Grief comes to five villages

Grief comes to five villages

By John King, John Davies, John Christopher. Daily Express Wednesday April 11th 1973

FIVE VILLAGES in Somerset lost their wives and mothers yesterday when a day-trip airliner crashed in Switzerland, killing 106 of the 145 people on board. 

Names of survivors came in last night as husbands who had been baby-sitting waitedat Bristol’s Lulsgate Airport for news. 

Worst-hit village would certainly be Axbridge, from where 63 members and friends of the Ladies’ Guild set off excitedly yesterday morning for their annual outing abroad. 

Also in the chartered Vanguard -with some children were 40 women from social clubs and 20 women skittle players from Yatton, Congresbury and Wrington, and five belonging to a mothers’ group at Cheddar. In all, perhaps 40 children have been left motherless.

The women planned to fly to Basle. then go on to Lucerne for shopping and a trip on the lake or on the mountain railway. The Vanguard turbo-prop, chartered by Unicorn Travel of Bristol from Invicta Airlines. overshot the airport at Basle in a snowstorm and crashed on its back in remote country. 

In Axbridge last night Mr Jack Todd. draper and chairman of the parish council led the way to the ancient church of St. John the Baptist for a service of solace taken by new rector, the Rev. Anthony Martin. We must first pay our respects to the dead.” said Mr. Todd, and then we will help those who are left.” In a place like this. Everyone knows everyone, and indeed half of them seem to be cousins.

The rector said “Words cannot describe the impact this tragedy will have on the township. There is no doubt from the terrible facts emerging that there are going to be many motherless children.’ Village grocer Mr. George Bradley saw the Ladies’ Guild off from the square out- side King John’s hunting lodge, I know all of them personally,’ he said. Most are customers as well as friends. Lilian, my wife, had a premonition-something held her back from accepting a place on the trip. I’m thanking God.’ 

Organiser of the trip  – previously they have been to Paris and Holland – was Mrs. Brenda Hopkins, wife of builder Mr. Eddie Hopkins and mother of four children. Mr. Hopkins thought there was a jinx on the outing, which was postponed a week. I never like saying good- bye to my wife,’ he said, she but came up stairs this morning and said, See you – tonight, love and I replied, I hope so, I hope so.’” Axbridge, one of Britain’s oldest communities near the Sedge moor battlefield. backed by the Mendip Hills is where Cheddar strawberries and rich Somerset cream attract visitors in the summer.

Along the High Street and St. Mary Street the villagers stood in tense groups. Retired postman Mr. Albert Wharton was told his wife Maud and their 12-year-old Stephen-he was due to be confirmed today at the parish church-were alive. Later it was learned that Mrs. Shireen Hart 22-year-old mother of three boys was safe, and so was her cousin. Mrs. Pamela Churche mother of two. Anxious relatives called at the Lamb Inn in the centre of the village, asking for information. Despite his own shock–his wife Queenie Fowler was on the plane-Mr. George kept ringing Bristol and London to help them all. Mrs. Vera Binning, chairman of the Ladies’ Guild, did not go because her child is too young to leave. They had been saving up for weeks to raise the £16-50 head cost.” she said. ” The ladies have been bubbling with excitement for days Most of the others on the trip come from Congresbury and Yatton. 

In the crowd at Lulsgate Airport last night sat 21-vear- old civil servant Mr. Philip Batt and his two young sisters Susan and Jill. waiting for news of nine relatives on the plane. The nine were their mother and father, two aunts, an uncle. and three young cousins. all from around Congresbury. Also on the plane was 76- year-old Mrs. Florence Durman. Her daughter Mrs. Millicent Davis. who helps run the Ship and Castle Inn at Congresbury, She said She belongs to quite a  few organisations locally and if one of them runs a trip abroad she is always off with them she loves excitement.” 

A member of the skittle group who plays at the Memorial Hall, Mrs, Connie Wookey, aged 38, pulled out of the trip at the last moment, with her husband and son Mrs. Wookey – she had five cousins on the aircraft -said; Don’t ask me why. But I had a funny feeling – I think it must have been all the upsets, so much had gone wrong. ” I saw the plane going over Congresbury this morning after take-off. I said to my son, I’m glad I’m not on it – I would rather go in a jet. I waved to them. but I don’t suppose anybody saw me. From Cheddar the mothers’ club took the trip. but Mrs. Jean Denman, wife of the vicar. was one who missed out. This was because the school holidays had started and it was inconvenient.” she said. 

Originally 12 members of the club were going.’ Mr, Rodney Payne’s wife did go.  At the airport last night, holding his 20-month-old son in his arms, was : all he could say was “She went this morning, smiling happily.” Unicorn Travel manager Mr. Valere Tiolle arranged the Vanguard flight. His father, Mr. Fred Tiolle, went  and survived. Also on board were 20 staff from the airport. A spokesman for Invicta said in London : Unicorn went out of business last Tuesday. They were taken over by Faircourt Tours Ltd., which came into existence on Tuesday and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Invicta.” 

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