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