The Welsh Triangle
originally published in Fortean Times 200 (2005)
The West Wales flap of 1977 is second only to the Warminster “Thing” in British UFO history. Documents released in 2005 have revealed how a secret military investigation was launched into claims that alien craft and their tall humanoid occupants were taking a particular interest in the Welsh coastline. DAVID CLARKE investigates.
The death in 2003 of veteran Welsh UFOlogist Randall Jones Pugh passed without notice within the UK UFO community. But less than three decades ago Pugh, a retired vet, was a leading spokesman for the subject and the key promoter of Britain’s hottest new UFO “flap”. This was focussed upon a strip of rugged coastline within the Pembroke National Park near Pugh’s home which became, for a short time in 1977, the scene of strange encounters which made national headlines.
Earlier in the year Pugh, in an interview for a local paper, discussed sightings in 1976 and predicted there soon would be a spate of similar events in West Wales. But even he was not prepared for what happened next. During lunchtime on 4 February 15 schoolchildren at Broad Haven Primary School said they watched a silver cigar-shaped UFO in fields behind their school. Some of the group, aged from nine to 11 years, claimed they saw a silver man with pointed ears emerge from the craft. Their stories were dismissed as fantasy but the children were so adamant they had seen something unusual they handed in a petition to the police station. Their head teacher later asked them to draw the UFO and was amazed at how similar their pictures were.
Randall Pugh was instrumental in bringing the story to the attention of the media and it became an overnight sensation. Journalists and TV crews flocked to the Welsh coast from all corners of the UK. Flying saucers were soon the main topic of conversation in the principality. By May straightforward lights in the sky had been replaced by stories of giant humanoid figures in spacesuits, similar to those used by astronauts, seen prowling around remote countryside late at night.
A whole gamut of Fortean phenomena appeared to cluster around the Coombs family at Ripperston Farm. Here a dairyman, Billy Coombs, his wife Pauline and their five children told of repeated close encounters with UFOs and their occupants which left a trail of burned out cars and TV sets and spiralling electricity bills. Pauline had a sighting almost every month and one occasion the car she was using to drive her children along a country lane was pursued by a fiery object shaped like a rugby football. Later the couple claimed a herd of cows were inexplicably teleported from a locked field into to an adjacent farmyard. But the most terrifying incident of all happened in the early hours of 23 April as the couple watched a late movie. Suddenly they were terrified by the appearance of a 7ft tall figure in a spacesuit, whose blank face was framed in the window of their sitting room. While later investigators were sceptical of some of the more sensational claims, others were impressed by the genuine terror displayed by the couple at the time. Indeed the policeman who responded to their 999 call said in 1996 that in all his 26 years service “that was the most frightened family I have ever been to see.” There was no doubt the couple had seen something unusual, but what?
The weird events at Ripperston Farm were chronicled in three books one of which, The Welsh Triangle by Peter Paget had been partly inspired by The Sun headline “Spaceman Mystery of the Terror Triangle.” What exactly constituted the Welsh version of the Bermuda Triangle was never entirely clear, but it included most of the southeast corner of St Bride’s Bay along with the towns of Milford Haven and Haverfordwest. The third and last book to chronicle the Welsh weirdness was The Dyfed Enigma, produced by Pugh in collaboration with cryptozoologist Ted Holliday, which linked the UFO stories with Welsh fairy folklore and ley-lines.
Journalist Hugh Turnbull, who chronicled the events for the local weekly, Western Telegraph, told me his pet theory was that “something military” lay behind the sightings. A more extreme version, favoured by Paget, was that aliens had established an underground base beneath the Stack Rocks in St Bride’s Bay, where UFOs had been seen to hover and disappear. This form of speculation – shared by some local people - was founded on the fact that within a 20 mile radius of Broad Haven, where many of the reports were concentrated, there were a range of military bases. To the north was the top secret rocket testing station at Aberporth while Brawdy, near St David’s, trained pilots on Hawker Hunters and housed both a Tactical Weapons Unit and a US Navy underwater research station – in reality a unit which tracked the movements of Soviet submarines using a network of microphones.
RAF Squadron Leader Tim Webb, who oversaw pilot training from the base, said the description of the suits worn by the “spacemen” did not match anything used by base personnel. By a curious coincidence Webb’s son Michael happened to be one of the youngsters who claimed they saw a UFO land behind the primary school at Broad Haven. “I believe him implicitly,” he told The Observer at the time. “I’ve yet to see a UFO but I think there has to be something supernatural or paranormal.” Heady words for an RAF spokesman who would normally be expected to debunk sightings of flying saucers!
Meanwhile, demands were increasing for an official inquiry into the West Wales UFOs. One witness, hotelier Rosa Granville, asked her MP Nicholas Edwards – later to become Welsh Secretary in Mrs Thatcher’s Cabinet – to demand answers from the Ministry of Defence. Mrs Granville ran the Haven Fort Hotel which stands in a dramatic location overlooking St Bride’s Bay. Although she was aware of a legend about a ‘white lady’ ghost haunting the grounds this did not prepare her for the events of 19 April 1977. In the earlier hours of that morning Mrs Granville was disturbed by a strange buzzing noise and, on looking out, saw an oval-shaped brightly-lit UFO and two human-like figures in boiler suits that appeared to be measuring something. The following day, she found a flattened area of grass in the area which, it emerged, overlooked a field which contained a bunker used by the Royal Observer Corps.
Within days of the MP’s intervention a Squadron Leader from RAF Brawdy visited the hotel to interview the owners. According to their account, he told them there “absolutely nothing at RAF Brawdy” that could account for the UFO. And, Mrs Granville claimed “he asked me not to say anything about the incident to anyone, as he thought it was best not to alarm the general public.” However, in his reply to the MP the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Defence James Wellbeloved, said that apart from Mrs Granville’s report the MOD had “no record of unusual activity in the area.”
But behind the public platitudes it seems a discreet investigation was indeed going on, hidden even from the politicians. For on 14 June 1977 the head of S4 (Air), the MoD branch which dealt with UFOs, took the unusual step of asking the RAF Police, in the form of the Provost & Security Service (P&SS) to make a “discreet enquiry” into events in Wales. The P&SS are responsible for policing the RAF and have a section which investigates complaints about low-flying aircraft. Early in 1977 they moved to a secretive facility deep in the Wiltshire countryside called RAF Rudloe Manor. UFO authors Tim Good and Nick Redfern have claimed that Rudloe – rather than the UFO desk in Whitehall - has for many years been the real HQ for the British Government’s UFO taskforce.
The papers released this year throw new light on claims of a conspiracy involving Rudloe Manor. While they do support the claim that P&SS were involved in secret UFO work they suggest it was hardly a priority for them. In their letter to P&SS the MOD wrote: “We have not invoked the assistance of P&SS before on UFOs…and the last thing I want to do is involve you in extraneous problems which would divert you from your more immediate work on low flying complaints.” It goes on to ask them to assess “the volume of local interest and/or alarm and whether there is a readily discernable rational explanation, or whether there is prima facie evidence for a more serious specialist enquiry.” And the writer went to some length to emphasise his request must be treated in confidence, adding: “I have not even told the Minister I am consulting you.”
Due to the covert nature of the investigation, no final report on the P&SS investigation of events in the Welsh Triangle has survived. But in December 1977, in a secret briefing on UFO policy submitted to the MOD’s Defence Intelligence Staff, the head of S4 wrote: “There is always a steady public interest in UFOs and from time to time it tends to increase unaccountably…[in the summer] there was some concern in Wales, although the RAF Police thought this could have been the work of a practical joker.”
The fact that inquiries led the RAF Police to suspect a hoaxer may have been responsible for some of the Welsh UFOs fits with a strong local rumour which persists to this day. Hilary Evans, who debunked some of the more exaggerated stories in an article published in 1982, heard that two members of a round table club were responsible for the sightings of “spacemen” at the Haven Fort Hotel and Ripperston Farm. They came up with the idea after borrowing silver-lined asbestos suits worn by local oil refinery workers for a fancy dress evening in Broad Haven shortly after the children’s sighting.
In 1996 BBC presenter Ray Gosling tracked down one of the jokers for a Radio 4 documentary on the West Wales flap. Shortly afterwards Glyn Edwards, a member of Milford Haven’s Round Table confessed his part to the Western Mail. He described the spaceman outfit as having: “… a solid in-built helmet so I would have looked about 7ft tall. Alien sightings were all the rage, so I took a stroll around for a bit of fun. I remember when I visited the garden of a certain lady, who later called the police, that I had to dive into a hedge because she appeared to be aiming a rifle or a shotgun at me.”
But despite all Gosling’s attempts to persuade the witnesses from Broad Haven school to confess, the boys – now in their forties – stuck doggedly by their story. One of them, David Davies, told him: “I did see something unexplained that day and I will stick to that story for the rest of my life.” The Welsh Triangle may hold onto its secrets for some years to come.
Copyright 2005 David Clarke