Saturday, 30 October 2010

Air Crash - 1

Over the fifteen years we've lived in Kilchoan, we've heard talk of a fighter aircraft which crashed on West Ardnamurchan during the Second World War. It's mentioned on page 15 of that splendid little book, The Annals of the Parish, available from Kilchoan Community Centre. Quite where the accident happened has been more difficult to ascertain. In The Annals, it states that "A spitfire flew into into the side of Beinn-na-Seilg, killing the New Zealand pilot," and people who remember the event have said that some of the wreckage ended up in the twin lochans.

Over the years of walking the hills at the back of Ormsaigbeg, the Diary has kept an eye open for wreckage, without result, until last week, when we stumbled upon this piece of corrugated aluminium while negotiating the lower slopes of Tom na Moine. It looked like the battered remains of galvanised dustbin, but the remote location and the unusual riveting suggested a different origin.

Having our two grandchildren to stay, both of whom are good walkers and interested in history, seemed a good reason to pursue the matter further. The internet provided some information. One site, here, has recent photographs taken by Mark Sheldon. One shows a cairn erected on the site of the crash itself, which proved to us that the site could not be on Beinn ne Seilg since the mountain stands in the background, with the twin lochans in front of it. The second, of a plaque in memory of the two pilots killed, provided only one clue, a very distinctive hill slope in the background.

From a Combined Operations site, here, we found a map too vague to help much with our search, but we learned more of the events:

"On the 6th of February 1944 three hurricanes from 516 Squadron took off from RAF Connell for a training exercise in the Kentra Bay area on the NE corner of the Ardnamurchan Peninsular. Their task was to undertake mock, low flying attacks on amphibious landings. Their mission completed they set course for RAF Connell but found themselves enveloped by thick cloud and mist that rolled in from the west at sea level. They split up and tried to reach any base they could. W/O Stephen made for RAF Tiree, Flt Lt Woodgate took a sea level route to RAF Connell.

"It was 3 days later on the 9th of February that police on the island of Coll reported finding Warrant Officer Stephen's crashed Hurricane and the following day that of Fl/Lt Woodgate was found on the side of Beinn na Seilg near Ghleamn Locha Kilchoan Bay on Ardnamurchan. In 1995, at the instigation of Phillip Jones, a plaque dedicated to the memory of the pilots was secured to a granite boulder from which both crash sites were visible. W/O J E Stephen RAF was 24 and Fl/Lt A J Woodgate RNZAF was just 21 years of age when they died."

Top photo: Beinn na Seilg (left) and Stacan Dubh from Kilchoan in winter.

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