ONSLOW Kirby was used to the mocking laughter of the Green Woodpecker and the hooting of the Monmouth Bullet on the other side of the River Wye; but nothing could prepare him for the sights and sounds which assailed him on a bright and clear 7th June 1942.
Standing in the pasture field, just to the south of The Green farmhouse, Welsh Bicknor, he first heard and then saw a Halifax Bomber approaching him and flying just 20 feet over the treetops of Court Wood and Raven Cliff.
As the aircraft passed over the mid-point of the River Wye the starboard wing became detached from the fuselage. At this point the aircraft rolled over on to its back and dropped almost vertically towards the ground falling in an arc down into the field about 250 yards away.
He described the moment as an immense bang followed by an enormous explosion and a subsequent fire. In the fierce inferno that followed the crash much of what was left of the aircraft was consumed. There was absolutely no chance of survival for any of the eleven members of the flight and it is assumed that they were either killed instantly upon impact or died very shortly afterwards in the fire.
On board the stricken plane was one of the world’s great engineers - 38-year-old Alan Dower Blumlein. The bomber had been no ordinary aircraft. It was a flying laboratory, testing H2S airborne radar equipment vital in the Second World War both against land targets and the U-boat.
Many believed that the project would fail with Blumlein’s death but it survived and was a factor in shortening the war. Blumlein’s role in the project was a closely guarded secret at the time and consequently only a brief announcement of his death was made some two years later, in order to avoid providing solace to Hitler.
Blumlein also invented “stereo” sound.
Welsh Bicknor, once a detached parish of Monmouthshire, beckons us into a dreamy loop of the Wye in the south-east corner of Herefordshire. The opportunity to walk the riverside boundary with Gloucestershire here traces the course of a bygone railway as well as wartime events.
The river edge was a familiar sight for passengers using the Ross and Monmouth Railway between 1873 and 1959. Sometimes known as the Wye Valley Line, it ran for 13 miles.
After the halt at Walford, Kerne Bridge was the first station leaving Ross-on-Wye and served Goodrich Castle. The station is now a private house standing next to the 1828 road bridge. The railway crossed from this left bank of the Wye by single track bridge just south of the station to the cottage at point 2 on our walk where it followed the riverbank for a quarter of a mile. Notorious for its lack of speed when water on the railway line forced it to proceed at walking pace, the train was affectionately known as “The Monmouth Bullet”.
While the old railway route vanishes “inland” for 634 yards under Thomas Wood, the walk continues along the riverbank through wonderful meadow and pasture beneath the Courtfield Estate, so named to recall the period when Henry V was growing up there.
At point 3 St. Margaret’s Church is a landmark familiar to canoeists and walkers, but a gem hidden from the passing motorist. Just beyond we are re-joined by the railway, where it emerges from the tunnel back across the Wye to old Lydbrook Station.
This station served the Edison Swan Cable Works, which played an important part in both World Wars. Cable for field telephones was manufactured during the first, specialist undersea cable to link the Empire; and (PLUTO) The Pipeline Under The Ocean was partly produced here in the Second World War: to supply fuel for the D-Day Landings.
Kerne Bridge and Welsh Bicknor Walk.
8½ mile moderate walk. 6½ miles along riverbank.
No steep climbs. Mostly flat. River and woodland edge.
Map: OL 14 Wye Valley and Forest and Dean.
Public Transport: Bus 34 Ross and Monmouth.
1. Kerne Bridge Picnic Place. Take footpath signed to Kerne Bridge, R of old railway station. TL across bridge(with view to Goodrich Castle ahead). Immediately over bridge, TL down steps on Wye Valley Walk. Follow riverbank through gate, up steps, then back down to riverbank past a footpath sign for Goodrich. Reach a cottage. The wall just beyond marks the point at which the old railway bridge crossed the Wye.
2. Cottage/canoe launch/old bridge area. Go through gate, keeping along bank, (caravan park on left bank). Cross stile/gate with The Manse above right. Bend R along bank beyond marker post and ahead. (Courtfield Arms, Lower Lydbrook on left bank). Cross stile to church.
3. St Margaret’s Church, Welsh Bicknor. If not visiting, fork L still along WVW riverbank. Go beyond marker post and underneath the old railway bridge which carried the “Monmouth Bullet” across to Lydbrook station and PLUTO factory. Keep L of four marker posts, cross stile, and footbridge. In front of you, on left bank is the conical wooded Rosemary Topping at English Bicknor.
4. Crash Site Area from 7th June, 1942. When you reach a point between Rosemary Topping and The Green (large farmbuildings) up to your right, you have reached the flight path of the ill-fated Halifax Bomber. The point of impact was about 100 feet up the bank towards the farm. Please do not, however, leave the riverside path! Keep ahead along the bank over a stile for Coldwell Rocks. Cross stile and pass memorial to John Whitehead Warre. Keep ahead through gate, staying on bank (not into trees). Carry on beyond Yat Rock parapet on other, left bank. Keep below L of two stone buildings and beyond cottage painted white on left bank. Follow wide pasture which tapers ahead to a gate.
5. Woodland Edge Gate. Go through and follow firmer surface ahead through next gate. Keep ahead to stile 80m in front of Mainoaks. Cross into Coppet Hill Common Nature Reserve area and follow L edge fence/wall, climbing a little to find Rockland Cottage. Keep ahead up drive and along tarmac past The Thatch. Fork L down beyond Hill Brow, 400m to bridge over road.
6. Goodrich bridge. TR just in front over slab, down steps for Kerne Bridge. Follow pavement back over bridge. TR back to picnic place.