Chance meeting at Sheffield war memorial reveals shared history over plane crash

A chance meeting between two pensioners at a war memorial has revealed an unexpected shared history between them both.

Madge Birtles was making one of her regular visits to Endcliffe Park with her son Gary when she asked to visit the Mi Amigo war memorial dedicated to 10 American airmen who died when their damaged bomber plane crashed into the park in 1944.

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When they approached, Tony Foulds – the grandfather-of-four who has spent years tending to the memorial after witnessing the crash as a young boy – was busy tending to the site.

Tony Foulds and Madge Birtles, pictured by the Mi Amigo war memorial in Endcliffe Park. Picture: NSST-23-06-19-MiAmigo-9

Mrs Birtles, aged 81, of Wybourn, and Mr Foulds, aged 83, of Lowedges, struck up a conversation and realised they had a connection dating back 75 years to the Mi Amigo tragedy.

It turned out that Mrs Birtles' husband Thomas was one of the school boys who was with Tony that witnessed the bomber crashing on that fateful day.

Mrs Britles said: “I've been visiting the park for years but this is the first time I've seen Tony.

“I got talking to him about my husband and when he heard his name he knew him straight away.

Tony Foulds and Madge Birtles. Picture: NSST-23-06-19-MiAmigo-6

“It also turned out that Tony lived nextdoor to my husband aswell. They were good friends when they were growing up.

“My husband used to tell me about witnessing the crash and he also had a piece of shrapnel from the scene.”

Mr Foulds said: “As soon as she mentioned the name Birtles I knew who they were and I knew her husband straight away.

Tom and Madge Birtles, pictured in 1982 at Ladybower Reservoir. Picture: NSST-23-06-19-MiAmigo-2

“I can remember Tommy very well. It was nice to speak to Madge and it brought back some good memories of an old friend.”

Mrs Birtles’ son Gary, a 61-year-old singer of Mosborough, said: “It was some coincidence when they got talking and was nice to see. They had a really good chat.”

The Star arranged for Madge and Tony to gather for a photograph at the memorial so they could have another catch-up and look at old photographs.

Unfortunately, Thomas – a former digger driver - was not there to share in the memories as he died of a heart attack aged 52 in 1987.

Tom Birtles pictured as an 18-years-old. Picture: NSST-23-06-19-MiAmigo-1

The Mi Amigo had completed a daring day time raid on the Aalborg airfield in occupied Denmark but was hit in the attack and limped back over the North Sea.

It is believed the crew was attempting to make an emergency landing on the field – but when they spotted Tony and his friends on the grass they diverted and crashed into a nearby wooded area to avoid landing on them.

The pilot, lieutenant John Kriegshauser, was awarded a posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross for minimising loss of life.

Their ultimate sacrifice left Tony with feelings of deep-seated guilt and he has visited the scene and tended to the memorial regularly ever since.

He inspired a campaign for a military flypast to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the tragedy in February that was witnessed by thousands of people in the park and millions more watching a live broadcast on BBC Breakfast.

Tom and Madge Birtles pictured with Gary in 1960. Picture: NSST-23-06-19-MiAmigo-3
Tony Foulds and Madge Birtles pictured by the Mi Amigo war memorial in Endcliffe Park. Picture: NSST-23-06-19-MiAmigo-8