Nantlle Valley History



Plane Crash at Cwm Silyn ~ 20-11-1942

On the 20th November 1942, during the period of the Second World War, a group of men from the Dorothea Slate Quarry were working up in Cwm Silyn. They were repairing the Boat Houses on the two large lakes, clearing a site for a cabin and some exploratory holes were dug at the lower end of the bottom lake. These holes were apparently made to ascertain the possibility and what provisions were required to build a dam - the idea being to utilise the water for generating electricity to run the quarry. The War put a stop to all that unfortunately and by the time the War ended; the feasibility of the project had waned and it was put aside.

The Dorothea Quarry owned a large portion of Garnedd Goch, including half of Cwm Silyn and half the two larger lakes and the whole of the smaller lake, situated to the right of the Cwm facing the Crags.

My father, Idwal Owen Jones of Gwyndy, Talysarn was one of the men at Cwm Silyn on this fateful day. He drove the lorry for the return trip to the quarry on the floor of the valley. According to my father, when they were nearly ready to start the descent they heard the sound of a plane approaching, seemingly very low. They could not see anything and suddenly the sound passed right over their heads and headed in the direction of the cliffs of the Garnedd Goch at the top end of Cwm Silyn.

The men looked at each other knowing that the inevitable was about to happen and abruptly there was an almighty band and the sound of falling objects. To try and see if they could help the pilot, although the idea seemed futile, the workmen went back to the foot of the precipice – a distance of about a mile; but due to the mist they could not find or see anything. It was decided to go down to the quarry and report the incident so that a more detailed and thorough search could be organised.

The newly formed Mountain Rescue Team from Llandwrog went up to Cwm Silyn but found nothing. The next day, a thirteen year old lad by the name of Edwin Hughes, who lived at Glangors – a nearby smallholding on the slopes of Cwm Silyn had gone up to see if he could find the crash site. When he reached the lower lake area he found the local policeman P.C. Reginald Hughes walking the path. P.C. Hughes lived at nearby Talysarn and had a fair knowledge of the area.

Craig yr OgofP.C. Hughes asked Edwin to go in the direction of the mountain whilst he went the other side of the lakes in the direction of Talymignedd. Edwin reached the base of the scree and worked his way up towards the Great Stone Chute. He found himself at the bottom of the Great Slab to the left of the Chute. Just round the corner of the Slab he found the plane’s tail and part of the fuselage. Edwin immediately retraced his steps and went in search of P.C. Hughes.

Image: Craig yr Ogof (courtesy of Eric Jones).

Eventually, he caught up with the Constable and they both made their way back to the plane. P.C. Hughes lifted the fuselage and asked Edwin to climb in and see what some objects at the tail end were. All Edwin could see were the wires that operated the rudder and fins. There was something that looked like part of a parachute but could have been a target also in the tailpiece. By the side of the plane there was a pair of flying boots.

It was decided that the rest of the wreckage was somewhere higher up on the cliff face. P.C Hughes told Edwin he would guard the tailpiece whilst Edwin would try and see whether he could find the rest of the aircraft and the pilot. He had a good knowledge of the mountain and decided to climb a part of the cliff called the Heather Ridge in order to be able to see the area above the tailpiece. When he got high enough, he was at a point where he could look down into a narrow gully. There on a ledge was the rest of the plane including the body of the pilot. The ledge being inaccessible without a rope, he decided to make his way down the way he came. It must be kept in mind that Edwin had climbed to a spot on the cliff face that should he have fallen, it would have most probably had fatal results.

When he came back to P.C. Hughes he told the Constable what he had seen. It was decided that P.C. Hughes should stay with the fuselage to guard it whilst Edwin went down the mountain to report the plane had been found. On his way down he met the mountain rescue team from Llandwrog. He told them where the crash site was and what he had seen. The mountain rescue team was newly formed then and the men did not have the necessary equipment or experience for a cliff rescue. There was still quite a lot of mist so the team decided to have some discussion as to how to proceed further. The cliffs of Cwm Silyn were a formidable challenge towering hundreds of feet high. Meanwhile, Edwin carried on towards home, but as he came to Bryngwyn Farm - the topmost one on the road to Cwm Silyn, he saw Richard Jones the farmer there at the time.

Although Richard Jones must have been in his late sixties, it was decided that he and Edwin should go back up the mountain to see whether anything further could be done; and taking a rope from the shed, off they went. When they reached the site, Edwin and Richard Jones climbed up to the spot above the ledge and Edwin was lowered onto the ledge after securing the end of the rope. Amidst the wreckage he found some documents. He collected these carefully and seeing nothing could be done without help, was hauled up by Richard Jones. Both then made their way down the cliff from their precarious position. Edwin was amazed with Richard Jones - particularly in terms of the way in which he managed to climb up and down the cliff face. The documents were given to P.C. Hughes of Talysarn.

One of the Daily Newspapers praised Edwin for his efforts. It was noted that the crashed aircraft was a Hawker Henley target tower no. L3334 from Towyn in Merionethshire; which was flown from Penrhos. The unfortunate pilot who must have died instantly was named as Pilot Officer Walter James Havies of the RAF Volunteer Reserve – a 26 year old. He was one of 300 aircrew members who lost their lives in the rugged hills of North Wales (he is buried at Llanbeblig Cemetery, Caernarfon) in what is now the Snowdonia National Park. This was the period 1939 – 1945.

Meanwhile the Mountain Rescue team decided to ask for the help of the Dorothea quarry workmen, especially the rock men. One of the best rock-face men in North Wales was asked to help. This man named Thomas Roberts – or Twm Brynmelyn as he was known, lived in Coedmadog Road, Talysarn. John Idris Williams, Morris Roberts (Moi Dolgau), P.C. Roberts from Llanllyfni and a number of others were assembled. My father was the lorry driver for transport, so my brother Emyr and I had to be involved. I was about 14 years old, and my brother was around 12 years old. Two coils of rope were put on the back of the lorry; one was about an inch thick, the other a much heavier type used on the quarry face would have been around two inches thick. Everyone got on the lorry and off we went.

On the way the road passed between two quarry tips by Plas Du. Where the sides of the tips had been built up, the road was very narrow and the lorry practically filled the gap. As we were approaching this spot, I realised the Policeman in front of me on the back of the lorry had his foot partly over the side of the vehicle. As we had our backs to the cab of the lorry he did not see what was about to happen. I shouted for him to get his foot in and luckily he did or it would have been crushed between the lorry and the tip wall.

Eventually after negotiating three gates, we reached Cwm Silyn and arrived at a spot where the lorry could go no further. Everyone got off and the ropes were looped out into a number of three or four rings for easier and lighter transportation. It must be remembered, there was still quite a distance to the crash site including a boulder-strewn area and scree uphill. By this time the M.C. from Llandwrog and his team had arrived and everyone made for the crash site led by Edwin Hughes. As we approached the base of the scree it was decided to use the lighter rope, so the heavy one was left for the time being where it could be picked up on the way down.

When we arrived at the tailpiece that was practically intact, the quarrymen conferred and then taking the end of the rope started up the route Edwin took initially, and soon arrived at the spot where they could look down on the ledge where the body of the pilot lay. This ledge would have been 20 – 30 ft. below them, and they would now be around 100 ft. up the cliff. The rest of the rope was hauled up and Tom Roberts was lowered onto the ledge. The body of the pilot was carefully wrapped up in his parachute that had partly opened in the impact. After tying it up the chute was fastened to the end of the rope and lowered to the base of the cliff. The body still in the parachute was tied onto a stretcher and the quarrymen came down from the cliff face. The rope and stretcher were picked up and the very difficult route through the rocks and scree was undertaken - the stretcher carefully and laboriously manoeuvred over the arduous terrain; relieved as often as possible.

The M.O. had another version of bringing the body down, but the quarrymen would have none of it. They were used to carrying their comrades in quarry accidents over bad conditions, and I can vouch that every possible care was taken with the stretcher to the extent that it could have been carrying glass!

We reached the smaller lake in Cwm Silyn, skirted it over a difficult narrow path and reached easier, leveller ground. An ambulance had been brought down a rough track for about 300 yards and this was a big help to the tired carriers. After the body of the young pilot was placed in the ambulance, the quarrymen went ahead with their ropes to the awaiting lorry, and everyone made for home. When the plane wreck was cleared some time later, the engine was rolled into the top lake and is probably still there.

Ironically, Edwin was to lose his father about a year later. John Hughes, a quarryman, died of cancer at the age of 54 years on 28th October 1943, no doubt accelerated by worry about his eldest son Hugh John, who was taken prisoner at Singapore; and during his captivity spent time on the notorious Death Railway. Hugh joined the Horse Artillery around 1937 and was stationed at Singapore before the war broke out. Surviving the railway Hugh was amongst a group of prisoners being moved by ship from Malaya to Japan. The ship he was on, the unmarked ‘Kima Marie’ was torpedoed by an U.S submarine and sunk. About 60 survivors were picked up by the submarine; Hugh, alas, perished. He was 26 years old, the same age as the pilot on the ledge in Cwm Silyn – Pilot Officer W.J. Harries. Hugh was reported missing September 1944.

To continue with this remarkable family, Edwin’s mother namely Mrs Olwen Hughes who lived at Glangors, Tanrallt; was directly involved in the nucleus of the Mountain Rescue Unit formed at Llandwrog around 1943 late 1942. Mrs Hughes moved to Glangors about 1936 with her husband, five girls and two boys. They previously lived at Bryn Gadfan Bach near Llanaelhaearn. John Hughes her husband had been one of a team of men employed by the Dorothea Quarry to make a new track up to the lakes at Cwm Silyn before the outbreak of the War. It would have been very difficult for any vehicle to have been involved in the recovery of the pilot’s body in the foregoing account without the track.

However about 4th January 1944, an Oscillator had been placed on the summit of Garnedd Goch above Cwm Silyn. This was done to try and cut down on the number of airplane crashes in the area. Three planes had crashed on Cwm Silyn and eleven airmen lost their lives as a result. During the War period the hills around Glangors and The Nantlle Ridge were used as a training ground for the armed forces and Commando Units were continually exercising around the area. Mrs Hughes, a lady of small stature - under five feet tall but large of heart; always welcomed whoever came to the door of Glangors and this included German and Italian prisoners of war who were brought up to rebuild the mountain walls after enemy damage.

The Oscillator equipment on Garnedd Goch was situated about 2,400ft. above sea level and operated on batteries. RAF personnel from Llandwrog Airfield had to renew the batteries every week. There were no helicopters at this time so the batteries were brought up by car or truck and taken up the track. When jeeps were available the maintenance crew were able to reach a height of about 1,200 to 1,300ft. but there was still about another 1,000ft. to go and the heavy batteries were carried up the rest of the way. This job of course had to be done regardless of weather conditions, and as a result, due to inadequate wet weather clothing, the carriers would very often be very wet, cold and tired. In these conditions as well as dry weather, they would invariably find their way to Glangors where their clothes would be dried and hot drinks and food would be shared by Mrs Hughes and her family.

On 21st March 1946, Mrs Hughes received a letter of appreciation from the Squadron Leader - Commanding Officer of the Royal Air Force at Llanbedr where the Llandwrog personnel had been moved to at the end of the war. The Mountain Rescue Unit was now based here. Glangors at this time was very remote – about two miles from the nearest village, and Mrs Hughes had to walk up and down the hill situated about 850ft. above sea level many times each week. She moved to Llanllyfni in her later years when her eldest daughter Jane took over the smallholding. Mrs Olwen Hughes died on October 13th 1966 at the age of 72 years, twenty-three years to the month after she lost her dear husband John Hughes. Mrs Hughes never saw her beloved son Hugh after he left in 1937, but always talked about him and was very proud of Hugh as well as all her other children.

Mrs Olwen Hughes was a truly a remarkable Lady to people who met and knew her.

by Aneurin Wyn Jones.


The crash of the Henley was not the only one to occur in the locality on 20 November 1942. There were, in fact, two flying accidents on the same day in this area - the first being that of the Henley in which Pilot Officer Havies lost his life, and the second accident was just a few miles away when an Avro Anson (serial number N4981) from RAF Llandwrog crashed on the slopes of Moel Eilio. Rescuers found four of the crew dead and one badly injured survivor, who died later that day.

Such was the intensity of flying during the period of the Second World War that it was possible for two aircraft crashes to occur more or less next door to each other on the same day. Just imagine the fuss there would be if such a thing happened nowadays!

Thanks to Roy Sloan for additional information and the addendum.

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