The Dartmoor UFO Incident: The Flying Cross & The Cigar Shaped Craft Of 1967 Seen Across The UK
This is the story of the "Flying Cross" UFO incident, policemen in Dartmoor as well as many others across the United Kingdom came forward with the description of a flying cross and a cigar-shaped UFO high in the sky over a period of several days in 1967.
It was 4 a.m. on a chilly morning in October 1967. Mr Christopher Garner of Marshwood Farm, Hatherleigh near Exeter, Devon, was fast asleep, tucked up in a blanket in his Land-Rover just off the main road on the edge of Dartmoor. After a long drive, he had stopped for a few hours before continuing his journey home.
Suddenly he was awoken by someone knocking on the side window. Mr Garner awoke dazed and was startled to find a flashlight flooding into his driving cabin. When he had collected his wits he saw the face of a policeman staring in through the glass. Wondering what the devil was up Mr Garner opened the door prepared to protest his innocence of whatever the Law accused him. The thought may have occurred to him that a Dartmoor prisoner had escaped and the police were checking the area, but the constable's manner soon put him in an easier state of mind.
The man was clearly not prepared for trouble nor intent on making any. After apologising, he asked if Mr Garner would mind doing him a favour.
The motorist eased himself out of the Land-Rover into the frosty roadway and saw that a police car had pulled up behind his own vehicle with another police officer standing beside it. The first policeman pointed away to the dark horizon. There was something out there, he said, that he would like Mr Garner to take a look at and thus witness that the two constables were not "seeing things."
Following the man's outstretched arm, Mr Garner saw what appeared to be a collection of pulsating lights in the sky and, as he looked, the lights formed into a cross and began to move off into the distance.
This was the beginning of a flying saucer "flap" which lasted the best part of a week. In a few hours, the whole country knew about it. Morning paper headlines proclaimed:
"Z CAR CHASES STAR SPANGLED UFO FOR 14 MILES"
"POLICE CHASE FLYING CROSS"
"THE FLYING THING LEAVES TWO CONSTABLES BAFFLED" Etc.
It appeared that the two patrolmen - constables Clifford Waycott and Roger Willey - had been driving along the A3072 between Okehampton and Holsworthy when they saw the "thing" in the sky behaving almost as if it had spotted them and was watching to see what they would do. It was a little way ahead to their left. It was not so bright that it hurt the eyes but it had a distinct glow, and the way it sailed silently along the dark tree-tops ruled out any notion that it was any kind of conventional aircraft. The policemen radioed their headquarters that they had spotted some kind of unidentified flying object and were going to investigate. As they moved forward the "thing" also seemed to move as though deliberately keeping its distance; the faster they travelled the faster it sped ahead, until at times they found themselves doing nearly ninety miles an hour. The squad car flashed around corners, streaked up hills, and swooped down valleys trying to keep up but the nearest Waycott and Willey got to it was four hundred yards.
When it appeared they were never going to catch up, the driver sensibly slackened speed and gave up the chase. Neither of them fancied having to report that they had crashed a police car in pursuit of a flying saucer.
The whole incident got splendid coverage, refuting the often-repeated complaint that newspapers were no longer interested in UFOs or were inclined to ridicule sightings while submitting to a mysterious form of government censorship. This sighting was different. It was really worth going to town over.
At a press conference later in the day, PC Waycott said: "The light wasn't piercing but it was very bright. It was star-spangled - just like looking through wet glass - and although we reached ninety miles an hour it accelerated away from us."
Before the "thing" disappeared, the constables said, it was joined by a second object which was also large, cross-shaped, extremely bright, and noiseless. Both men spoke of the remarkable speed of the objects - especially the first one. "It seemed to know we were chasing it," they reported.
The RAF station at nearby Chivenor quickly denied that the Flying Cross could have had anything to do with them. They knew of no aircraft that could fit the description given by the constables, let alone match its performance, flying slower than fifty miles an hour, hovering and then making off at supersonic speed. Nor could anyone else at the time offer a suggestion to explain the object. Not, that is, in familiar terms.
During the next few days, more and more people reported seeing flying crosses along with other aerial objects shaped like cigars and catherine wheels. A whole circus of fantastic flying machines seemed to be taking to the night sky over Britain. Within the first forty-eight hours more than a dozen reliable witnesses had spoken up, including more policemen and some BBC engineers manning a transmitter on Dartmoor.
A "fiery cross" was seen by half a dozen police officers over Glossop, Derbyshire. A Brighton bus driver saw a cigar-shaped object over the coast at Saltdean, Sussex, which, he said, had a bright green glow and sparks coming from the tail. A Scottish coastguard claimed to have observed a "silver cartwheel" over Wigtownshire. "It came from the west and was travelling at about four hundred miles an hour," he reported. "There was a faint dynamo hum coming from it. I watched it for about ten minutes until it disappeared over the horizon in the northeast.
Then there was retired RAF Wing Commander Eric Cox driving his wife from Cadham to Fording-bridge, Hampshire. Both were startled to see seven bright lights in formation in the night sky. At first, the lights formed a perfect V but later rearranged themselves into a cross. "They certainly seemed to be under some sort of control - the formation was perfect," said the Wing Commander. "The night was clear with the moon just coming up and we were stone-cold sober."
The flying lights made no noise, he said. All seven were about the same size and whitish-yellow in appearance. It was impossible to estimate their speed as they flew away over the treetops. "You just cannot believe these things until you see them," the Wind Commander said. Exactly what the lights were he could not guess, but it was not long before an explanation was forthcoming - an explanation that saucer researchers are always dismally prepared for. It seemed that all the objects seen in the sky during October 25, 26, and 27, the nights of the flap, could be attributed to the planet Venus which astronomers at the Royal Observatory, Herstmonceux, Sussex said was extremely bright in the eastern sky in the early morning at this time of year. The explanation was clearly good enough for Mr George Terry, Chief Constable of East Sussex, who, after hearing reports from nine of his officers, summed up his conclusions thus:
"I am satisfied that what was seen was either Venus or an artificial satellite reflecting light from the moon."
The Venus-satellite explanation, however, did not last long. It was almost immediately challenged by Mr Peter Baker, an amateur astronomer of Hastings who, it appeared, had been asked by the Observatory to look into the Flying Cross sightings. Mr Baker put the kibosh on Venus by reporting that he had spotted a UFO below cloud level and in a position that ruled out any connection with the planet.
This drew from the Observatory the dramatic statement that: "There is something up there which is not a star or a planet."
The information was promptly passed to the Meteorological Office and the Ministry of Defence, and the mystery deepened. The Ministry denied emphatically that the UFO sightings could be accounted for by any new aircraft under test. But they could not offer any alternative explanation. Somebody else could - the Rev. Lawrence Igne of Stourton Caundle, near Sherborne.
Mr Inge, who had seen a formation of lights in the sky at 7 p.m., came up with the explanation that seemed more than adequate to explain away the Flying Cross if not the other October sightings. "There was one very bright light surrounded by seven or eight white lights, some of which were flashing," he said. "The lights were travelling in the form of a cross and at the same speed. It immediately came to me that these were planes flying in close formation, but I was puzzled by the one very bright light in the middle. Then, suddenly, it dawned on me. It was a tanker plane with other aircraft around it taking part in refuelling exercises."
This explanation was heartily endorsed by the Ministry of Defence who said that there had been mid-air refuelling exercises by the US Air Force over the West Country. Not only that, but it also appeared that the Americans had been carrying out similar exercises over Scotland. Nobody had recalled that four bombers and a tanker had made mid-air connections by night on at least three occasions over southern England alone. A United States spokesman added the detail that their refuelling exercises had been carried out at an altitude of 26,000 feet and explained: "A lot of light is needed during these operations and the tanker has a string of lights along the fuselage shining under its belly all the time time."
So it seemed we could all relax - provided we were prepared to forget the cigar-shaped objects and "catherine wheels" and to overlook the fact that a Flying Cross had been seen by policemen at Glossop where no refuelling exercises had taken place. But readers of the Sunday Express may remember a front-page headline at the end of the week which stated:
"UFO RIDDLE - BACK TO SQUARE ONE"
"The Great UFO mystery is again wide open," the newspaper said. "The Ministry of Defence admitted yesterday that the emphatic and official explanation given on Friday - that the objects in the sky were US Air Force planes refuelling in mid-air - no longer stands up.
"There were no refuelling operations at the time of the sightings. A USAF spokesman said all these exercises were between five p.m. and nine p.m. And all the sightings of "fiery crosses" in the sky (most by patrolling policemen) were between midnight and dawn."
Confronted by that evidence, the Ministry of Defence had said: "The refuelling theory obviously can't account for the early morning sightings now. It looks as though there is still no rational explanation for the objects the policemen report having seen."
And as if to confound the issue still further, the Flying Cross turned up again and was watched for several minutes by former police officer Mr Frederick Smith of Grinstead Lane, Lancing, Sussex. Mr Smith and his wife both saw it at five-thirty a.m. It was in the shape of the cross of Lorraine, they said, a really wonderful sight. And while the Smiths were observing it a policeman at Bacup, Lancashire, saw a cigar-shaped object hovering high over the police station. Constable Brian Earnshaw had heard crackling over the station's short-wave radio and gone outside to examine the aerial. Looking up, he had seen a UFO hovering, he said, two hundred and fifty feet above the station roof.
"It was approximately fifty feet long," he reported, "and ten feet in diameter. There were portholes along the side but no visible signs of propulsion. The ship appeared to be metallic and gave off a bright glow. There was a low whirring sound coming from it."
Two other policemen, Colin Donahoe and Malcolm Reader, also claimed to have seen the UFO which, they said, remained in full view for several minutes before rising vertically and disappearing. Later a statement was issued by the Lancashire police, which read: "We have had UFO reports before - but nothing like this. There has been no reasonable explanation but it was something definitely seen."
Nor was that the end. The October flap was dying hard. On Monday, October 30, the Daily Express, under the headline, "LOOK IT'S A UFO," reported:
"Four policemen and a clergyman saw UFOs over the weekend. So did a housewife and two farmers, and many others." "From all over the country reports flooded in: "Great balls of fire"... "A flying cross of Larraine"... "Cigar shaped"... "Methodist minister, the Rev Ian Haile of Truro, Cornwall saw a "flying Cross." He watched it for three minutes. "Police constable Michael Sands and two colleagues were changing shifts five-twenty a.m. at Lancing, West Sussex, when they spotted an object." "It looked like a silver pinpoint of light," said PC Sands, "moving rapidly across the sky." "Farmers John Brown and Mervyn Hurst were tending cattle at Boscastle, Cornwall, when "a ball of fire appeared in the sky." "On Dartmoor, at Princetown, four schoolboys saw TWO objects - "a flying cross and a cigar-shaped light." "Southampton policeman John Whitcombe saw a UFO while driving through Portsmouth with his family. "Like a rugby ball or a fat saucer, so bright I had to shield my eyes." "Mrs Jeffrey Clayton, wife of a bank clerk in Stoke Newington, saw two white giners of light, vertical in the sky. "Then they turned, closed together and shot like a rocket to the East..."
The flap that began with the first sighting of the Flying Cross by the two Devon policemen marked the peak in the biggest total of UFO sighting reports in the British Isles for ten years. Altogether in 1967, the Ministry of Defence checked on 362 reports from people in all walks of life and from all parts of the country. This total was three times higher than usual. The next highest total, for example, was a mere ninety-five in the previous year and back in 1959 there were only twenty-two.
The October flap led Mr Peter Mills, Conservative MP for Torrington, Devon, to ask two pertinent questions in the Commons. The first requested the Secretary of State for defence to "make a statement on the circumstances in which an unidentified flying object has been seen in the Okehampton area of Devon and say what are his plans to deal with a recurrence of this flying object." Mr Mills also asked where the flying object, described as a star-shaped cross larger than a conventional aircraft, was a British aircraft or an unidentified flying object.
In reply Mr Merlyn Rees, Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force said: "We received a number of reports of objects seen in the sky over North Devon in October. After investigation, some proved to be aircraft and some were lights. Of the lights, the majority was the planet Venus but the source of a few lights has not been positively identified."
He added: "I can say, however, that none of these unidentified lights was an alien object. There are standing instructions for RAF stations to report unusual objects seen in the sky and standing arrangements for investigating these reports and similar reports from other sources. I do not consider additional action necessary." Mr Mills, who clearly found the reply less than satisfactory, then asked: "Will the Hon Gentleman bear in mind that this matter is not only of considerable interest to the South-West but also of some concern? How does this statement square with the statements of two police officers and of engineers at Hessary Tor that low flying objects were moving for over an hour in the area?"
Mr Rees: "... I have published details of all the investigations which have been made over recent years, and none of these would give any reason to believe there are unidentified objects in the sense that has been implied. Further, we have complete radar coverage to a very great height over all these islands and have access to that over Europe, and none of this leads us to believe in any sense that there is anything else that we know nothing about."
Mr Rees was then asked if he could give assurance that the Ministry of Defence received scientific advice about UFO Sightings.
"I can give assurance," he said. "This is not just an air defence matter. We have access to scientists of high repute - they have consulted on all these matters - and also to psychologists." On the subject of radar coverage, Mr Rees was asked if he could explain the contents of a letter from his department in which it was stated that a certain object "might or might not" have been an aircraft. His reply was that inquiries about UFOs often came weeks after the sightings when the trail was cold and investigation was difficult. But nothing, he added, led the Ministry of Defence to think that any unexplained objects were space ships piloted by 'men from mars or anything of that kind.'
As might be expected the mention of Mars provoked laughter and Mr Shinwell seized the opportunity to say: "Would it not be desirable for the Government to encourage this idea that there are unidentified flying objects and a danger of invasion from another planet? Would this not create the necessary diversion so that people in this country, and the electors in particular, would not worry about their economic problems?"
Mr Rees: "Judging from the public's response to some newspaper reports, I can only hope that they will take my Right Hon Friend's remark seriously!"
In these few sentences the whole subject of UFOs, whether seen over Britain or elsewhere, was virtually dismissed as nonsense. But if MPs, or the majority of them, were satisfied, there were a good many other people who were not. What was the Flying Cross? Had it after all been listed as an ordinary aircraft or group of aircraft refuelling? If so, how was one to account for the fact that they were seen hovering just above the treetops? And what about the astonishing burst of speed that took them out of sight, to say nothing of the second cross which Constables Willey and Waycott reported seeing. Surely the Flying Cross could not be ascribed to some new and curious manifestation of the planet Venus, however brightly it may have shone? Venus does not normally skim over treetops and police officers accustomed to patrolling at night, especially in open country, must have seen the planet many times before - far too often, one would have thought, to have been misled into chasing it.
Whether the Flying Cross will ever be explained in familiar terms it is not possible to predict. But one thing one can feel sure about is that, whatever it was, it was seen, and by competent observers. It was not simply imagined. Had it been seen by day instead of in darkness there might have been no mystery at all although it is difficult to think of any ordinary flying object which would normally behave in the way described by the policemen.
Now you have read about the 1967 Flying Cross UFO, make sure you research the Moigne Down Craft UFO Incident.