Halifax bomber crash site, Clifton, 70 years on

St Joseph's, Clifton, 8 June 2015

St Joseph’s, Clifton, 8 June 2015

70 years ago, on 8 June 1945, a Halifax bomber crashed in Clifton. Here near the roundabout at the end of Kingsway North (now Burton Green). Its wing clipped the spire of St Joseph’s on one side of the roundabout and it landed on the other side of the roundabout, behind what was then a large pub/hotel called The Imperial. It had two crew on board and they were both killed in the crash. No one else was killed, despite the fact that this massive aircraft landed in the middle of a suburban area.

I’ve known about this for years, and mentioned it in Chocolate and Chicory: York and beyond, by bicycle. But as with so many aspects of local history I’ve found myself going back to it, with questions and curiosity, as I’ve revisited the local landscape more recently. The incident seems more interesting and more poignant the more I’ve thought about it, and today, 70 years on, I want to revisit and record my questions and thoughts in the hope that anyone who can add further information will do so.

St Joseph's, trees and sky, 8 June 2015

The Press letters page, some years ago, included an evocative account by Peter Stanhope, who witnessed the crash:

The sound and the sights shocked me so much that I dropped my glass bottle of limeade, which shattered and splattered all over the pavement.

From Peter’s description and other accounts it seems that the aircraft was approaching from the north-east, heading for what was then Clifton airfield and the York Aircraft Repair Depot, where Halifaxes were repaired. An obstruction on the runway meant it couldn’t land, and as it manoeuvred away a wing hit the church spire. I’ve tried to imagine how the incident fitted into the landscape, the way it turned, falling, in a curve perhaps mirroring the curve of the roundabout, to the Imperial on the opposite side, and how somehow the pilot managed to land it not on the Imperial or any of the houses around it but in the large car park and garden area behind.

How that was achieved I don’t understand at all. Halifaxes are massive. I’ve tried to picture the wingspan of the thing across the area, and can’t.

This is the Imperial, as it was, before its demolition in the 1990s. This photo was I think taken from the centre of the roundabout.


Now, with housing, from a slightly different angle, a bit to the left, from the end of Burton Green (was Kingsway North).

Imperial Court, on the site of the Imperial Hotel, Clifton

Houses now fill what must have been the crash site. Around 1980 a cul-de-sac called Waveney Grove was built on what was apparently the pub’s garden. A brick wall around Waveney Grove appears to date from the 1930s, its details matching the nearby housing in Kingsway (Burton Green). So if that boundary marked the edge of the Imperial’s grounds then that must be where the Halifax came to land.

Wall of Imperial Hotel garden? From Kingsway (Burton Green)

Wall of the Imperial’s garden? From Kingsway (Burton Green)

Burton Green (formerly Kingsway North) - wall of Imperial Hotel garden?

1930s wall, surrounding Waveney Grove, from Burton Green

I’ve been up there today, cycled round Clifton Moor and then back towards the crash site, through the area now known as Clifton Backies.

I don’t know what time of the day the crash happened, but I thought about it as I stood by the roundabout in that peaceful residential area, with children cycling around and people out walking their dogs, most of us with no memory of the sound of bombers in the skies above.

Just wanted to record it here. Lest we forget.

Further information

I’ve created a Google map including the location of the crash and known visible remains of RAF Clifton. Additional information welcome, please add a comment below or use the contact link.

Pilot F/Lt Ian James Alexander Cruickshanks RAFVR, aged 26 and Flight Engineer F/Sgt Victor Henry Clare DFM RAFVR, aged 20, died in the crash. For more information see this page on Aircraft Accidents in Yorkshire. Details of the crash are also on the Aviation Safety Network database.

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  1. The type of aircraft that crashed at the top of Kingsway North was a Halifax bomber that was attempting to land at the servicing base of Handley Page Repair depot on Clifton airfield.

  2. Dave Crossfield

    The wall was the pub garden, but if you check the wing of the plane also hit the corner of the house which my uncle was badly in bed as a child.

    • David Abson

      That’s as I remember it.Tiles were knocked off the roof of the adjacent house and the aircraft exploded in the Imperial garden. I’m sure there was a picture of the damaged roof in the Press.

  3. Did it not hit the church and come down on the houses near the backies that’s why the flats and the little council hut was built this is what I was told when I was little 40 odd years ago I lived bottom end of kingsway north

    • Thanks for adding a comment Alwyn. Yes, it did hit the church spire. It sounds like several properties were damaged, perhaps on both sides of Kingsway? I’m sure the Press of the time must have photos, but I never got around to following that up.

  4. Can anyone confirm the serial number of this Halifax? It is listed as NP203 but according to my research there is no such number. Any help would be much appreciated.

    • thomas stone

      hi. serial should read jp203 wrongly recorded as steeple at Hawarden raf serials

  5. John Bryan Coates

    The only hose damaged was the house on the end of what is now Burton Green. If you look closely you can see the repair on the back top corner of the building. I remember watching a stretcher being taken out with an arm covered in blood hanging down. I did not realise at the time both the crew had died.

    • Michael Powell

      Hello I live in that end house now for 3 years, am trying to find out what happened, I know it sounds weard but am sure there spirits are still here as I hear a lot things and no clue what they was untilli told a friend and he told me it was his nan who lived here so I’d like to look into this bit more .

  6. David Ruddock

    Just like to add that in the late 5os or early 60, I was living in Lucas Avenue some 800 yards away and thought what I was was a four engine’d aircraft, some 40 years later and having completed a long military service, I then researed what I thought I saw. This led me to write to the MOD and abtain the incident report and all the aircraft and crash facts, also enquired in the Kingsway area as to who may have seen or known the actual incident, also spoke to the Paster of the Church who informed me that the original cross is still at the church. I am willing to talk to your researcher to fill in the blanks and give a in depth response. If no response in 30 days “30 September” I will add your details to the Web Page https://www.facebook.com/groups/257759164692801/
    I await and response

  7. John Bryan Coates

    I have just written about the crash in my memories.
    In 1948 on 8th June I was going for my dinner when I saw a large plume of smoke near by. Being curious I went in the direction of the smoke and to my horror I came upon a crowd with fire engines present, at the rear of the Imperial Hotel on Crichton Avenue. A Halifax bomber on its way to Clifton airfield had been diverted by a flare due to an obstruction on the runway. The aircraft had one engine out of action and at a height of 50 feet the right-hand wing clipped the large cross on top of St Joseph’s Church causing it to swing round, hitting the corner of a house in what is now in Burton Green before crashing into the open area behind the Imperial. I saw a stretcher being carried out with a body lying on it but the thing that stood out was an arm hanging down from the stretcher with a watch on the wrist and blood running down the arm. I did not know it at the time but both aircrew were dead. Needless to say I was late for lunch that day.
    You can see where the aircraft struck the house at the rear top corner by the repaired bricks.
    Hope this helps.

  8. Mrs Jan Thompson

    I remember it well. Coming home from school walking over the bridge I heard a plane in distress, I swear the pilot looked at me, my family said I’d imagined it then I heard an explosion. I was terribly upset as my brother was in bomber command and had a lucky escape when he was knocked out of the rear gun turret as it was crashing rest of crew died.

  9. David Scarth

    I was born in Kingsway North in 1943 and given up for adoption shortly after birth, my father is unknown but it’s been said he was a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force from a nearby base, I wondered if Canadians were stationed at RAF Clifton at that time.
    If anyone has any information regarding RAF Clifton and the area at that time, I would be most grateful, who knows?, it could help me in my family history search.

  10. David Abson

    My grandmother lived in Abbey street and 2 Canadian Airmen were biĺleted with her for a while. We visited an aerodrome during this time. There were Halifaxes but I can’t be sure if it was Rawcliffe or Linton.

  11. Penny Harrison

    Just heard about this on Heir Hunters (More 4 Tuesday 5th July 2022) including the name of the co-pilot whose family was being researched. The Halifax bombers were being decommissioned at various aerodromes including Clifton and this was being flown in for that purpose. There was an obstruction on the runway and the pilot was told to go round. He clipped the tower of St Joseph’s and came down unfortunately killing himself and the co-pilot.
    I am sure the programme can be found on catch-up by anyone wanting to know more.

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