Fremantle resident recalls family links to darkest day in Manchester United’s history

Chris Jackson at home in Fremantle with some keepsakes, including the small doll given to her, from her father’s ordeal in the Munich Air Disaster. Picture: Jon Hewson
Chris Jackson at home in Fremantle with some keepsakes, including the small doll given to her, from her father’s ordeal in the Munich Air Disaster. Picture: Jon Hewson

FREMANTLE resident Chris Jackson does not care for soccer, or sport in general, however she has been inextricably linked to one of the darkest days in the history of English football.

Ms Jackson’s father, Ted Ellyard, was one of 44 passengers aboard British European Airways flight 609 when it crashed on its third attempt to take off from a slush-covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport, West Germany on February 6, 1958.

Ellyard, a photography telegraphist for the Daily Mail newspaper, was one of just four passengers to walk away unscathed from the mangled wreckage that claimed 23 lives, including eight players from the feted ‘Busby Babes’, the Manchester United team who were returning from a European Cup tie against Red Star Belgrade in Yugoslavia.

Just nine years old at the time, Ms Jackson vividly recalled to her father’s story of survival and the memory of meeting him at the airport on his return to England, ahead of a team of Manchester United Legends playing in Perth on March 25.

Ted Ellyard.

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Ms Jackson’s father accompanied the Manchester United team on its European Cup sojourn throughout that 1957-58 season, and the previous season’s European campaign, and became close with the players, club officials and other reporters in the travelling entourage.

“My dad and (Daily Mail photographer) Peter Howard were the last ones back on the plane and they sat near the bulkhead behind the pilots; that’s probably why he survived,” Ms Jackson said.

“He walked away with scratches, bumps and bruises, but mentally he suffered a lot because he knew those lads who died; the players, the other journalists. They travelled together as a group for all the European games.”

Ellyard, Howard, Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg, two stewardesses and one of the pilots helped to pull survivors from the flaming wreck, although Ms Jackson said her father’s survival instincts kicked in before going back to help.

“(Dad) served in the RAF, so when he saw the hole in the side of the plane he knew there was a chance it could explode, so he grabbed Peter and the pair started to run from the wreckage,” she said.

The wreckage of the BEA airliner. Picture: Ullstein Bild/Getty Images

“Harry Gregg saw them and he swore like a trooper at them. I’ve seen some documentaries about the crash and every time he speaks he says he told them very politely they needed to help him.

“It’s quite funny because my dad used to tell the story about what he actually said: ‘you f–kers came back and get these f–king people out of this f–king aeroplane!’”

The magnitude of what her father had been through, and the impact it was having on the people around here, did not register with the then nine-year-old.

Her mother, Elsie, learned of the crash when she saw a newspaper placard while returning home from her part-time job; when she got home Ms Jackson and her younger sister, Pauline, were watching TV and none the wiser.

The front page of the Daily Sketch reporting the Munich air crash, in which 23 people died, including 8 Manchester United footballers from the team known as the Busby Babes. Seven players perished in the crash, while Duncan Edwards died days later in hospital. Picture: Bob Thomas/Getty Images

However, Ms Jackson does remember the excitement of her father calling home to say he was ok, and of riding in a limousine to greet him at the airport on his arrival.

“I don’t remember (finding out my dad had been in the crash) because I was quite small and it wouldn’t have really registered,” she said.

“As I grew and heard my dad’s stories I came to understand what he’d been through and what it meant, and still means, to people. A friend, when he found out, said ‘oh, you’re football royalty’, but it’s just been a normal part of my life.

Shortly after the crash, Ted Ellyard’s Daily Mail colleague Peter Howard makes a phone call in the Rechts der Isar Hospital to his editorial office in London. Picture: Ullstein Bild/Getty Images)

“When we got to the airport there was people everywhere. My dad had bought my sister and I these little dolls while he was away for my sister and myself. I’ve still got that doll with me at home.”

Sadly, Ted Ellyard passed away from a heart attack at the age of 45, but Ms Jackson, who has lived in WA since 1976, cherishes his memory, and his story, to this day.

A team of Manchester United Legends takes on an Australian Legends side at Perth Oval on March 25.