“Lest we forget” – Avro Anson N9857 from 19 OTU RAF Kinloss – Map reference Of Crash site NC 2945723174 at 645 metres, a wild place.
The RAF Mountain Rescue Service was formed during the war to rescue
downed aircrew in the mountains. When I was a member of the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team it trained throughout Scotland at times we come across old aircraft crash sites from this period. Regularly the team was near Ullapool and visited the crash site the story of this aircraft and its crew it is a reminder to those who gave so much. The crash site is a moving place at over 2000 feet high on Imir Fada near Ben More Assynt it is in a remote area about 5 miles from the nearest road. It is now locally named as “Aeroplane flats”
On the 13th April 1941 an Anson aircraft from RAF Kinloss on a cross country training flight crashed near Ben More Assynt in the North West Highlands at Inchnadampth above Ullapool. The aircraft had taken off from Kinloss in less than ideal weather to follow a route via Oban, Stornaway and Cape Wrath before returning to Kinloss. The aircraft had completed the first two legs of its flight and reported passing Stornaway in icing conditions around this time the aircrafts port engine lost power and failed. Sometime after this having either flown onto Cape Wrath or turning for base near Stornaway the aircraft flew into high ground in near white out conditions to the North East of Inchnadamph. The aircraft was reported overdue at Kinloss and an air search was initiated but this failed to locate the missing aircraft, it wasn’t until the 25th May that the aircraft was located by a shepherd. All six of the crew were killed. The crash site is the only site in Scotland where the crew are buried at the crash site. This crash happened in the days before a proper mountain rescue service existed. It became policy thereafter to recover bodies no matter how difficult or unpleasant this might be. It should be noted that at the time of the crash it is said that 3 local shepherds’ died in the wild weather. When the wreck was discovered it was thought that the crew may have survived the crash but died shortly after of exposure and their injuries. One crew member had attempted to walk for help but was walking east away from civilisation and had died of hypothermia. The aircraft was found by a local shepherd on the 25 Th May 1941, nearly 6 weeks after the aircraft went missing! The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has placed a memorial to the crew beside the gateway to the local church at Inchnadamph. The inscription reads;
“Here are commemorated the crew of an aircraft crash on Ben More Assynt on the 13 Th. of April 1941, whose bodies rest where they fell”
Flying Officer JH Steyn DFC. Pilot
Pilot Officer WE Drew. Observer/ Instructor
Sergeant J Emery. Wireless operator gunner
Flight Sergeant T R Kenny. Wireless Operator
Sergeant CM Mitchell. Observer Pupil
Sergeant HA Tompsett. . Wireless operator gunner.
There was an early memorial on the crash – site where the crew are buried and an updated one which was built later by members Aberdeen & Ullapool Air Training Core and the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team lead by Sqn Ldr Eric Hughes MBE. I think the date for this was June 1985?
The memorial was in a poor state and needed urgent repairs and as the crash site is very remote assistance was sought from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. After nearly two years and 6 visits to the site it has now been upgraded by the War Graves Commission. We first visited the site in May 2012 with and then in March 2013 we had assistance form a Chinook from the RAF JHSS in full winter, they dropped off all the building materials for this summer. It was a 0300 start for me and a quick sleep in the car park awaiting the ground crew. In May we were back again and the old memorial removed and the site made ready for the new Memorial to be flown in. The old plaque is now in the churchyard at Inchnadampth where it is attached to the Memorial, it is a place of great beauty and peace.
This was planned for the end of July weather and aircraft availability. It all went to plan and now there is a wonderful tribute to those who died. I was part of the party that assisted. It was fitting that on the 70 th Anniversary of the RAF Mountain Rescue Service that this wonderful tribute is now in place. All the long days and early starts were worth it, we now have a memorial that should stand the test of time and will need little maintenance long after we are gone. In 2014 the stone was commemorated in a ceremony that many attended on the hill for those who could and in the church for others. It was a wonderful day and went well. In 2014 the BBC filmed this and did a radio program on the new memorial and the history.
Please if you walk to this remote site enjoy the peace and beauty and “take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints”. This is a wonderful peaceful place let us look after it for future generations.
We must never forget those who gave so much for us.
The Assynt Anson
For 6 weeks they lay, alone in Assynt.
Found by a shepherd after a wild winter storm.
This is the place is where the six lie.
They did not choose to die!
On a flight from Kinloss, in winter of 41
They were lost.
They crashed in a storm.
Where wild and windswept is the norm.
Above 2000 feet they lay all 6,
They did not choose to die.
Now this scared place is to be marked.
By a memorial bright and new,
To remember those who died for you.
“Lest we forget”
Thanks to all who helped – too many to name but you know who you are!
Please remember all aircraft crash sites are war graves and should be treated as such. This article is dedicated to those who gave their lives for us and to my great friend and mentor Squadron Leader Eric Hughes MBE of the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team.
Between 1 January 1939 and 31 December 1945 over 36000 aircraft were written off in Scotland on the hills or the sea round its coasts, resulting in the loss of over 47000 lives. (173 were Ansons alone)
David “Heavy” Whalley BEM. MBE 5 November 2015