An American history professor has just published a book on the Fylde coast’s biggest air disaster – because of a pen pal.
Prof Jim Hedtke, from Pennsylvania, was inspired to write The Freckleton, England, Air Disaster after hearing about the tragedy through his wife’s long-distance friend, who she had been writing to for 56 years.
The book’s release coincides with the 70th anniversary year of the disaster.
On August 23, 1944, a US bomber crashed into the centre of Freckleton, hitting the infant wing of Holy Trinity C of E School and demolishing three houses and the Sad Sack Snack Bar.
The accident resulted in the deaths of 61 people, including 38 children.
The American Eighth Air Force operated a base air depot, known as BAD2 in Warton, and two B-24s were out on a test flight when a severe thunderstorm hit and one of the pilots lost control after trying to land.
The crash was the single greatest civilian air disaster suffered by the Allies in the Second World War. Prof Hedtke’s book tells the story of the fateful flight, featuring interviews and stories from survivors.
He has included a poem, by David Carr, whose uncle was lost in the fire in the infants’ room.
Prof Hedtke, who works at Cabrini College in Radnor, said: “The story of the Freckleton air disaster is not just a tale of loss, suffering and pain. It is also a story of
courage, love, compassion and reconciliation. The story reminds us life’s journey is filled with happiness and sorrow, despair and hope, life and death. Through all their suffering and sorrow, the people of Freckleton have honoured the past while building a brighter future.
“The narrative is the story of their journey.”
Prof Hedtke learned about the Freckleton air disaster when he and his wife Judy made their first visit to the UK in 1987 and met with Judy’s penpal, Jackie Martin, who lived on Kirkham Road, Freckleton. The pair had been corresponding since 1958.
Jackie and her husband Peter took the couple to see the communal grave in Holy Trinity Cemetery and Prof Hedtke said he became ‘fascinated’ with the accident and wanted to be one of the voices to tell the victims’ story.
Prof Hedtke added: “Without Jackie, I would never have known about the tragic events of August 23, 1944.
“And I am deeply indebted to the survivors of the crash for their courage and willingness to tell their stories.
“I would like to remember the 61 victims of the Freckleton air disaster. Though their lives abruptly ended, their legacy never will.”
The book, published by McFarlan and Co, is available via Amazon.com and other online book stores.