17 February 2006-Revisiting Riddle Of The Warminster Thing
Thirty years ago, two teenage lads from Warminster were up on the nearby Cradle Hill every week to watch for UFOs, inspired by a local journalist's book about the flying saucer flap which by that time had been flustering the Wiltshire town for more than a decade. Arthur Shuttlewood's book of 1967 was entitled The Warminster Mystery, and much of the mystery still abounds.
But now those same lads, Steve Dewey and John Ries, are the authors of a remarkable new book, In Alien Heat: The Warminster Mystery Revisited, an in-depth investigation of the UFO fever that gripped the town in the 1960s and 1970s.
Modestly, the pair - Steve now lives at Westbury, Wiltshire, and John in Shropshire - say it was not a book waiting to be written.
The Warminster case, if not forgotten, is an embarrassment to modern-day ufologists, they say, and the story of the Warminster Thing almost unknown outside the UK.
But I would say this is a book that was waiting to be written. It's a riveting social document, objectively placing the phenomenon in its cultural and historical context, and providing a highly engaging and revealing analysis of those strange days.
"When we were younger, with all the enthusiasm of youth, we were much more into it all, " Steve, a technical author, told me. "We thought things were happening and a UFO landing was imminent.
"We went to Cradle Hill a lot; we were too young to go to the pub! We were there once a week for at least twoyears.
"But watching the sky-watchers made us skeptical because they would get so excited about things which were quite mundane. We began to think it was all in the UFO culture."
While the book clears up some aspects of the Warminster mystery - some lights in the sky could be explained by military exercises on nearby Salisbury Plain - other questions remain unanswered.
"We think there is a genuine mystery behind what happened, " said Steve. "It all started with a strange noise from the sky and there have never been any conclusions about what it was."
From Christmas 1964, humming or droning sounds were reported to Shuttlewood - sonic disturbances which flung people to the ground and damaged buildings.
Shuttlewood blamed what he called The Thing and became the prime focus for the whole saucer circus that followed.
What was to mark out Warminster particularly was the sheer volume of UFO sightings, several thousand, and that the whole town seemed to be caught up in the fantastic affair.
Steve and John say it's clear that the ufologists who flocked into Warminster helped to create the phenomenon.
They demanded that the weird sounds be spaceships, and the populace duly saw them.
The Warminster Journal, Shuttlewood's paper, also played a role by its reporting, and providing a forum for UFO debate, and Shuttlewood created the national media interest, often embellishing or exaggerating incidents.
A photograph of a flying saucer over the area, taken by local man Gordon Faulkner in 1965, and which came to be the emblematic image of The Thing, now used for the cover of In Alien Heat, later turned out to be a hoax. In January 1969, the veteran TV astronomer Patrick Moore visited Warminster, poked fun at Shuttlewood, and cracked that several of the objects seen in the sky "looked like balls".
However, Shuttlewood, who died in 1996, wrote two further books in which he claimed to have had contacts with extraterrestrials wanting to save humans from destroying the planet. Just how a straightforward, respected journalist in a small West town turned into a deluded UFO guru is not the least part of the Warminster mystery.
Also see The Warminster Thing
source and references:
The Western Daily Press - Derby, Derbyshire, UK
UFO Casebook Home Page