Recent accounts of Mi Amigo experiences are being questioned by locals and historians. But has Tony Foulds lied? Here, The Sheffield Guide takes a balanced and sensitive look at the allegations.
The Mi Amigo Disaster
Its an incredible story; one of a man who has single-handedly been tending to a park memorial to a US Bomber plane crash for decades.
The troubled plane — returning from a World War 2 operation — crash-landed in Sheffield’s Endcliffe Park. The pilot had avoided an 8-year-old Foulds and his friends, who were playing in the park.
By now many know the story of Tony Foulds and the 1944 Mi Amigo disaster. But that story, or at least Tony’s recollection of it, has been brought into question.
Accusations come to light
Former Sheffield Star writer Martin Dawes has written a piece on his own website: ‘Tony and the Mi Amigo, does it add up?’
The main points of contention appear to be how long Foulds has actually been attending to the memorial, and whether Tony’s story about the circumstances of the crash are true.
The Tony Foulds story
BBC reports from when Dan Walker first met the pensioner in January 2019 suggest the pensioner had looked after the memorial for a significant amount of time.
Many seem to think in terms of decades. Dan Walker’s original tweet claims Tony had “diligently maintained the memorial ever since” the crash. Further, he claimed “almost 75 years of service”. The subsequent BBC News report stated the same.
However, recently revealed footage from a YouTube video interview by Harry Gold shows Tony Foulds himself suggesting he had started visiting the memorial just “two years ago”.
The interview was filmed in November 2018 and uploaded to YouTube in December 2018, before Dan Walker’s chance encounter with Tony brought the whole story to the public’s consciousness in January 2019.
Timeline questioned in video evidence
Interestingly, other accounts of Tony tending to the memorial start around this time (November 2018) too. For instance, a JustGiving page was set up to financially support Tony with looking after the memorial on 19 November 2018.
NOTE: Many similar crowdfunding pages have been set up since the story received widespread coverage. Updates to the original JustGiving page show flowers being placed around the memorial. However, it is unclear whether funds have been collected from other crowdfunders, or where that money has gone to.
Another video surfaced showing the pensioner attending the organised Mi Amigo memorial event in February 2018. These events have taken place on the anniversary of the crash for many years, even before the recent publicity.
It is assumed this video shows the first time Tony had attended the remembrance event. No video evidence from the same channel — containing footage of many years worth of the memorials — appears to show him at any event in the years before 2018.
Tony’s significant achievement
Even if Tony has been looking after the memorial for just two years then that isn’t insignificant. How many other people do you know that have quietly dedicated themselves to something seemingly so selfless for so long? Even at two years, Tony should absolutely be commended for all the work he has done.
But on the face of it, things do seem a little murky.
Friends of Porter Valley
Martin Dawes claims to have spoken with an unnamed source at the Friends of Porter Valley. The friends group occasionally tidy around Endcliffe Park and indeed the memorial itself. That source says nobody from the group had ever seen or met Tony until Dan Walker and BBC Breakfast brought him to everyones attention.
The group source says that they had “undertaken some volunteer work day activities at and around the memorial over the years but presumably not at the time or times Tony has been there.”
Tony Foulds’ defence
Dawes claims to have spoken to Tony himself at the memorial recently. The pensioner insists he had been attending to the site since 1953. Dawes suggests this is odd since the memorial wasn’t erected until 1969.
Martin Dawes also asked Tony about the circumstances of the crash. Foulds has been consistent about the crash in every video and interview I’ve seen from him. He says the pilot waved to try and get the children to clear the grass. However, Tony and his friends mistakenly thought he was greeting them and simply waved back. Consequently the pilot was forced to avoid them and crash into the trees behind the field.
In fact, in every video I’ve watched regarding this story, only one inconsistency occurs in Tony’s accounts of the day. The BBC sanitised things, saying that Tony and his friends were simply playing on the field. Even suggesting they were playing football. However, away from broadcast cameras Foulds tells the story that he was having a ‘scrap’ with some kids from a rival school.
Historian David Harvey, author of ‘Mi Amigo, the story of Sheffield’s Flying Fortress’ disagrees with Tony’s story. Harvey says claims the plane crashed avoiding children on the field is an urban legend that started in the 1990s.
In his research, Harvey spoke to many first-hand witnesses and read numerous newspaper reports. None ever suggested it was the case that the pilot was avoiding children.
As well as eye-witness accounts, it is claimed photographic evidence would also dispute Tony’s version of events. Had the plane avoided children on the grass, the nose would be facing uphill. All evidence shows it pointing in the opposite direction — downhill.
All first-hand witness accounts suggest the aircraft simply “spiralled out of the sky”. It apparently ‘dropped’ onto the crash site rather than anything resembling a controlled descent and ‘belly landing’.
What does it matter?
A question that has arisen a number of times since concerns were raised is “What does all this matter in the scheme of things?”
Historians argue that historical accuracy is extremely important – and it is hard to argue with that point. Without historical accuracy, what history do we really have?
Additionally, it could be said that the memories of those lost are being twisted by a wrong narrative being spread regarding their tragic deaths.
So, what is the story here? Has Tony Foulds lied? Well… I suspect it is much more complicated than that. I’ve watched all the BBC footage — and more interviews with Tony from elsewhere. The interesting thing is that he never himself states how long he had been tending to the memorial for. The presenters all do that for him and he just kind of agrees.
I’m not sure it could ever be proven either way, but I have a feeling Tony hasn’t been attending to the memorial for nearly as long as suggested. Maybe someone mistakenly said he had, and he felt forced to go along with it from that point.
Remember, this is an elderly man being swept up in a very quick and enveloping media circus. Something like that can daze and confuse you. It might have just been easier to go along with what everyone was saying, especially with cameras pointed.
Again, if he has been looking after that memorial for two years — as he claims in the earlier video interview — then that is an achievement in itself. Other than a bit of fleeting celebrity, and a star on the walk of fame outside the town hall, Tony hasn’t personally gotten anything out of the story to my knowledge. Would he really have benefitted from purposefully deceiving anyone?
For his part, Tony appears to deny any of the accusations. Speaking to Martin Dawes the pensioner “made clear that he disageed with Harvey’s book”. He insists that he was an eyewitness to the crash.
It seems sad that it took mainstream media coverage to get attention on the memorial. I feel for the Friends of Porter Valley, who have looked after the site over the years without any recognition. And of course historians have long researched the crash only to have a ‘nice tale’ take precedence over the facts. As innocent as it seems, Tony taking all the limelight isn’t victimless (for want of a better word).
However, what Tony Foulds did help to make happen was incredible. Thousands of people attended the flypast, with millions more watching on TV and that is truly remarkable. He brought the city together in remembrance of 10 men who died 75 years ago.
Foulds brought worldwide attention on the city and the story of the crash — and possibly helped to unearth many more stories of servicemen who lost their lives in similar circumstances during the wars.
Does his story about the pilot purposefully avoiding him as a child playing on the field add up? I’ll let you and the historical records decide that for yourself based on the evidence.
The media circus
One thing that is disappointing though is the angle that journalists and news media took on the whole thing. Despite repeatedly offering platitudes that “it isn’t about Tony” they continually made the whole thing revolve around him, to the point that people are questioning the integrity of an old age pensioner.
Yes, Tony Foulds was the catalyst to the story, but going as far as to create hashtags such as #GetTonyAFlypast and #TonyGotAFlypast increasingly made things about him. Why not promote something like #GetMiAmigoAFlypast or #MiAmigoFlypast instead?
Some kind of backlash was almost inevitable. The media coverage essentially made a pensioner a Reality TV star via the medium of news. It is often the case that backlash happens following someone being quickly thrust into the spotlight — something that Reality TV has found itself being criticised for recently.
Duty of care
The BBC made a human interest story into fleeting entertainment with Tony Foulds at the centre of it. Should they have a duty of care to him — and to history and the story as a whole — now these allegations have come to light?
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