Divers at a Yorkshire club have helped bring the tragic tale of a plane crash that killed three brave airmen to the surface after plunging into England’s deepest lake.
Scuba divers from the Keighley branch of the British Sub-Aqua Club were hunting for the wreckage of an aircraft that crashed into a scree slope at Great Gully at the foot of Scafell Pike.
Their deep-water search of the lake at Wastwater, in the Lake District, led them to discover the engine block of a crashed Grumman Avenger.
But they were desperate to find out more about the three airmen who lost their lives in January 1945 – navigator and Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve Midshipman Gordon Fell from Accrington in Lancashire, the pilot, Barnard J Kennedy, from Ontario, Canada, and Phillip Royston Mallorie, a Royal Navy leading airman and wireless operator from Yorkshire
The club’s quest for information has in turn helped Penelope Wyatt-Nicolle, who was adopted as a baby, find out more about her family history.
The 62-year-old from Guernsey, whose birth name was Elizabeth Anne Holroyd, had been slowly piecing together information when the divers started their mission. And their discoveries have helped her to make contact with family members for the first time.
The customer service adviser’s birth uncle was Mallorie, the radio operator on board the doomed Royal Navy aircraft. Mallorie, who lived in Harrogate, was just 18 when he died.
Ms Wyatt-Nicolle, née Britton, said: “I always knew I was adopted, right from an early age, and always thought there was something missing to be perfectly honest.
“Once I’d started researching my birth family tree I was quite surprised to discover I was connected to the Mallories, who were once quite an influential Yorkshire family. And I also discovered I had a brother and sister too.
“My brother, Phillip, lives in Thailand and my sister, Lesley, lives in Peterborough. They have given me photographs of my birth mother Elizabeth, and her brother, Phillip, in his flying uniform.”
The family had a reunion in Wetherby two years ago, and Phillip, named after his uncle, and Lesley took their sister to Harrogate to show them where they had lived as children.
They also gave her some information about their mother and her brothers, Phillip and John.
But while they knew Philip had died during the war, they had little information about the circumstances beyond details Ms Wyatt-Nicolle had gleaned from an internet search.
Diver Graham Clay said the club was amazed at how their investigations progressed after they placed a story about their discovery in a diving magazine.
It led to Ms Wyatt-Nicolle getting in touch in the new year. She was tipped off about the search via a contact, a second cousin to Philip, on the Ancestry website and wanted to know what they might be able to tell her about the crash.
Mr Clay said: “For some of those relatives it is the first time they have known where the accident has happened. It’s been really nice to be able to bring that information to them.”
He said the club had heard rumours about where the accident took place and it was an “incredible” experience to finally discover the engine in the lake.
The Keighley diving team look set to return there April in a bid to locate the plane’s tail section, which is believed to be still in one piece.
Mr Clay added: “We’re not the first to find it but it’s been good to bring the story out. We’ve heard there’s more of the plane in the water as well.
“The bit that’s made it for me is finding out about the back story to it all.”
The club’s appeal has resulted in Ms Wyatt-Nicolle tracking down other blood relatives.
Having found out about their discovery, she took a chance on trying to get in touch with a cousin of her birth mother to tell her. Nancy Chew, who lives in the Lake District, had also been unaware and they spoke for the first time last month.
She also is now in touch with another cousin, her Uncle John’s daughter Barbara, and hopes, in time, to be able to find out more about Philip and his siblings.
“I really want to go to Wastwater to see the crash site for myself,” she added. “I’d also like to visit Inskip where Phillip is buried too.
“Getting to know something about my blood family has given me a sort of inner peace. I feel calm now and that feeling was missing for much of my life.
“At least I have more of an idea who I am.”
Mary Tetley, chief executive of British Sub Aqua Club, said: “The appeal has been incredibly worthwhile not just for Penny and her family but also for highlighting the bravery and sacrifice of these fine men.”