A collection of books flown in from America after a devastating wartime plane crash have been ‘disposed of’ after a council blunder.
The 400-strong book collection was gifted to the people of Freckleton by members of the US Army Air Force and their families since the Freckleton Air Disaster of 1944, when an American pilot lost control of his bomber plane and crashed into the heart of the village and school, killing 61 people, including 38 children.
The books, which detailed American history and Freckleton’s relationship with the US Army Air Force, contained heartfelt messages from ex-servicemen who were stationed in the village during the Second World War.
Now residents fear the precious messages have been lost forever after Lancashire County Council admitted to ‘disposing of’ 384 of the prized books after taking them from Freckleton Library’s shelves over a period of several years.
Ruby Currell, 78, was one of three school survivors of the Freckleton Air Disaster. Just five years old at the time, she dived under her desk just moments before the bomber crashed into her school on August 23, killing 38 of her classmates.
She said: “I am extremely upset.
It’s downright disgusting that they have disposed of more than 300 books from our village. There’s no excuse for it.
“These books were a gift and as a gift they should never have been removed. They could have contacted any number of people in the village about it, either the councillors or myself, and we would have looked after them.
“It’s downright disgusting that they have disposed of more than 300 books from our village. There’s no excuse for it.
“A great part of our history has been stolen from us.”
Freckleton East ward councillor Marjorie Whitehead said: “These books are of great sentimental importance to the people of Freckleton and they are very important to the American people as well. They’re a sign of friendship; they show that there is no ill will between us.
“These books are clearly dedicated to the people of Freckleton. The county council has no right to take them. They don’t belong to them, and they are not theirs to take and destroy.
“On the 23rd of August it will be the anniversary of the Freckleton Air Disaster and often we get relatives of servicemen coming over from America who want to see where their fathers or grandfathers were stationed during the war. They come to the libary to find out the history, and now it’s gone.”
The 16 remaining books have been removed from the library for safe-keeping.
Brian Willis, chairman of the Friends of Freckleton Library, said: “I don’t understand why they thought they could just take the books away and destroy them. They have now said they will replace the books, but the messages inside can never be replaced.”
Phil Barrett, Lancashire County Council director for community services, said: “We regularly withdraw books as part of our collections policy and it is regrettable that these books have been withdrawn as they were part of a specific collection relating to the village. While we cannot get the original books back, we are doing our best to help the situation by sourcing replacements where we can.”
A Lancashire County Council spokesman said 59 books had been removed in the last 12 months by mistake but they had not kept records of the other volumes taken.
He said: “Last year 59 books were removed from the library, and at that time the staff who had been working in the library who had been ordered to remove them realised their importance and tried to do what they could to save the inscriptions.
“Typed copies were made of some of the pages. In addition to that, they did keep some of the inscriptions when they were determined to be in good enough condition to be kept.”
He added that any hand-written messages taken from the collection before last year had been thrown away along with the books.