Aircraft Crashes on the Cairngorms – Part 1- Ben a’ Bhuird – The Oxford

This weekend I was planning to go and visit a couple of plane crashes in the Cairngorms, these are fairly remote on the massive mountain that is Ben a’ Bhuird. On this great hill are two aircraft crashes from the Second World War. As many have  read I was heavily involved in aircraft crashes during my long service with the RAF Mountain Rescue, which was formed to recover aircrew from mountains and remote sites during World War Two.  I had visited both sites on past travels in the mountains and using these remote crash sites for training in navigation and area knowledge in the past for newer team members. These were a big hill day for most people and I know will have to take it easy as the body slows down. The weather was not up to it so I will put it on hold till later in the summer.   How many visit these great mountains and do not know these aircraft are there? They are well worth a visit and one must remember these were the scenes of tragedy at times and the stories are worth remembering for the future generations. They are also War Graves and should be treated with respect that these young men died for us and we must never forget.

The remote Beinn A' Bhuird crash sites Oxford to the North - Wellington to the South.

The remote Beinn A’ Bhuird crash sites Oxford to the North – Wellington to the South.

It is a long walk in to the mountain and a mountain bike would be a great advantage, I think I would like to get the weather right and stay a night on the tops. My pal John visited the crash site yesterday and got great weather it was along walk in and out over 30 kilometers and I will update the photos on the blog soon. Done 22/5/2014

My first visit was in 1972 on a huge winter walk over Ben Avon and Beinn a’ Bhuird in February with Tuech Brewer. I remember being dragged out at the end of a long day to the site which was completely covered in snow, we found the engines. Then it was a huge walk to the Hutchison Memorial Hut hut for the night

Some interesting information on aircraft crashes in the UK.

Some interesting information on aircraft crashes in the UK.

The first crash site is to an Airspeed Oxford Mk! PH4o 04: No 311 Sqn RAF – The aircraft had taken of from RAF Tain in the Highlands and had failed to arrive at RAF Hornchurch near London on the 10 Jan 1945.  It was located by two walkers at NJ111026 AT 3500 feet on 19 th August 1945.

The men who unwittingly found the aircraft were Dr James Bain, a teacher in Elgin, and Flight Lieutenant Archie Pennie who was in the RAF but who was at the time taking a few days leave at his mothers in Elgin. Long time friends and both keen hill walkers, they had decided to spend their Sunday climbing two mountains in the Cairngorms, namely Beinn a Bhuird (3924 ft / 1196 m) and neighboring Ben Avon (3843 ft / 1171 m).

Oxford aircraft burning site on Beinn a' Bhuird. Photo John Ritchie.

Oxford aircraft burning site on Beinn a’ Bhuird. Photo John Ritchie.

They set out at mid morning from Inchrory, and on approaching the summit of Beinn a Bhuird they found some aircraft debris and soon afterwards part of a wing. Finally, they discovered the remains of the wreck of the Oxford PH404, and alarmingly the bodies of five airmen. That must have been an awful event for both men, but we were at war and it was a time of great tragedy.

The Oxford engines on Ben A' Bhuird photo J. Ritchie May 2014

The Oxford engines on Ben A’ Bhuird photo J. Ritchie May 2014

The cockpit and tail section were reasonably intact. The engines were relatively undamaged, perhaps because the aircraft had fallen on snow. The yellow paint work on the aircraft suggested e that it had been a training aircraft. The bodies of two airmen were located in the cockpit, two others lay outside amongst the debris. The saddest discovery of all was that of the body of the fifth airman. It was found inside the remains of the fuselage and it was clear that he had initially survived the crash. He was wearing several layers of clothing that he must have removed from his dead crew – mates in an effort to combat the cold. He appeared to have suffered a serious head injury and had made himself a make-shift bandage for his head wound using a towel.

It was clear to Dr Bain and Flt Lt Pennie that the crash had occurred some months previously owing to the condition of the bodies. They made a note of the aircraft’s number and location and after descending the mountain went to Tomintoul and reported their discovery to the local police. They also reported the details to the local police in Elgin when they returned home.

The following day, Monday 20th August, a recovery team including Police Officers and members of the RAF Mountain Rescue Team from RAF Dyce made their way from Tomintoul towards Beinn a Bhuird to attempt a recovery of the airmen. Local assistance in locating the crash site was provided by Captain D McNiven, proprietor of the Richmond Arms in Tomintoul, and Mr William Stewart, a farmer from Clashnoir, Glenlivet.

A base for the recovery operation was set up near Inchrory. The Ambulance and transport wagons also waited at Inchrory as they were unable to travel any nearer the mountain due to the rough terrain. It was a long effort bringing the casualties off the hill and it was hoped that the crew could be buried on site. This did not happen and the RAF refused this request and eventually the bodies were brought down after several days of hard work.

To assist in bringing the bodies down mules from an Indian regiment based at Braemar were transported by road to Inchrory. It took ten days to complete the recovery operation with the recovery team working in a very remote location on steep, uneven and boulder strewn ground.

The Mountain Rescue Team burnt the remains of the wreckage at the crash site to avoid it being mistaken for any other lost aircraft in the future. Only the engines and a few other small parts of the aircraft were not burnt. It was a grueling operation for all the men involved.

New Memorial near the crash site.

New Memorial near the crash site.

The bodies of the five airmen recovered from Oxford PH404 were taken by road to an Aberdeen mortuary and placed in coffins. From here they were taken by train to Brookwood Military Cemetery near Woking in Surrey.

They were buried there on September 3rd 1945 in the Czechoslovak section of the cemetery. The memorial was places on the site in 200

Cairngorm Memorial Project
Memorial plaque placed at PH404 crashsite

On Sunday 18th September 2005, a granite memorial plaque was unveiled, and a service of dedication was held, at the location on Beinn a’ Bhuird where Oxford PH404 crashed in January 1945 killing all onboard.

The instigator behind this memorial was Squadron Leader Sandy Reid, RAFVR Rtd, who is Chairman of Aberdeen and North East Scotland Wing of the Air Training Corps.

His attention had been drawn to the remains of the Oxford aircraft on Beinn a’ Bhuird by a friend and, having flown Oxfords during his own RAF training at Dalcross it struck a chord with him.

S/Ldr Reid decided that finding out more about the crashed Oxford and the story behind it would be a worthwhile project for some of the Air Cadets in the area, and passed what information he had on to the Cadets of 1298 Huntly Squadron.

The Cadets contacted me via this website for more details about the loss as I had already carried out some research into the circumstances and the crew onboard with the cooperation of a Czech Aviation Historian, Pavel Vancata. They also made valuable contact with the Free Czechoslovakian Air Force Association in London, and in particular with Lt Col Arnost Polak who is Secretary of the Association. Lt Col Polak had himself served with 311 Squadron and had known personally the members of the crew who perished in the Oxford on Beinn a’ Bhuird.

The idea to place a commemorative plaque at the crash site of Oxford PH404 to commemorate the loss of the many airmen killed in the Cairngorms during the war and subsequent years was agreed on. All relevant agencies, landowners etc were approached and a weekend expedition planned in order to carry out the necessary ground work and ultimate placing, unveiling and dedicating of the plaque.

Funding for the project was greatly assisted by contributions from The Lottery, Veterans Reunited, The Royal British Legion and The McRoberts Trust.

Cadets from several Squadrons in the Wing volunteered to take part in the weekend expedition which was planned by F/Lt Bruce Lumsden, F/O Donna Greig, P/O Leanne Campbell, civilian instructors Alisdair Brooks, David Birch and John Strange.

The expedition took place over the weekend of Friday 16th September with the ceremony on the mountain being carried out on Sunday 18th once all preparations were completed.

A helicopter from 202 Air Sea Rescue Squadron was able to assist with transporting the plaque and equipment required to the top of the mountain during a training exercise.

After a busy weekend of logistics, planning and organising in the field, the Cadets had everything in place for the services and ceremonies to take place. Some camped overnight at the foot of the mountain ready for an early morning start to be on location for the unveiling.

On Sunday 18th September 2005, a ‘Base Camp’ was set up on the Invercauld Estate. A civilian helicopter on hire from HJS Helicopters arrived and transported the Rev James Wood – Wing Chaplain, F/Lt Philip Dawson RAF Rtd – a former RAF Bomber Pilot and flying Instructor, F/O Donna Greig and Cadet W/O David Leslie of 1990 (Ellon) Squadron, to the crash site.

Well done all great work.


About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Aircraft incidents, Enviroment, Mountain Biking, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Munros, Recomended books and Guides. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Aircraft Crashes on the Cairngorms – Part 1- Ben a’ Bhuird – The Oxford

  1. Tom Docherty says:

    Great article Heavy. Lest we forget.


  2. Ben says:

    Great article, I was one of the cadets who laid the memorial, so it’s good to look back and see lots of interest!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Alex Allison JP says:

    Does anyone know what happened to the Memorial placed on the site of a US WW2 Aircraft and dead crew found by Air cadets from 324 Squadron South Shields while on excersise in the Cairngorms? This was a Propeller from the A/C and the squadron crest of the US Squuadron under it was the crest of the ATC with the names of the US airmen and the Air cadets that made the discovery?


  4. Ross says:

    The Cairngorms are no place to be sticking memorial plaques on rocks , regardless of what happened there. Let the wreckage speak for itself and keep the plaques for memorial gardens , theres already one in Braemar.
    This particular plaque is merely an ego exercise for the people who stuck it there , an extension of the ever growing “lest we forget” cult of Brit nationalists. Basically vandalism of our wild places.
    Keep it wild.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Everyone is entitled to there views I agree but some of the relatives are still alive they also have their thoughts.

      I took a 70 year old son of the pilot on a a crash near An
      Lurg there is no memorial just wreckage there.

      He was just born when his Dad died.

      Thank you for your comment.


      • MBriscoe says:

        I remember years ago coming across a report (in a newspaper archive I think) of an aerial search for a crashed aircraft in WWII (I think). One was spotted and a ground party sent up to it but they found a WWI biplane sitting undamaged on top of the snow with the remains of the pilot still inside.
        It was identified as a trainer from Montrose which had crashed in WWI.
        I have been unable to find this again in the newspaper archive so wondering if I imagined it!
        Can anyone recognise the description?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Will ask about for you ?


      • From a pal

        Reference aircraft crash. I have 2 different issues of “High Ground
        wrecks”. I think you may be referring to the Westland Wallace crash on
        Benachie I had not heard the story of the pilots remains being inside.

        Westland Wallace K6028 crashed 3rd September 1939. GR 38/668718 or
        38/668216. Each copy of High Ground Wrecks show different GRs.

        I also have copy of a KMRT index but it doesn’t show on that. KMRT index
        shows 134 crashes in the Scottish mountains.

        Sorry no other info


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