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Old 1st December 2004, 13:26   #1
Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: Houston Texas
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Default Duncan Edwards - the Final Chapter - "Munich"


What should have been an enjoyable trip back to Manchester on the morning after the match, turned into a nightmare at Munich's Riem Airport. The Elizabethan RMA "Lord Burleigh" G-A1ZU AS 57 had left Belgrade earlier that day with all the passengers in a party mood, following the great result against Red Star the previous afternoon when the European Cup Semi - Finals were reached for the second year in succession. Shortly after 1p.m. the plane landed at Munich to refuel, and whilst this was taking place the passengers were in the Terminal Building for some hot refreshments. Conditions at Munich were far from ideal for anything, let alone flying. Snow covered the runway, and as it fell it was also turning to sleet.

Re-fuelling completed, the United players, Officials, Press Team and Passengers all returned to the plane, just over an hour after landing. Clearance was given from the Central tower for take-off, and Captain raiment put the plane into motion. However, forty seconds later the take off was abandoned and the plane had to taxi back to where it had begun. "A technical fault" was the reason given to the passengers for the failure to take off.

A second attempt was made, but that too had to be aborted as the aircraft failed to get the necessary power to lift it into the air. So it was back to the Terminal Lounge for more hot drinks, and concerned conversation amongst the passengers.

Alf Clarke of the Manchester Evening Chronicle made for a telephone to tell his newspaper that there would be a delay in returning home due to the poor conditions in Munich. Duncan also sent a message back to Manchester in the form of a telegram to his landlady, Mrs. Dorman, telling her that he also would be late getting home due to the delay at Munich. Twenty five minutes later the passengers were again slipping and sliding back across the tarmac and re-boarding the aircraft, hoping that the next time that they would be on the ground would be at Ringway Airport in Manchester. All this stopping and starting must have had some effect on Duncan, as he was never the best of travelers, as some of his past trips to the Continent had shown. But if he did feel uneasy it didn't show through to the rest of the party who were all perhaps, just as uneasy as he was. At 2.56p.m. the Central Tower gave the all clear for Captain Rayment to make another take-off attempt and seat belts were fastened as everyone settled down ready for the plane to move.

In the cockpit, the Pilot and his crew members made the final adjustments and after a final check with the Control Tower, the plane began to speed down the runway at 3:03p.m. At the back of the plane sat the Press Team, a position they always occupied away from the players and Officials. In front of them sat, Tommy Taylor, Duncan, David Pegg and Mark Jones, on the left hand side, while across the passage sat Geoff Bent and Eddie Colman. In line with the wings sat Manager Matt Busby, Bert Whalley, Walter Crickmer, and Tom Curry, While Albert Scanlon, Bill Foulkes and Ken Morgans sat in front of them.

The Card School of Liam Whelan, Jackie Blanchflower, Roger Byrne, Ray Wood and Dennis Viollet prepared to get another game under way, across the aisle. Towards the front of the plane sat Harry Gregg, Johnny Berry, Bobby Charlton, three more of the Press team, and a few other passengers who were making the trip back to Manchester.

Slowly, the plane increased its speed, but as V1, the point of no return was reached, it became clear to the crew on the flight deck that take off was going to be impossible. Suddenly, the perimeter fence appeared through the snow and beyond that a house and a tree began to grow in size as the plane went on and on. Inside the passenger cabin a feeling of foreboding stilled the air, as the perimeter fence became clearly visible through the windows, and the noise of the engines changed desperately to the harsh sound of breaking. The crunch of metal echoed throughout the fusilage. Everything went dark as the noise level increased and the plane twisted and turned along its path of carnage and destruction. Through the fence it went, crossing a road, with the port wing smashing into the house, setting the plane on fire, along with the the other wing and part of the tail which had been torn off. Continuing to spin, the aircraft then sliced through a tree before the starboard side crashed into a wooden hut containing a vehicle and fuel, which immediately exploded.

The final whistle had blown for so many on board.

An Airport Fireman stood at the window of his observation post, and had watched the plane move down the runway. Seconds later he saw a cloud of smoke, and he immediately hit the red button on the wall beside him. The fire engines raced out of their station, and in minutes were on the scene, where they found a house with a section of wing on fire, with the Captain and a Stewardess standing close by. One of the firemen then found two small children in cots, and carried them to safety and at this point he also noticed, for the first time, bodies in the snow. Then a cry of "Help" was heard.

Back in Britain, the first that many people heard of the crash was when BBC Televesion flashed the early information across the screen as it showed the children's programme "Watch With Mother." The BBC Radio service then interrupted "Mrs. Dale's Diary" to break the news to the Nation. Alf Clarke?s telephone call to the Evening Chronicle had made the early editions, which proclaimed "United Players Delayed In Snowstorm". No sooner had the ink dried upon that edition, than the agency messages began to filter through from Munich, that the plane had actually crashed.

First reports said that three people had been killed, but at this early stage, nobody really knew the true horror of the situation. The Evening Chronicle headlines had changed dramatically by the 6p.m. edition. The news headline read ....."United Air Disaster - 28 Killed." Newsvendors proclaimed the news on street corners, and people who normally just gave the newsboard a passing glance, stopped in their stride, and in a somewhat uncertain state, purchased a copy of the newspaper. They read ....."About 28 people, including members of the Manchester United Football team, Club Officials, and Journalists, are feared to have been killed when a B.E.A. Elizabethan Aircraft crashed soon after take off in a snowstorm at Munich this afternoon. It is understood there may be about 16 survivors. Four of them are crew members."

Back at the end of the debris strewn runway, the emergency servides were in operation. The Rechts der Isar Hospital, a short distance from the Airport had been put on full alert. The first message that they received was short and to the point. "Airport Catastrophe."

The first of the ambulances soon arrived, and in the meantime operating tables were being set up side by side, two in a room. From then on it was a race against time.

At Old Trafford, people were arriving at the ground to find out if what they had been told was true, or just a figment of the imagination. Once they say the Club flag at half mast, they knew that it was certainly true. Photographers and Reporters were amongst those gathered outside of the ground and the main entrance as the assembled crowd were told " that they are still trying to identify the dead on the runway, and counting the survivors."

The following day, every newspaper in the country carried the same grizzly headline, and by now the full extent of the disaster was known. The full list of casualties read ..... Those who died .....Roger Byrne, Geoff Bent, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor, and Billy Whelan, all players. Tom Curry, Bert Whalley and Walter Crickmer, Club Officials. Archie Ledbrooke (Daily Mirror) Tom Jackson (Manchester Evening News) Don Davies (Manchester Guardian) Eric Thompson (Daily Mail) Henry Rose (Daily Express) George Follows (Daily Herald) Frank Swift (News of the World) and Alf Clarke (Manchester Evening Chronicle), all mebers of the Press Team. W.T. Cable, a Steward, B. Miklos, a Travel Agent, and Willie Satinoff, a United supporter, also died.

Duncan was miraculously amongst the survivors, but his condition was described as grave, and even at this stage it was doubted if he would ever play again. He had broken ribs, broken right leg, internal injuries, and he was also suffering from shock.

Duncan's Fiancée, Molly Leach, traveled to Munich with the wives and other relatives of the surviving players, but her first visit to his bedside brought disappointment as she was not recognized. Jackie Blanchflower?s wife, Jean,. Suffered the same reaction in the very next room. Duncan slowly began to regain consciousness, but he was drugged to kill the pain in his legs. He recognized Molly enough to pass a message to the Pressmen outside the Ward. He told them, "Don't worry, I'll be allright." Manager Matt Busby was perhaps just as badly injured as Duncan, and like most of the injured lying in pain, he had no idea of the extent of what had happened and was not well enough to be told. Had he found out, then the will to live would have undoubtedly left him and he would have joined his beloved "Babes" at a distant venue.

Busby's Assistant Manager, Jimmy Murphy, had been fortunate enough to have missed the crash due an International match with the Welsh National side, which he managed on a part-time basis. As soon as possible after the accident, he traveled out to Munich, to visit those in hospital. Next to visiting Matt Busby, his saddest moment was his walk to the bedside of Duncan, a player about whom Jimmy was never fed up of talking about, nor could praise to highly. As the United Assistant Manager approached his bedside, Duncan slowly opened his eyes hearing the noise, and as he recognised the face, he managed as good a smile as he could and asked, "What time is the kick-off on Saturday Jimmy? I can?t miss the Wolves match." A tear choked reply of "Don't worry son" was all that the hardened Welshman could reply.

The match against Wolves had of course been postponed by the Football League, and Saturday, February 8th, the football world paid tribute to those that had perished at Munich. Flags at all grounds flew at half mast and there was a minute's silence prior to all games kicking off, and also prior to most Junior, Scottish, and throughout all Rugny matches as well. The Wolves players who were to been the visitors to Old Trafford, actually went to their Molineux Ground where, at 3p.m. they lined up in the centre circle on the pitcg for a minute?s silence in respect of their lost opponents.

A week later, the Manchester Evening Chronicle reported that a spare artificial kidney was ready for Duncan and the R.A.F. staff at Halton (Bucks) were on standby to fly the "kidney" over to Munich, which could be reached in under six hours. The reason a spare kidney was kept on standby was if the apparatus already in use had to be rushed to another emergency, the one from Halton?s R.A.F. Central Hospital was always available.

Saturday, 15th February was also considered to be crisis day for Duncan as doctors reported that he had been given a blood transfusion during the night, and that he was restless but still conscious. Doctors at the hospital were astounded by his tremendous strength and will to live and he continued to defy the odds, but the news bulletins from the hospital rarely changed. However, as Duncan lay seriously ill in the Rechts der Isar Hospital, life at Old Trafford had to go on.

The day was getting closer when the reds' shirts would have to be pulled on again and a United team would have to run out to the Old Trafford turf and the Manchester public, as well as a team from another Club would have to be faced again.

The days soon became minutes and on February 19th, 59, 848 people stood for a silent minute inside the ground (with thousands more outside), in remembrance of the players whose shirts that night were being filled by mere boys.

Lined up on the field of play were United in their familiar red, and Sheffield Wednesday in their traditional blue and white stripes. The match programme that night was bought and carefully cherished as a permanent reminder of the players who should have been lining up on the field before them. Their places in that programme were taken over by blank spaces, and on the pitch by a couple of survivors, a couple of late signings, four reserve team players, and three juniors. It was a match that Wednesday had no hope of winning, and with only 28 minutes gone they found themselves a goal down. Unitedwon a corner which was taken by young Seamus Brennan, a 19 year old who was member of United?s third team before the crash. He swung the ball over into the goalmouth, it appeared to swirl in the night mist before crossing the goal line and hitting the back of the net. Down in front of the stand, a woman crossed herself and said, "perhaps one of them gave it a push."

By the end of the night, the makeshift United XI had scored two more goals and it was an emotional crowd who saluted the first victory by the new look United.

A new life had begun for United as they had risen like a phoenix from the ashes, but sadly, on February 21st another life ended, when the mighty heart of Duncan Edwards stopped beating, and the crash had claimed its eighth "Busby Babe."

Both the Manchester Evening News and the Manchester Evening Chronicle carried the story of Duncan's death in their night editions. The Chronicle's headline read..."United Boy Wonder Fought For Life With Giant Courage. Duncan Edwards Amazed Doctors To The End. News Broken To His Fiancee"...... while the Evening News editions carried the headline....."Team Mates Weep As Edwards Dies." This was followed by an article by the newspaper's reporter in Munich. Douglas Slight, and it read as follows:

"Team mates of Manchester United's plucky young footballer Duncan Edwards, wept in the Rechts der Isar Hospital here today when they were told that football's "boy wonder" had lost the 15 day fight for life. The lion-hearted Edwards died peacefully in his sleep, with no pain, at 2:15a.m. today, after a desperate last minute battle to save him. About midnight, doctors noticed that his circulation was failing. Injections caused a temporary improvement but his strength ebbed away. Nurses at his bedside, well used to suffering and death, broke down and wept as the flame of life for which they had fought so hard, flickered out."

First to be told of his passing were his parents and Molly Leach, his fiancée. An announcement was made to the Press by a spokesman for British European Airways, operators of the airliner that had been involved in the crash, a Dr. Graham Taylor, their Medical Officer.

Duncan's parents and Fiancee visited the hospital shortly after he died, and were put under sedation. They flew out of Munich that afternoon for London, along with Jimmy Payne, a close friend of Duncan?s. A doctor at the hospital said that they had all been very brave in their moment of grief.

Later that day, Professor Georg Maurer, Chief Surgeon at the Hospital, had the thankless job of breaking the news to his team mates who were still detained in the hospital and were in a fit enough state to be told. Professor Maurer, who had been with Duncan when he died, broke the news to Ray Wood, Kenny Morgans, Bobby Charlton, Dennis Viollet and Albert Scanlon, and left them to their thoughts and tears. Johnny Berry, Jackie Blanchflower, and Matt Busby were not told the news due to their health, but a few days later Matt Busby found out from a Franciscan Friar, who was touring the wards. Busby, who had only regained consciousness a few days before, and was only just beginning to regain his strength, had just been told that Duncan was ill with no other details. He asked the unsuspecting Friar, simply, "How is Duncan Edwards today?" The unfortunate Friar hesitated for a moment, and then replied in a soft voice: "My son, I must tell you the truth, Duncan Edwards is dead."

On her evening visit to her husband?s bedside, Mrs. Jean Busby immediately realised that something was terribly wrong. As she sat beside him, Matt slowly looked up and said that he knew about Duncan, and that he wanted to know everything. One by one, she had to name the players who had died, as the tears slowly ran down her husband's cheeks.

Back in Britain, the tributes were pouring in thick and fast. Alderman Leslie Lever, the Lord Mayor of Manchester said, "We have all learned with very great sorrow of the passing of Duncan Edwards after we had hoped and prayed that he might be spared to us. It is a grievous loss, not only to Manchester united, but to the whole football world." Roy Paul, the Manchester City Captain: "One of the greatest tragedies in football. Here was a young boy who was by far the best player that I have ever seen, and he had not yet even reached his peak. Perfectly fair in all that he did, Duncan hardly ever played a bad game. His death is a blow that English football will feel for years." Mr. Walter Winterbottom, the England Team Manager: "Duncan was a great footballer, and had the promise of becoming the greatest of his day. He played with tremendous joy, and his spirit stimulated the whole England set up. He was especially good at carrying out tactics, and if he wanted a goal, he would go and get it. It was in the character of Duncan Edwards, that I saw the true revival of English football." Mr. H.P. Hardman, Chairman of Manchester United: "He was a model servant and a highly skilled player. He had great qualities, character, and footballing ability. He was a man that the game itself can ill afford to lose."

The reporters in all the leading newspapers wrote their own tales about him. Arthur Walmsley in the Evening Chronicle wrote: "Duncan Edwards - Boy Wonder of Soccer", while Roy Peskett of the Daily Mail simply entitled his article; "My Saddest Story"

Duncan's "second mother" - his landlady, Mrs. J. Dorman, was heartbroken at the news of his death. In her home in Gorse Avenue, Stretford, she dusted an autographed photo of Duncan in her cosy little kitchen and said; "This is like losing my own son."

Duncan had stayed under Mrs. Dorman's roof for three years. To many other players she was also regarded as their second mother. Kenny Morgans, Bobby Charlton, Tommy Taylor and David Pegg, all formed part of her adopted family.

Surrounded by cups and gifts brought from abroad by Duncan, she said; "He has left hundreds of friends, and thousands of happy memories. He was a quiet, reserved, boy who any mother would have been proud of. He had never liked flying, and always seemed to go quiet a couple of days before any trips, and always insisted that the safetest place to sit was at the back of the plane. Duncan will be missed by the children of Gorse park junior School. He was in his element when he and Tommy Taylor had snowball fights with the kids during the Winter." Among her happy memories are Duncan?s love for outdoor life. Tennis, Golf, Morris Dancing, his pride at being a Busby Babe, meeting his Fiancee Molly Leach, and his new car, which he used to spend hours cleaning after buying it soon after his twenty first birthday. The irony was, he couldn't drive!

On Saturday February 22nd, Duncan's body was flown from Munich in a special B.E.A. flight to London. From there it was taken to his home town of Dudley, in Worcestershire, by road, for his funeral on Wednesday the 26th. At the same time that Duncan's body was being flown from Munich, United were preparing to face Nottingham Forest at Old Trafford.

Prior to the kick off in that match, an interdenominational service, conducted by the Dean of Manchester, was held for all victims of the crash.. The Yugoslav Ambassador, Mr. Ivo Vejvoda, was in attendance, along with players and Officials of Red Star Belgrade, and also relatives of some of the players who had perished.

The disaster had bee re-heightened by Duncan's death, and perhaps more than any of the others was remembered with particular poignancy during the short service.

The emergence of the teams brought something of a relief to much of the 66,124 crowd as memories of Saturday afternoons of recent months and years were all to fresh to be pushed to the back of the mind. As for the match against Sheffield Wednesday, the gates for the Forest match were locked well before kick off time and thousands mingled outside, and at the end of 90 minutes, the eleven "Murphy?s Marvels" were still undefeated, thanks to a 74th minute equalizer from Alex Dawson, after Stuart Imlach had put the visitors ahead.

The morning that many had hoped would pass by arrived as a typical February one, cold (in more senses than one) and with the ground covered in snow, as it was at Munich some twenty days earlier. February 26th was the date of Duncan's last journey, and it was certain that he would be given a fond farewell by the people of Dudley. The crowds that lined the two miles route that the cortege would take, were so great that the police had redirect the traffic. Many of thoise along the route had stood in the cold for hours. One clothing factory in the town actually closed for a couple of hours so that their workers could go and pay their respects.

In the front garden of the Edwards home, lay more than 300 wreaths from all over the country. Those from Football Clubs were in their colours, while one was in the figure six, the number he filled so well for United and for England.

The service in St. Francis Church was conducted by the Rev. A. D. Catterall, himself a keen football follower and an Everton supporter. He actually wore his Everton Supporters Club badge on his cleric robes. In his sermon he said; "We are proud that the great Duncan Edwards was one of our sons. He goes to join the immortal company of Steve Bloomer and Alex James. Talent, and even genius we shall again, but there will only ever be, one Duncan Edwards."

More than 300 people packed the tiny church, and among the 26 mourners were mr. and Mrs. Dorman, with whom he had lodged up in Manchester. There were representatives from all the Midlands Clubs as well as others from the Football League, members of the Football Association, and County Associations, all present along with players and Officials from United. The pall bearers were all players. Close friend Gordon Clayton, who had played at United with Duncan since they were both youngsters, was one, while another United player, Bobby English, was another. The other places were filled by Billy Wright (Wolves), Ronnie Clayton (Blackburn Rovers), Ray Barlow (West Bromwich Albion), Don Howe (West Bromwich Albion), Peter McParland (Aston Villa), and Pat Saward (Aston Villa).

Outside of the church, around 5000 people had gathered, and children from the Wolverhampton Street School, which Duncan had attended, lined both sides of the road as Duncan's hearse passed by his former place of learning. Drivers whose vehicles had been stopped by the crowds, stood, heads bowed, besides their cars as the cortege passed by. At Queens Cross Cemetery, the scenes were equally chaotic, with people actually standing on headstones to get a better view, as Duncan was laid to rest.

The United Review for the West Bromwich Albion match on March 5th carried a full page obituary which said everything: "Still the pages of tragedy turn for us and the death of Duncan Edwards on February 21st made the sadness that we have shared the more pointed. Despite a fifteen day struggle to save his life by a group of dedicated surgeons and nurses, Duncan Edwards joined his seven team mates at whose funerals we paid homage so recently. We, who thrilled to his awe-inspiring demonstrations of seemingly invincibility, coupled with the joy of living that infected his comrades whenever and wherever the going was tough, will always remember Duncan. Let the words of Robert Browning be his epitaph........................

One who never turned his back but marched breast forward,
Never doubted clouds would break,
Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph,
Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,
Sleep to wake..............................................


He graced our fields and played the game
Always a credit to football's name;
A wonderful young boy, forever a man
He gave seven years of pleasure to the football fan.

He was shy and retiring, with no airs and graces
Just a passion for playing, not going to the races;
Not for him snooker halls, or the pubs with their beers
His stimulus was football, United, the fans, and their cheers.

He was one of the "Babes" that gallant band
Who were loved and revered throughout the land;
United's red shirts they all wore with such pride
For three short years, England's greatest side.

He was a role model for all that is good in the game
He would never besmirch football's great name;
For us youngsters always time, and he'd sign with great glee
The old rusted bike propped up by his knee.

He would have played every day with never a groan
About tiredness, fatigue, money, there was never a moan;
He just loved United and lived for each day
So proud to be part of the Manchester United way.

He was strong in the tackle, so quick on the ground
No faults in his game, it was always so sound;
Never a fear, just that strong will to win
His opponents always admired and respected him.

Three lions on his breast, the first at eighteen
The youngest ever to grace the National Team;
So proud, so alert, and always on station,
Eighteen performances great, the Pride of the Nation.

He was taken away and we never knew why
This Giant, this Legend, just had to die;
The grief and the mourning is still hard to bear
For those of us who saw him, it will always be there.

We close our eyes and we still see him today
As out from the tunnel he runs out to play
The big barrel chest and thickness of trunk
Great roars from the crowd - "Here comes Big Dunc!

Whenever you go down to Dudley Town
Take your flowers and lay them down
Stop and remember this legend of a man
Who gave so much pleasure to the football fan.

Tom Clare Oct 1st 2003
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