAF Valley on Anglesey.  The plane was then due to fly from RAF Valley to RAF Watton in Norfolk where the American Air Force had a base.

On that fateful afternoon the Liberator took off from the R.A.F. station in Anglesey with orders to follow a B17 ‘Flying Fortress’ which was to act as their escort to their new base in eastern England.  Heavy cloud and drizzle meant that they lost sight of the B17 and to make matters worse the magnetic compass was malfunctioning.  The clouds broke for an instant and they realised that they were too low and despite the best efforts of the pilot Adrian J. Shultz the plane struck a ridge, crashed and burst into flames.  The plane was carrying a huge cargo of ammunition and on impact it started to explode.  The surviving airmen struggled valiantly to help their comrades who were trapped in the burning airframe but sadly for some it was too late.

The bomb aimer, 2nd Lieutenant Norman Boyer managed to make his way down to a local farmhouse near Rowen and raised the alarm.  However local men working at the quarry and PC Hughes-Parry of Llanfairfechan had arrived at the crash site after seeing and hearing the plane in difficulty overhead and on arrival administered first aid before carrying the injured all the way down the mountain to Graiglwyd Hall in Penmaenmawr.  They were treated here by a local doctor before being taken by ambulance to hospital in Bangor.  Before being transferred to hospital Sergeant Harold Alexander, a gunner on the aircraft, pleaded with one of the quarrymen, Ellis Lewis, if he would go back to the crash site and bury their mascot – Booster.  Mr Lewis did as he was asked and buried the little black and white fox terrier on the windswept plateau next to the burnt out aircraft.

In 1980 a memorial was dedicated to the crew, and their dog, and today virtually nothing remains of the aircraft just a scar of exposed rock and soil on which the commemorative plaque stands.

One of the survivors was the plane’s navigator 2nd Lieutenant Julian Ertz.  Before the war he played American football for his high school and later for Temple University in Pennsylvania. He was known to his fellow crew members as the “singing fullback”.  However after treatment at hospital in Bangor and then at American military hospitals he returned to America in a full body cast after breaking his back in the crash but recovered enough to finish studying law and become an attorney.

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(Memorial to the crew and their dog Booster)