Not long ago this pretty Wharfedale village was a real bottle-neck for motorists travelling to the Lakes, coast and Dales. Much has changed since the arrival of the by-pass, it is more peaceful and cleaner for a start. There has been much housing development - not to everyone's liking. The village itself is twixt Otley and Ilkley. There are lots of little shops, a handful of pubs and no supermarket, nice.
A tragedy struck the village many years ago. I learnt about this when I was in Bradford's Central Library reading old newspaper accounts of D-Day 1944. What I read on page three in the Bradford Telegraph & Argus, June 15th 1944, saddened me deeply. All the men were Canadians.
Nineteen Out of 21 Soldiers Killed in Wharfedale Crash
Nineteen out of 21 soldiers were killed at Burley-in-Wharfedale early to-day when an Army lorry, in which they were travelling, crashed into a house on failing to take a sharp bend in the road.
The canvas-topped lorry was coming from Ilkley, and is said to have contained the members of a picket and a mixed party of soldiers. Instead of taking the bend in the main road at the Malt Shovel Hotel, the lorry appears to have gone almost straight forward and hit the house, 26, Main Street, the home of Miss Florence Roe.
It turned on to its side. Most of the men were found to be suffering from head injuries. When neighbours, hearing the crash, turned out to give assistance, they found that many of the men were still inside the lorry. Four men were still alive, and were taken to a wardens' post nearby, but two of them died there. The other two were taken to hospital in a serious condition. One of these is said to have been the driver of the lorry.
First-aid ambulances and medical assistance were secured from the surrounding district. One man who came through Burley soon after the accident, said: 'There were bodies and blood all over the place.'
Apart from a broken fall-pipe and scratches on the wall and door, the damage to the house is not so much as might have been expected. So far as can be ascertained there does not appear to have been anyone in the immediate vicinity who actually saw the accident.
Scene of the tragedy, notice memorial on post.
The corner has been the scene of many previous motor-accidents, but never one so serious as this.
Miss Roe, who lives alone in the house hit by the lorry, remained in bed.
Graphic stories were told by neighbours who were on the scene shortly afterwards. Two of them were Mrs Madeline Ewan, of 5 Woodhouse Lane, and Mrs. Jessie Nelson who worked like heroines to succour the men.
The lorry was canvas-covered, the canvas being held up by iron bars. and when the lorry struck the house and overturned these iron struts collapsed and pierced the heads and bodies of the men.
The sight was a ghastly one, and Mrs Ewan told a 'Telegraph and Argus' reporter it was 'like a 'plane crash.' 'I went into the street,' she said, 'and met a soldier of the same unit who said he had been signalling the lorry to stop, as he was walking in the road, and it seemed to be slowing down when it struck the house side. He was nearly trapped.'
HELD UP IRON BARS
Mrs Ewan said Mrs. Nelson held up the iron bars with her own body while she (Mrs Ewan) attempted to get the trapped men out. 'One of them died in my arms,' she said. 'We persisted in getting the trapped men out until Mr Bill Clark, of Horsfall Terrace, arrived on the scene, and he, with superhuman strength held up the top iron bar which formed the main support of the canvas. Most of the men were killed outright.'
The next door neighbour to Miss Roe, a Mrs Brear, brought water to bathe the men, and she was present when the doctor arrived to inspect the bodies.
Names of the Soldiers who died, final toll twenty (click to enlarge)
A few days after my visit to the library I visited Burley and got talking to a local woman. She told me she'd lived in the village all her life, she was a young girl at the time of the tragedy and she remembers it well. I was shown the cottage where the accident happened and also a plaque placed by Burley Council in 1997. I was told that a descendent of one of the soldiers came to the village not long ago. If you're ever travelling through Burley-in-Wharfedale, please keep these men in your thoughts.
Images of Burley-in-Wharfedale (Click to enlarge)
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