August 24, 2015
FIFTY years ago this weekend a Wiltshire garrison town was in the grip of UFO frenzy.
Hundreds of locals were convinced they had seen and heard . . . the Warminster Thing.
And while occasional UFO sightings were not unheard of at the time, this was the UK’s first recognised “mass sighting”.
The people of this market town, with a population of 17,000, were so terrified they were being invaded by aliens from outer space that they called a public meeting over the August bank holiday.
In the weeks that followed in 1965, thousands of UFO spotters from all over the world camped out on the three hills above the town, hoping for what would become known as an encounter of the third kind.
Today, half a century later, an exclusive Sun survey reveals 82 per cent of people in Britain believe there could be aliens out there.
And this weekend UFO experts are travelling to Warminster to mark the 50th anniversary of what is seen as Britain’s “Roswell”.
Peter Paget, scheduled to speak at the meeting, says: “The local community did not know what to make of it. They were confused.
“Things were happening around them that they had no way of relating to. People were scared.”
The story of the Warminster Thing actually began the previous Christmas morning when people were woken by a menacing sound of sudden vibrations overhead.
At just after 6am, while housewife Marjorie Bye was walking to church, the noise seemed to pound her head, neck and shoulders.
Mrs Bye said the shock waves were so violent they made her feel weak and unable to move.
Strange noises continued to be heard for the next few months. The military denied involvement.
Only one man captured an image of The Warminster Thing.
Then on May 19, the first UFO appeared. Three times that week Hilda Hebdidge saw “silent, stationary cigar shapes, covered in winking bright lights.”
Weeks later Harold and Dora Horlock saw an object in the sky with “twin hot pokers hanging downwards, one on top of the other with black space in between”.
That night at Shearwater lake, 17 people fishing or bathing witnessed a cigar-shaped orange glow in the sky that remained visible for more than 20 minutes.
UFO hotspot ... Shearwater lake.
One man, Colin Hampton, was so surprised he fell into the lake. Everyone’s descriptions matched.
The sightings went on and two months after the first appearance, RAF pilot’s wife Rachel Atwill was woken by a terrible droning sound.
She said: “It made the bed and floor shake. I went over to the bedroom window and looked out . . . about 200 yards above the range of hills was a bright object like a massive star, domed on top and huge in size.
“When the hideous humming grew less, the starry Thing flickered feebly.”
By August bank holiday hundreds of people claimed to have seen the UFOs, and the meeting was held in the town hall on August 27.
Councillor Emlyn Rees said: “I had never seen anything like it. People were terrified. My phone never stopped ringing.”
So many people wanted to be at the meeting that every hotel room in the small town was booked out and people slept in their cars.
At the town hall, people shared their stories, but no explanations for the Thing were forthcoming.
Newspaper man Arthur Shuttlewood covered the case for the Warminster Journal. He was sceptical — until he saw a UFO from his home weeks later.
Shortly afterwards, local man Gordon Faulkner handed the reporter a photograph of a UFO he had taken.
Lucky snapper ... Gordon at 23.
He said: “As it flew fast and low over the town I could just make out the unusual shape. It made no noise.
“Hurriedly, I got my camera free and pointed it at the craft, but the line of flight was too fast to follow. So I held the camera well in front of it and pressed the trigger as it entered the view-finder. I was amazed when I saw what came out.”
Shuttlewood sent the photo to Fleet Street and the Warminster Thing put the town on the map all over the world.
Late in 1965, Shuttlewood, who died in 1996, claimed to have met an alien called Karne from the planet Aestsa.
He said: “Karne had no pupils in his eyes and blue blotches on his cheekbones and lips.”
For years afterwards, the large hills above the town were regularly packed with skywatchers.
More latterly, both David Bowie and Mick Jagger visited Warminster, along with thousands of others, as the town established itself as Britain’s unofficial UFO HQ.
Sightings of the Thing eventually slowed in the Seventies.
Paget says: “I think the locals heaved a sigh of relief as they didn’t want to be considered as weird. But I don’t think the town really appreciates what the Thing did for them.”
An event to mark the 50th anniversary of the Thing is being held at Warminster’s Old Bell Inn on Saturday, organised by author Kevin Goodman who wrote books on the phenomenon Cradle Of Contact and History Of A Mystery.