DAVID CLARKE sifts through the lat­est batch of UFO files re­leased by the Na­tional Archive

Fortean Times - - Contents -

A col­lec­tion of miscellaneous UFO files were opened at Bri­tain’s Na­tional Ar­chives in June. DAVID CLARKE picks out the high­lights from a mixed bag of fortean odd­ness. CLOSE EN­COUN­TERS OF THE PLAY­GROUND KIND

“We were play­ing at net­ball in the yard with Mrs Wil­liams and she was show­ing us how to throw the ball into the net when I saw an ob­ject high in the sky.” In im­mac­u­late hand­writ­ing, tenyear-old Gwawr Jones re­ported her UFO ex­pe­ri­ence in a let­ter ad­dressed to the Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer at RAFVal­ley in North Wales.

The let­ter, en­dorsed by her teacher, ar­rived with a col­lec­tion of draw­ings show­ing an iden­ti­cal fly­ing saucer, pro­duced by her school pals. “I shouted at the oth­ers and they looked up and saw it,” her ac­count con­tin­ued. “It had a black dome on top and a sil­ver cigar-shaped base. It was trav­el­ling smoothly across the sky in a northerly di­rec­tion. It re­mained in our sight for about three min­utes. Then it went be­hind the only cloud in the sky and reap­peared again for about one minute, then dis­ap­peared.”

Gwawr was one of nine young­sters, aged eight to 11, who saw the silent ob­ject from Rhosy­bol School in An­gle­sey, North Wales, on the af­ter­noon of Wed­nes­day, 16 Fe­bru­ary 1977. Their teacher, Mair Wil­liams, told the Western Mail: “It was a re­ally bright af­ter­noon and the ob­ject was fly­ing very high to­wards Bull Bay… I took the chil­dren back into school, sep­a­rated them and then told them to draw what they had seen. It was re­ally as­ton­ish­ing – their draw­ings were all sim­i­lar. I never be­lieved in th­ese things un­til I saw this!”

Their ex­tra­or­di­nary story was one of dozens that reached the Min­istry of De­fence’s UFO desk, S4 (Air) in 1977. 1 A cov­er­ing note, from RAFVal­ley, adds “[we] can of­fer no pos­i­tive ex­pla­na­tion or iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.” Viewed in iso­la­tion, this story would ap­pear much like the other 435 sight­ings logged by the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment half a cen­tury ago. But with the ben­e­fit of hind­sight it is just one of a pre­vi­ously un­no­ticed clus­ter of eerily sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences re­ported by small groups of un­re­lated school­child­ren, in the space of six months.

What on Earth, or off it, was go­ing on? Ear­lier on the same day, 16 Fe­bru­ary, a re­port reached MoD from David Hunt, science mas­ter at Pen­lee sec­ondary school in Ply­mouth. Here four boys and one adult in­de­pen­dently re­ported see­ing “a cigar-shaped UFO above the school play­ground” that flew hor­i­zon­tally be­fore it climbed into cloud and dis­ap­peared. 2 Then, one lunchtime in Oc­to­ber, 1977, 10 Cheshire chil­dren, aged seven to 11, saw an el­lip­ti­cal UFO hov­er­ing in trees be­side

the play­ground of Up­ton Pri­mary School in Mac­cles­field, be­fore it rose into the sky and van­ished. Their teacher, Mrs Hind­marsh, re­acted in much the same way as her col­league in An­gle­sey. She ush­ered the chil­dren in­side and asked them to draw what they had seen, sep­a­rat­ing them to en­sure that no copy­ing took place. The young­sters used pen­cils and coloured crayons to pro­duce the images that ended up in a MoD file that re­mained closed un­til 2006. 3 Their draw­ings are so clear and strik­ing that I se­lected them as one of the high­lights in my new book on UFO art from the Na­tional Ar­chives, to be pub­lished in Oc­to­ber. 4

In this case, their teacher passed the dossier of art­work to Cheshire Po­lice and Air Traf­fic Con­trol at Pre­ston and the MoD’s UFO desk. In his cov­er­ing let­ter the po­lice of­fi­cer said there was “a re­mark­able sim­i­lar­ity in th­ese sketches with re­gard to the UFO and its lo­ca­tion be­tween two trees”.

What sparked off this mini-flap? What in­spired young­sters of a sim­i­lar age, from across the UK, to look into the sky and see uniden­ti­fied fly­ing ob­jects mov­ing above their schools and play­grounds? The ar­rival of Close

En­coun­ters of the Third, and the me­dia hype that ac­com­pa­nied its re­lease, was a whole year away. Ge­orge Lu­cas’s orig­i­nal Star Wars movie opened in UK cin­e­mas in De­cem­ber 1977, some months af­ter this mini-flap. I was 10 years old in 1977 and my in­tro­duc­tion to ufol­ogy came not from movies but from the TV screen. In May, BBC1 ran the Hugh Bur­nett doc­u­men­tary Out of this World in a prime-time slot that was my first ex­po­sure to fly­ing sor­cery. Bur­nett’s pro­gramme in­cluded in­ter­views with UFO wit­nesses and con­tactees, plus clas­sic footage from around the world. Else­where on TV, the year opened with the fourth in­car­na­tion of

Doc­tor Who, Tom Baker, grap­pling with the Robots of Death on a dis­tant planet.

But I sus­pect a more im­me­di­ate in­spi­ra­tion for the spate of play­ground UFO sight­ings came from the chil­drens’ peers – via mass me­dia re­ports from the so­called West Wales flap or ‘Welsh Tri­an­gle’ as it was dubbed by the tabloids (see FT200:24-25). Early in Fe­bru­ary groups of chil­dren

at three Welsh pri­mary schools re­ported UFO sight­ings, but only the story from Broad Haven pri­mary school was widely cov­ered by the me­dia, with the young­sters in­ter­viewed live on na­tional tele­vi­sion at the scene. In this case a group of 15 chil­dren, mainly 10-year-old boys, saw a shiny cigar-shaped UFO on the ground – not in the sky – in fields be­hind their school dur­ing their lunch break on Fri­day, 4 Fe­bru­ary 1977.

It was rain­ing at the time and the boys were play­ing foot­ball when some­one pointed out the ob­ject, par­tially hid­den by trees and shrubs. Two of the group said the elon­gated ob­ject had a sil­ver dome with a flash­ing light on the top. Six of the group said they saw a tall man dressed in a sil­ver space-suit stand­ing be­side the UFO. Ev­i­dently scared, the chil­dren ran back to the school but were not ini­tially be­lieved by the adults. Af­ter school fin­ished, groups of young­sters went UFO spot­ting and later, sup­ported by their par­ents, they vis­ited the lo­cal po­lice sta­tion.

Draw­ings made by the chil­dren were sent to the MoD and the orig­i­nals are to­day pre­served in a scrap­book at the school. This archive in­cludes a con­tem­po­rary ac­count from the school diary, writ­ten in the third per­son by head-teacher Ralph Llewellyn, who be­came the fo­cus of a me­dia scrum. It re­veals that he in­ter­viewed 15 chil­dren sep­a­rately on Mon­day, 7 Fe­bru­ary, and ex­am­ined their draw­ings and notes. The draw­ings are of­ten de­scribed as “re­mark­ably sim­i­lar” but al­though made in­de­pen­dently they were not pro­duced un­til three days af­ter the sight­ing, so the chil­dren had the en­tire week­end to dis­cuss what they had seen.

Nev­er­the­less, Mr Llewellyn con­cluded they were telling the truth: “Af­ter al­low­ing for vari­a­tions and em­bel­lish­ments [the head-teacher] is loath to be­lieve that the chil­dren are ca­pa­ble of a sus­tained so­phis­ti­cated hoax; that they did see some­thing they hadn’t seen be­fore he is pre­pared to ac­cept. He him­self, while seek­ing a nat­u­ral ex­pla­na­tion of the in­ci­dent, is pre­pared to keep an open mind on the sub­ject”.

ABOVE: Chil­dren from Broad Haven pri­mary school hold up draw­ings of what they saw in Fe­bru­ary 1977. LEFT: A draw­ing by one of the young Mac­cles­field wit­nesses.

ABOVE AND BE­LOW: Draw­ings by chil­dren from Up­ton Pri­mary School, Mac­cles­field. BOT­TOM: A let­ter to the chil­drens’ teacher from the Min­istry of De­fence.

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