A Salford creative writers’ group has created a book called ‘Memories Unlocked’ during the pandemic, which shares tales of childhood memories.
Here, Colin Balmer from SWit’CH group (Swinton Writers in t’Critchley House) shares his memories of growing up in Moss Nook and his memories of the tragic Wythenshawe air crash in 1957 which killed 22 people.
“I have never claimed a good memory. One of the most momentous events at primary school needed extensive research to fill in some of the gaps and further imaginative rumination to resolve the queries that arose.
“On March 14, 1957, within a week of my eleventh birthday, I was in class in my final year at Shadow Moss C of E Primary School on Ringway Road, Moss Nook. This was the fateful day when a BEA Viscount airliner crashed into houses on Shadow Moss Road, Wythenshawe, killing twenty-two people.
“My school was only a few hundred yards from the disaster, but I cannot remember hearing or seeing anything of the accident with the loss of all fifteen passengers, five crew, and a mother and child living in one of the houses.
“I can remember being escorted home along with classmates by a more senior monitor. The school was evacuated and used as a hospital and mortuary for the crash victims. The date confirms that I was eleven years old, I had sat and passed my 11+ for grammar school, so I must have been one of the more senior pupils at the school. Why did I, then, need an escort to prevent my curiosity drawing me to the crash? Possibly headmistress Mrs Ashworth felt a Cheshire girl would make a more responsible chaperone for the children than a boy from the council estate. I also held a responsible position as ink monitor.
“I also remember there was a period when I attended St Anthony’s Primary School to give me a better Roman Catholic foundation before moving on to Xaverian College Grammar School. So why was I still at the C of E primary school in March? This short spell must have been after the crash. I cannot recall going back to Shadow Moss School, other than an embarrassing visit to give the headmistress a bunch of flowers. The day that the BEA Viscount came down might possibly have been my last before the transition to St Anthony’s.
“My strongest memory of St Anthony’s was getting the strap for running on the stairs. No such corporal chastisement had been used at my former school. However, there were no stairs in the old three-classroom building anyway.
“It was some time after being taken home that I ventured on to the crash site and picked up a morbid souvenir in a small piece of aluminum. I doubt that the chance would be given now in days of intensive forensic investigation. It did not, at the time, register with me that our school had been in the flight path of flight 411 from Amsterdam and the day could have been the last for everyone in school.
“Nobody knows what happened in the cockpit but witness reports tell that the aircraft made a sudden right turn around a mile from the runway after clearing low clouds with landing gear lowered. In a steep downward angle, the wing tip touched the ground; the plane broke up, burst into flames and crashed into the row of houses. Mechanical failure was suspected as the cause of the accident and BEA grounded some 25 of its fleet after the incident.
“I went on to grow up in Woodhouse Park and witnessed the growth of the airport and Wythenshawe. I moved away when I married in 1971. Since then family and friends in Wythenshawe have all died or moved out, so I have no need to visit the area these days.
“The houses have been rebuilt, leaving no sign of the tragedy. My old school has been demolished as the airport expanded and you would never know of the dreadful disaster as your tram takes you along Shadow Moss Road towards Manchester International Airport.”
For more information on SWit’CH Writers go to http://www.switchwriters.btck.co.uk/