Harold Biffen was born June, 1921 in Reigate, Surrey. Son of Walter and Helen Biffen (née Pennycuick); husband of Hazel Mercedes Cecilia Biffen (née Watling).
His parents lived in Gillingham, Dorset when they had their first daughter, Isobel Helen Biffen in 1911. Their second daughter Marjorie Annie Biffen was born in 1915, the same year that Walter left his job as a gardener to join the 4th Battalion of the Dorset Regiment (202621). After the war Walter was transferred to the Reserves in March 1919.
Walter and Helen moved to Reigate, Surrey, where they had Harold Biffen in June, 1921. Harold’s mother Hazel sadly passed away in September, 1932 in Reigate when he was 11 years old. Harold’s father Walter Biffen remarried Alice May Bannon in October 1934 in Surrey (where he remained until his passing in 1962).
In March 1944, Harold married Hazel Mercedes Cecilia Watling of Bishopsteignton, in Devon.
He served in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, as a warrant officer (wireless operator/air gunner), 1336043.
Harold Biffen flew a tour with 199 Squadron flying stirlings earlier in the war as a wireless operator in F/Lt Catterall’s crew. The crew were posted to 199 Squadron from 1651 CU in September 1943 where they had taken part in eight bombing operations to Germany and France.Then out of the unit in August 1944, 199 Squadron undertook supply droppings, SOE work and also radar jamming during the D-Day landings. He was probably instructing at 10 (O)AFU in January 1945 when this incident on Corney Fell occurred.
Avro Anson Mk.I EF935 of No.1 (O)AFU crashed on Corney Fell near Bootle, Cumbria, on the 8th January 1945.
“In the early hours of 8th January 1945 the crew on board this aircraft took off from Dumfries at 02.10hrs to undertake a night navigation exercise. At 04.50hrs the aircraft flew into high ground on Burn Moor, in the Corney Fell area which was shrouded in cloud at the time.
After failing to return a search was started for the aircraft, a Warwick from No.281 Sqn at Great Orton near Carlisle was tasked with following its route around the Irish Sea. It was later diverted to the Cumbrian coast when the missing Anson was spotted by another aircraft.
The crash site was first reached by a farmer who was lower down the hill when one of the searching aircraft made a number of low passes over him heading in the direction of the wrecked aircraft before circling and then repeating the manoeuvre.”
Death and Burial
Harold Biffen died as a result of this accident and three others sustained broken legs. The injured airmen were rescued by a Mountain Rescue Team from RAF Millom and then transferred to hospital. All had suffered serious leg injuries which had prevented any of them from leaving the site. The wreckage either caught fire on crashing or the RAF later burnt the wreckage on the site to destroy it.
Pilot – F/Sgt Stewart Anderson Stephen RAFVR (1521279). Seriously injured.
2 Others – Names unknown. Injured.
Harold Biffen passed away on 8th January, 1945
Burial : Blacon Cemetery
Chester, Cheshire West and Chester Unitary Authority, Cheshire, England
Plot Sec : A. Grave 27A.
Memorial ID : 56183978
Headstone reads – “In our thoughts now and forever Hazel and baby”
Myth has it that American singer/songwriter Kristina Olsen wrote a song called Heart Hill, based on a wood in the shape of a heart seen from the M6. Such a wood can be seen in Tebay gorge. The song says that a RAF crash there was witnessed by the pilot’s girlfriend, who then planted the wood. Many people claim that it is the crash site at Corney Fell.
Hazel Biffen gave birth to a baby boy just 5 months after the passing of Harold Biffen. His son William was born in Devon in June 1945.
If you are related to him in any way or have any information you would like to share with us, please contact us directly or feel free to comment below.
Harold Biffen is remembered by the village of Bishopsteignton.
References and credits
Author – Nathan Hutchinson
Photo credit : Headstone – Stan Murphy