Yesterday I had the great privilege to take Phil Paterson and his sons to the crash site of a Wellington aircraft from RAF Lossiemouth in the Cairngorms where his father and the crew of this aircraft lost their lives 71 years ago. Flying Officer P. L.B.Paterson Phil’s Father aged 23 was one of the crew and Phil was born in 1944 sadly 6 weeks after his Dad was died, he never met his father.
This was the family’s first visit to this tragic place and he was accompanied by his two sons John and Julian. The crash site is deep in the heart of the Cairngorms and just off the Munro Bynack Mor it is a long walk up to the plateau where the crash site lies a 2 – 3 hour journey to the area and a big day for a 71-year-old regardless of weather. One of Phil’s sons had read my blog last year on my visit to the site and got in touch and we planned this visit over the next few months. The family knew little of the crash and where it was an asked if I would assist them to this place that means so much too them.
We met in Aviemore at 0800 it was another early start for me and Phil and the boys had driven up from the South late Friday night. I had some help from pals Pete, Yeni and Bernie for the day and the weather had been great this week and was still holding up. We met at the Cairngorm Hotel and after a quick chat set off for Glenmore and the start of our trip. The midges met us at Glenmore but it is a great path all the way past the beautiful Green Loch to the old site of Bynock Stables where we met Yeni’s nephew Greg a giant of a man with a group of young people out for over a week in the Cairngorms. What weather they l have had and what an adventure over the last few days and more to come. It was a small tented village with great views down Strath Nethy.
The path leaves the site of the Old Stables and we had a break here all were going will the weather was good and a breeze kept the midges away. From here it is a plod up onto the ridge but we stopped to get views of the wild Strath Nethy and the Cairngorms we were now heading into the remote Cairngorms. There were a few mountain Bikers about and I met another old friend Robin Clothier biking to Braemar!
The path is superb it is being maintained by these incredible pathworkers who were working ahead of us and we were soon on the ridge between our destination An Lurg and Bynack Mor. From here it is hard work across an open moor covered in huge peat hags, deer grass and bog this is a pathless wild place. On the journey Phil had been telling us about his father and the family and how often with his Mum he had visited Elgin where his Dad is buried. We were getting to know a small bit of the story of Phil’s Dad short life from his pilot training in America learning to fly and his arrival at RAF Lossiemouth in these dark War days as a qualified pilot.
This last kilometre is hard ground and the route is never easy poor Pete got his foot stuck in a bog and had to be helped out. We were each in our own thoughts and this is a featureless plateau, route finding is not easy and you do not see the crash site the last-minute. In past visits we had gathered some of the wreckage that was scattered around and made a small memorial cairn and this is what we first saw. It to me is beautiful with some of the stainless steel and twisted metal glinting in the sun I was amazed it was still standing. This area is artic in winter with regular winds of 100 mph plus and huge dumps of snow, the wind batters this place with such force at all times of the year. Today it was peaceful a slight breeze and the tops mainly clear, this is wild land. We left Phil and the boys to have some privacy and to have a look round, this was to be a special hour in a place of wild and tragic beauty.
This was their time and we left them as a family, they produced 6 crosses with the details of all the crew on them and placed them by the cairn it was a moving moment for us all. Phil’s wife had put on each cross the details of each crew member it was a lovely thought and very humbling. No matter how many times I visit these places they are to me special humbling and moving places but today was very even more so with a family there? We must never forget how these young men died for our freedom in this lonely place.
- P/O Philip Lionel Bennett Paterson (23), Pilot, RAFVR. (Buried Elgin New Cemetery, Morayshire.)
- P/O Denis Henderson Rankin (24), W/Op. / Air Gnr., RAFVR. (Buried Carnmoney Cemetery East, Belfast.)
- Sgt James Michael Downey (21), Flt Engr., RAFVR. (Buried Leytonstone (St Patrick’s) Roman Catholic Cemetery.)
- Sgt Harold Tudhunter (22), Navigator, RAFVR. (Buried Whitehaven Cemetery, Cumbria.)
- Sgt Stephen Fraser (21), W/Op / Air Gnr., RAFVR. (Buried Lossiemouth Burial Ground, Morayshire.)
- Sgt Robert Arthur George Bailey (19), Air Gnr., RAFVR. (Buried Bungay Cemetery, Suffolk.)
After a while we had a break and some food, Phil produced some lovely cake that his wife had made and we short work of it. We all felt it right to have a few minutes silence before we left and it was a moving period and with a backdrop of the wild Cairngorms. Phil said a few words and it was a peaceful scene and one I will never forget. As we finished the sun came out and the new SAR helicopter flew by overhead it was a powerful sight for us all we could hear it approach from deep in the Cairngorms. It was soon time to head back and try to keep out of the Peat hags, everyone was going well but there was little chat each deep in thought and the family happy they had been to such a place that meant so much to them.
Back on the main path we stopped and enjoyed the sun Phil showed us his Dad’s medals still in the box and as they were the day they were sent to the family. He also had his Dad’s pilot certification from his pilot training in the USA all as pristine as the day they were issued. We also saw his Dad”s service knife that Phil had treasured all his life with the date 1940 stamped on it. All day we were getting to know Phils father and the difficult time the family had after the war., After a break we then headed of along the path back to the cars at Glenmore in the sun.
Flying Officer Paterson’s Medals – The War Medal and the Defence Medal, Phil his son pulled them out at the end of the day on the Cairngorms. This was a moving tribute at the end of a wonderful day and an insight into one of those who did so much for us all.
To me this was a special day, some people ask why do I visit these tragic places? This story to me sums it up. It was wonderful that Phil at 71 had managed a visit to where his Dad was and his pals had lost their lives and with his two sons it was an incredible effort by them to get to this place. What a day it had been and it was so emotional at times for us all especially for the family and a huge insight to the tragic loss during the war that so many families accepted as part of life.
We must never forget what these people did for us and that each of these Mountain Crash sites has a unique story and a huge effect on the families even 71 years after the crash.
Thanks to Phil and the boys for sharing this day with us all. I hope you take some of the peace and beauty of these wild Cairngorms mountains with you on your journey home today. Soon the snow will sweep over this place and the winter will be with us, few know of this other side of the secret Cairngorms that means so much still to those who gave so much.
This was a specail day for us all and one I for one will never forget.
Thanks to all for helping make this a day to remember for the family and the huge sacrifice of those who lost their lives for our freedom. I wonder what they would make of this crazy world we live in?