TODAY, as we prepare for Remembrance Sunday, the Hereford Times launches an appeal to honour the memory of war-time scientist Alan Blumlein.

We do so on behalf of a nation that has much to thank him for.

And we are gladly picking up the mantle of responsibility because he died on our patch, in a horrific plane crash on the banks of the river Wye in 1942.

The Halifax bomber in which Blumlein was flying had been converted into a flying lab for tests on top-secret radar technology.

But it caught fire at 15,000ft and plunged to earth killing him and all the other 10 passengers and crew, including five other scientists.

Blumlein's immense contribution to the war effort, as well as the development of stereo sound and other technical innovations, was hushed up after his death on the orders of Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

He perhaps felt the loss of such an important scientist would give succour to the Nazis as they plotted their conquest of Europe.

So while the contributions of other Second World War boffins such as Alan Turing (who helped crack the Nazis' Enigma code) and radar pioneer Bernard Lovell have been lauded, Blumlein's role has been largely overlooked.

That is why we are appealing to Hereford Times readers to help us pay tribute to his memory.

We plan a permanent memorial to Blumlein and his colleagues who died in that crash near Welsh Bicknor 76 years ago.

It will take the form of a metal plaque mounted on a plinth near a riverside path overlooking the site of the tragedy.

Our appeal has the support of the Blumlein family and Jerome Vaughan, on whose land the memorial will be placed. It is being spearheaded by Garth Lawson, the Hereford Times walks writer, who has long believed a tribute to Blumlein was overdue.

We aim to raise £5,000 to pay for the tribute. All you have to do is visit to contribute online.

Alternatively, cheques made payable to the Hereford Times Blumlein Memorial Appeal can be handed in or posted (c/o Garth Lawson) to the Hereford Times office, Holmer Road, Hereford HR4 9UJ.

A fireball in the sky... and a wartime genius was gone

Hereford Times walks writer Garth Lawson, long mystified by the absence of a memorial to a wartime scientist who died on Herefordshire soil, tells the tragic story of Alan Blumlein 

“If you have to die, this is a beautiful place.”

According to the sons of radar genius Alan Dower Blumlein, Simon and David, that is how their mother Doreen Lane summed up her thoughts when she eventually visited Welsh Bicknor.

She was right.

There are no doubts about the blessings of an area which inspired Wordsworth’s wistful verses about the Wye wandering past Seven Sisters, the cliffs of Symonds Yat and Goodrich Castle.

Meanwhile, local watercolourist Joshua Cristall was painting the archetypal cottages amid other 'Romantics' lured to tour the Wye by William Gilpin when Napoleon was engaging others in Europe.

The somnolent parish of Welsh Bicknor is to be found on the Goodrich side of the river.

Now that the railway bridge is closed to the old Edison Swan works on the Lydbrook side, where Pipeline Under The Ocean (PLUTO) was partly produced to fuel the D-Day Landings, the Wye Valley Walk follows the right bank. 

From the isolated church of St Margaret’s, familiar to walkers and canoeists if not car drivers, the trail leads towards Coppet Hill and Symonds Yat Rock whose view upstream has come to represent the very embodiment of Herefordshire.

Anyway, just to confirm our suspicions, this part of the lower Wye valley is officially an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

But about half a mile downstream from the iconic rock, an event occurred which threatened to change the course of the Second World War. For it was in this pastoral setting that the great electronics engineer and inventor of stereo sound, Alan Blumlein, lost his life.

Farmer Onslow Kirby was well used to the genial soundtrack of the green woodpecker and the hooting of the 'Monmouth Bullet' from just across the river. 

But standing in a quiet pasture below the Green Farm, the sights and noises which assailed his senses on a bright and clear June 7, 1942, were altogether more startling. 

Firstly, he heard, then saw a plane coming straight at him, just managing to clear the treetops of Raven Cliff, Lord’s Grove and Rosemary Topping. 

As the aircraft crossed the middle of the Wye its starboard wing became detached from the fuselage. At that point the aircraft rolled over on to its back and dropped almost vertically down into the field about 250 yards from him. 

He described the sensation of an immense bang followed by an enormous explosion and a subsequent fire. 

In the fierce inferno that followed much of what was left of the aircraft was consumed. There was absolutely no chance of survival for any of the 11 members of the flight, and it is assumed that they were either killed instantly upon impact or died very shortly afterwards in the fire.

Donate now to Herefordshire's tribute to Alan Blumlein

On board the stricken Halifax II V9977 was 38-year-old Alan Blumlein. The bomber had been no ordinary aircraft. It was, in fact, a flying laboratory, testing H2S airborne radar equipment to be deployed against land targets and German U-boats. 

The project had been conceived when EMI and the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE) got together at Defford, near Malvern, to devise radar equipment to help British bombers find their targets at night.

Blumlein had joined a team led by radio astronomer Bernard (later Sir Bernard) Lovell, of Jodrell Bank fame.

Very few people knew of Blumlein’s participation because news of the crash was embargoed by the direct order of Winston Churchill. 

Lovell, himself an observer in the Halifax on a flight only the previous night, was moved to declare the loss of Blumlein “a national disaster”. 

But in spite of the carnage caused by the accident, the cavity magnetron crucial to the radar was retrieved from the debris.

In point of fact, the development of H2S radar was already in its final stages and the system was put into production in January 1943.

Airborne radar allowed Allied planes to see the landscape at night, enabling more accurate bombing raids to be carried out in the dark.

Staff also pioneered systems which jammed and spoofed German communications during these bombing raids, laying the groundwork for modern electronic warfare.

John Bromley-Davenport, the biographer of Bernard Lovell, recorded that “without Blumlein the Second World War may not have ended well. He worked on air interception radar, making a huge contribution to the defeat of German night bombers.” 

The project’s importance was indeed incalculable, but in the absence of reports of the crash or tributes, Blumlein, maybe because he was known to German Intelligence, died an unsung hero.

It is 76 years since the tragic death of a young man who nonetheless invented stereo sound, filed 128 patents and played as critical a part in the war effort as Alan Turing and Sir Bernard Lovell.

Now is the time to also commemorate Alan Blumlein, his colleagues from EMI, the TRE and RAF, by raising a memorial to them at the scene of their untimely demise, a poignant spot in south Herefordshire described as beautiful by his widow in the 1980s.

The official website is administrated by grandson Alan Blumlein if you want to find out some more about the man.

Donate now to Herefordshire's tribute to Alan Blumlein