The Clouds Above
During Castle open days, Paul (MacTaggart) is usually to be found in Visitor Reception, swiping barcodes and selling tickets. At other times, at any time of the day, he is also to be found taking photographs of the beauty and detail of the Castle from the moment it wakes up to the moment it goes to sleep. In many ways, Highclere has become part of his DNA.
The story of how and why I met Paul originally is something of a tale. I was just trying to finish a book which told the story of the family and characters who lived here at Highclere during the 1920s, 1930s and through to the end of the Second World War, when I fell to chatting with Eddie our Head Keeper. He asked if I knew about the B-17 that had crashed here during WW2?
Amazed, and feeling somewhat aghast, I replied I had no idea. He had been told by his predecessor (Eddie has only been here for 60 years) that, towards the end of the war, a large, very noisy, plane had flown low over the Castle in murky May weather, circled twice, presumably examining their maps looking for an indication of the direction towards the US Greenham Common Airbase, before flying on southwards through the fog and rain into the only high escarpment : Siddown Hill. It tried to pull up and nearly made it , but caught the trees, failed and exploded into a ball of fire cascading down the hillside.
It became the epilogue to my book “Lady Catherine” just before I handed it in to the publishers. It also became however the start of another journey researching the lives and families of the young men on the plane.
I needed help to find out what had happened and turned to a marvellous man often found in his own flying machine, Steve, who flew Concorde amongst other accolades professionally and is now a pilot of vintage planes and part of the Tiger Nine Display team. He told me he had a friend who was an experienced metal detector, whom he knew from a pub called the Flower Pots. This friend turned out to be Paul who, ironically, doesn’t drink. From these beginnings, the plot developed to find not just the story of the B-17, but also a P-38, two Mosquitos, a Lysander, a Whitworth Whitley and a Proctor.
Steve, Paul and I have spent hours clambering through the undergrowth looking for signs of charred trees, asking the keepers for their long recalled, handed down memories. It was completely by chance that we found the approximate place to look for the Whitworth Whitley. Following a storm, a fallen tree limb was found to have a large jagged piece of metal wedged deeply in all the way through the bark to the sapwood. Terry the keeper thought it might be part of a plane.
All these planes crashed by accident, through tragic bad luck or pure mischance. Nevertheless the chances of disaster happening in action in WW2 was very high: forty-four per cent of the bombers flown were brought down and the survival rate for Lysanders was even worse. To quote the Irish poet W. B. Yeats:
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love.
Each of the planes builds the story of how we all lived and fought during those six years of war. The airmen’s courage was celebrated through films such as the “Dambusters”, “Reach for the Sky”, “The Battle of Britain”, “Mosquito Squadron” and “Memphis Belle”.
Our cedar wood airman statue carved in situ here at the Castle is our way of saying their names whilst the silvered plaques recall these sons, grandsons, brothers, uncles, fathers…
Emily, who organises the logistics of public opening and teams with us, suggested that Paul go down to the cedar airmen at 11am, 1pm or 3pm each a day to share the stories of these planes with our visitors. We have not yet signposted where our cedar man stands turning round to say goodbye to those who sit or stand behind him. Nevertheless Paul marches in good time along the gravel path to find visitors gathered there. He takes a few display boards, the compass from the Proctor, or other small plane parts although the majority of the twisted mass of the plane remains are stored in the farm barns. Paul has such tremendous enthusiasm and passion for the journey we have shared and, with all the teams’ help, we will turn again to think what we can do for VE day next year, to mark the date 75 years ago that the B-17 crashed on May 5th1945.
“In balance with this life, this death” (the last line of “To an Airman” by W.B. Yeats).
The picture of Eddie is wonderful.
I don’t know what kind of plane crashed where my family is from in Slovenia, but an American plane crashed during the war. There were 7 or 8 on the plane. Some lived, some died, the living were taken to the hospital in Metlika. My family used a bomb casing as a soup kettle for many years.
I don’t think anyone kept track closer than that because they were fighting for survival. German soldiers and Italian soldiers came through and took all their food. When my great grand uncle objected, asking what they were supposed to eat, he was beaten and later died from the injuries.
I’m so sorry to hear that – war is a terrible time for soldier and civilian alike. We should be so grateful to live in a time of peace.
Such an inspiring post to read on my birthday today, thank you for all of your detailed and heartfelt posts Lady Carnarvon. x
Thank you – and Happy Birthday Kerry!
Thank you kindly for your birthday wishes Lady Carnarvon. x
Again you have added a nostalgic and lovely story to Hughclere’s perfect place in England’s history. I read “Lady Catherine” twice in order to put in place in my imagination all the scenes you describe. Thank you for your kind commitment to the honor, courage and patriotism of those remarkably brave flyboys.
They did it for all of us
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Thank you so very much for sharing your and Paul’s journey with us today. The enthusiasm and passion that you share is a credit to both of you. And it also is a very moving and inspiring piece that you have written.
So much so that it only seems right to add to this blog, the famous aviator’s Poem, “High Flight”:
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds … and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of … wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew.
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
that is beautiful Jeffrey thank you!
High Flight, what a moving poem.
I do so agree with other comments about the emotion expressed in this poem. After the loss of the Challenger Space Shuttle and the 1st teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe, while students watched on TV, President Ronald W. Reagan gave an Address to the Nation, January 28, 1986 and quoted from this poem. All those who venture into great Adventures bear this risk and those of us who remain are charged with honoring their memories. As long as their names are repeated, they will continue to live on through their narratives. May their memories be a blessing to us all.
Thank you Lady Carnarvon
Every day you live at Highclere you spend a day in it’s history making.
You do a great service to your country.
My birthday today also, and I agree with Kerry above. Thank you for this post Lady Carnarvon.
My husband was a navigator on planes ferried from the US to the Russians and Chaing kai Shek. Once they flew bombers to Scotland for the British. En route they flew over Ireland, making a slight detour from the planned route. When the Captain found out, he said “Why you S.O.B., you took us 500 miles off course just to fly over your ancestral home.”
Do you know of the twisted propellers on the graves of airmen who crashed on the island of Taasinge (off Svendborg) in Denmark? Immediately after the crash, local, people rushed to the site, retrieved the bodies and hid them from the German occupiers.
Happy Birthday to you Ann Marie! There are some remarkable stories of heroism from right across Europe and we are learning more and more each day.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
What a touching story about finding metal from the war plane that went down on your property. The cedar wood airman is a wonderful tribute honoring the men who lost their lives that fateful day. You, Paul and your staff are so caring. Thank you for always making Monday the best day of the week for me.
MY DEAR LADY CARNARVON,
THANK YOU FOR THE POST – – HAPPY SUMMER FOR ALL STAFF.
RIO CLARO – SP
Thank you for this interesting post today. My parents had High Flight hanging in their family room for as long as I could remember. My dad was a Navy pilot and flew a plane called a Corsair during the Korean War. I’ve learned a lot about this plane as an adult and had many veterans thank me for my dad’s service. We had a wonderful 80th birthday celebration for him and I had the photo of a Corsair coming in for a landing on an aircraft as the center of the cake. Two weeks later my father was ‘soaring with the eagles’. This was 2003 and not a day goes by where he is missed.
What a wonderful story. We are so grateful to the generation that went before us.
Thanks for this, I am visiting in two weeks time and would not have known to find this monument if I hadn’t have read this today – I will make sure I visit at a time that Paul is there to hear the story
Please do – it is well worth it
Dearest Lady Carnarvon,
My heartfelt appreciation for bringing to the forefront the bravery of so many from The Great War. Your historical significance is also appreciated. Thank you for all you do to bring others inside the beauty of Highclere!
Savannah, Georgia USA
What a wonderful story. My mother talks about WWII as a young girl in Buffalo NY and what it was like during those times. War is hard but I think the memories and stories are wonderful. this story/memory is just terrific. Next year when I visit your home, I to will look for your soldier.
Have a wonderful week.
The memories are there to touch…
Such a beautiful addition to add to your property! I will be there soon and will be sure to look for this monument of such heroic sacrifice. I’m glad to read all the backstory from you in advance. Thank you!
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
What a wonderful tribute.
My Mother was in High School here in South Louisiana at the time and next to her school in the small town where I grew up, was a POW camp. She said most were Airman and Pilots shot down over France and England. After school they were all on air duty, which meant watching the sky for any planes from the top of the Sisters Convent and calling in which ones they saw. The mighty Mississippi River is 2 blocks from her home. Many thought it would be a target, so it was her part to help the cause and the boys overseas. What a wonderful generation they were and how they sacrificed for our freedom.
Thank you for the opportunity to add and remind you.
Among the heroic bomber pilots during World War II there were also Polish pilots from 303 squadron, a handful of somewhat lost boys who did not know English but about brave hearts who fought for our and your freedom. Glory to Heroes !
The Polish pilots were so brave
Good morning Lady Carnarvon,
This is such a marvelous story – thank you. I’m wondering if Paul is the same gentleman who kept me company in May while awaiting my taxi. He was so fun to chat with, and I remember a conversation about skydiving?? For someone who makes “small talk” ALL the time at his job, he made me feel as if I was the only guest around – it was really lovely.
Everything about that visit was just superb – and reading your stories keeps my memories so fresh, too. Thank you!
St. Louis, MO
Probably – one and the same
My Dear Lady Carnarvon,
What a wonderful post. Being there for Heroes at Highclere, it resonated in my heart even more than it would have before. I did not see this awesome carving of the Pilot. We must try to see it on our next visit. Is it far from the Castle? I use a mobility scooter to get around, so maybe that is how I missed seeing it.
When I was a child, the TV stations did not operate 24 hours a day like they do now. They signed off around 1 AM. For the end of their broadcast day, they always played the National Anthem while showing patriotic scenes. But what I remember the most is times they shared that poem. The screen ( black and white) showed jet planes, (probably the Blue Angels or the Thunderbirds comparable to the Red Arrows in the UK) flying in formation as the poem was read. It held special meaning for me even as a very young child because I was aware of my Father’s involvement in WWII as a Top Turret Gunner and engineer on a B-17, like the one we saw during our visit to Heroes at Highclere. I might have never had the opportunity to see that plane fly if it were not for this event. It was life changing. I felt so much more connected to my Father and all of my ancestors who have fought for what they believe in…freedom. God Bless you, Lady Carnarvon. Your dedication to preserving and remembering the past to honor those who paid the ultimate price is admirable. Thank you. Oh, and WONDERFUL Pictures!
Linda Sue Smith
it is to the southwest of the Castle and he faces the hills in which the planes crashed, but looks back to talk to you
What an amazing story! Thanks to your determination you were able to find a piece of metal from the plane. Love the statue. Next time we go back to England, we need to explore more of Highclere.
Thank you for this heartwarming, and inspirational story, There are still so many untold, personal stories about WW2, that it is so interesting to hear another. Growing up in post war Britain, I know the hardship that most of us endured, and that many would wish to forget. However, one thing we must never forget are those brave young men and women who sacrificed so much.
Somehow on our visit to Highclere in June we missed the Cedarwood Airman. It will be a must on our next visit and to hear Paul’s story.
on cenotaph’s steps
poppies flutter in stiff breeze
old man salutes
his fallen comrades in arms
Thank you again.
Ann M. Brixey
I need to sign post our cedar airman
Thank you Lady Carnarvon for the moving post and Ann for that poignant poem. I also remember Ronald Reagan quoting ‘High Flight’ when the space shuttle was lost. As a fan of Wilfred Owen I know that we can never repay the debt we owe to those that gave everything. May they Rest In Peace.
Yet another fascinating “layer” of the many striations of stories of Highclere. Thank you for sharing this. It is a wonderful statue. Have you heard about the successful grassroots effort to erect a statue honoring Lady Nancy Astor (the first woman to take a seat in Parliament)? It will be unveiled on the Hoe on November 28th in Plymouth.
I was thrilled to be able to visit this past May with my friend Frank Tolley. When we heard of your memorial, Frank wanted to visit. He was a WWII RAF Lancaster Bombardier. I have a wonderful picture capturing the moment of silence. Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to visit your home and the grounds
How amazing – thank you for visiting !
So interesting! Thank you for sharing.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
So many wonderful stories within the story this week. How you met Paul and the fact that he is now part of the team. Your saying Highclere is part of his DNA. Eddie Hughes mentioning the B-17 that crashed during WW2 which led to more research and a memorial to the men who were lost. Eddie Hughes having worked 60 years at Highclere. The longevity of Eddie’s employment speaks volumes to me. Dear lady, the admiration you and your team share with one another is quite evident. Yours is a heartwarming story of how people working together can accomplish so much.
Did Simon the tree sculpture from Wales create the statue? Whoever did the work created a masterpiece. It is magnificent!
Dear Lady, thank you again for another interesting Highclere story. Have a great week!
You always…ALWAYS manage to engage us with your words and story-telling abilities. This is such a moving blog today…it rends homage to all the men and women who served in the military or simply stood by them in support. We are so thankful for all of them and for their ultimate sacrifices. In our family, we stand proud and grateful that our loved ones came home…then and in the present day.
Let us continue to honor them all with continue efforts for peace among men and all nations. It is possible…it is doable. We certainly have the tools, the knowledge, diplomacy…and our ancestors example and testimonies. All we need is a bit more of self-control, understanding, and diplomacy.
Thanks again Lady Carnarvon.
Thank you ma’am for your posts. Those of us like myself, who will never get to come visit… we live vicariously through your blog. It makes me feel I am there .
I am glad!
Lady Carnarvon- Thank you for such a moving narrative today as you remind us of the history you live within. It’s wonderful you can create such opportunities for visitors to enjoy the history and develop appreciation for these sacrifice.
Thank you again.
Dear Lady Canarvon, thank you for this amazing story and all that you and your staff do to preserve the memorie of the airman and history that surrounds Highclere. The cedar airman statue is a wonderful tribute to the airmen who lost their lives. I watched “The Secrets of Highclere Castle” not long ago and I remember Eddie. I would imagine he is like part of the family. I always look forward to reading your blog. I hope to visit Highclere some time soon. Thanks again!
Eddie is very much a part of our family, and is a wonderful living history of Highclere.
LADY CARNARVON, Hi remember us we were there in early June. I’m the Paratrooper who took the tour wearing my Uniform that I jumped into Normandy DZ-K , Sannerville France for the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. What a Jump that was. I belong to a organization that flies a B-17, a B-24, B-25 and a PBY soon. I will tell them of your up coming 75th. will tell the D-Day Squadron here in the USA to about your 75th Anniversary coming up next year. wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of these planes can do a fly over for you guys. As for me I am still trying to tell someone at GM who will listen to my story about jumping into Normandy from a C-47 that still has her right engine that was built by GM. Well best of Luck and we will stay in touch. Kathy and Jay.
Yes, please – it would be wonderful to have them here. Please email [email protected] and we can keep in touch.
When my husband and I visited Highclere on July 18th of this year, we “stumbled upon” this heartfelt monument to the crew of the B-17. Having had two sons and a husband in the Air Force, I wondered what had happened to these airmen. Now, thanks to you, I do! Thank you again for your weekly stories of life at Highclere.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
I read Lady Catherine as well as Lady Almina and both were very interesting with history facts as well as your family’s history.
I highly recommend both books to all your blog fans!
Earlier this year, I had the privilege of performing (as a backing singer, with the amazing Kings’ Singers in Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre) Bob Chilcott’s thrilling arrangement of “High Flight”. Moving indeed. Give it a listen… …your spine will tingle.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Thank you for sharing this amazing and successful search for the site of the B-17. We have one of your wonderful WWII RAF pilots here in Baton Rouge, LA. His name is Jack Bartle originally from Nottingham. He is 95 and has many medals for his senior olympic victories here in the U. S. Until just a few years ago he was still flying and is still looking the part of a handsome RAF pilot.
We thoroughly enjoyed listening to Paul on our visit this week. My father Ron Miles knew about the planes when he was a Keeper on the estate. His beat covered Siddown Hill. I was interested to hear about Colin Greenaway as I know the Greenaways very well.
Paul’s enthusiasm and stories are a wonderful addition to the real history of Highclere.
Thank you – Paul so enjoys it and I have found the stories so fascinating. I owe Jeff Pickett so much as he kindly found the USA families for me
Dear Linda Wonderful to see you on here. Colin and I are extremely grateful for the kind way your mother cared for our parents in their latter years , visiting them early every day in all weathers. As schoolboys we visited most of the crash sites and remember the Whitley one most vividly. An RAF salvage was sorting through the twisted and burnt remains and a large amount of blood had run down the trunk of a forked tree, most probably the one which had metal embedded in it. It is fantastic that Lady Carnarvon and her Plane Search Team have researched these tragic events so well in memory of the lost crews. Mike and Colin Greenaway
What amazing information.
You all are living in such an historical site… not to mention the beauty! Highclere is on my bucket list… I was in Hampshire many times visiting Jane Austen sights, but that was before Downton Abbey and May have driven right past your estate! I’ll get there yet…
Thank you for sharing all these lovely tidbits about your incredible life and home and all the people behind the scenes as well❤️
Jane Austen noted in a letter that she had passed by Highclere’s park …
We were fascinated by the Airman statue and it’s surrounds and would so loved to have heard Paul talk of its history. Thanks to your wonderful blog, we now know the whole story and a very moving one it is too. Thank you.
These events that took place during WW2 on the Highclere Estate could have been lost in the mists of time. It was an honour therefore, to be asked by Lady Carnarvon to do some research into the lost B-17 that crashed three days before the end of the war. Once our team started to find out the details the more fascinating and interesting the project became. More information about the crews and other types of aircraft came to light. We also had the privilege of meeting family members who have travelled to Highclere. It has been a very moving experience.
Lady Carnarvon’s idea of using a fallen cedar tree to commision a statue as a tribute to the many souls lost was inspirational. The location is remarkable with the airman standing below the hill a little way south of the castle.
Thank you Steve! And for you amazing knowledge and time
This has and is a great pleasure to work on and to be part of amazing team that all share the passion, as the speaker I so enjoy telling the real life stories to our visitors each day who have come to visit the movie location of Downton Abbey and find out the real life behind the TV and Movie location. Our work as a team is never done, our dream is to have ALL the families of the brave aircrew to back at the statue one day to pay our respects to them and their loved ones… I dream that it will come true one day…
Dear Lady Carnarvon:
I am curious about Herbert family ties (perhaps quite distant) to WW II airmen. Below are three names that might have been relatives; I am curious if they interested with the Herbert family during WWII.
Kazimierz Roman Finder – flight officer who flew special ops (from England and from Italy) for the Polish RAF and drowned when his plane crashed into the sea trying to land on a foggy night in Italy; see links:
Sy Bartlett – American movie producer, US Army Air Force Officer during WWII, and co-author of the classic air corp movie “12 O’clock High”; see link:
Marcel Dessault, née Bloch; see link: