Search for uncle ends on Esk riverbank

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A DECADES-LONG search for the spot where their uncle was tragically killed aged only 17 ended on the banks of the River Esk last week.

commemorating the death of Robert Ferry are, left to right, Lockhart Vidler, Arthur Irving, Margaret Pool, Karen Melton, Carol Mulligan and Nigel Frith
Rachel Norris
commemorating the death of Robert Ferry are, left to right, Lockhart Vidler, Arthur Irving, Margaret Pool, Karen Melton, Carol Mulligan and Nigel Frith

Carol Mulligan of Barnsley and her brother, Nigel Frith, of Mexborough, paid their respects with a moment of reflection and laid a bunch of yellow roses on the disused A7 at Todholes, two miles south of Langholm.

It was the final chapter in a long search for the place where Trooper Robert Ferry of the Royal Armoured Corps died after the armoured car he was travelling in crashed through the steel barrier on a January afternoon 60 years ago.

The vehicle, which had a heavy gun, on the roof tumbled down the banking and landed upside down in a swollen River Esk and all four men inside died.

Carol's mother was Bobby's sister and in 1945 she lost her other brother Thomas in Burma when he was only 21. After her mother died, Carol went through her papers and found letters from Bobby.

They knew he was stationed at Hadrian's Camp in Houghton near Carlisle and that he had died in an accident.

She said: "I keyed into my computer the words "vehicle in River Esk in 1957" and discovered it was near Langholm. I thought, I now have a place so I will go and find someone."

That someone was Margaret Pool who runs the Welcome to Langholm information centre. She went to the E&L Advertiser and looked up the story published on January 30, 1957.

Carol said: "This was the missing piece. No-one spoke about it. It wasn't until I found those papers that I put it together. With everyone's help we have got here after 60 years."

One of the woodsmen who went to the soldiers' aid was Lockhart Vidler, then 23 and living in Canonbie. He was working near the road when they heard a "horrible bang".

He said: "We were aware of Army vehicles going past. When we got down the banking, we couldn't get in because the door was locked.

"One of the other drivers came down with a key. Once we got the door open, we could see the men and they were underwater. There was no movement. I think they were probably seriously injured on the way down the banking.

"There was a heavy gun on top of the vehicle and that would be getting thrown about. The road was deeply rutted and frozen."

Arthur Irving, a schoolboy at the time, was returning home from Langholm Academy on the bus when they passed the scene.

Arthur said: "The vehicle was upside down in the river. I could see the wheels sticking up. The water was about three-quarters of the way up the vehicle, maybe higher. I remember my mum telling me that they could see the men but could not get to them."

Wednesday, September 27, 2017 at 10:10AM
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