I was in Assynt after coming up overnight and staying at the Naismith Hut at Elphin. The drive up was stunning and in the morning I was awakened by deer at the door and another stunning day in the North West. Outside the door is the majestic Suiliven in all it glory just with the early morning cloud rolling off. It is very dry up in the North West and there has been a wild fire up near Suilven on the Lochinver side so be aware of this as I saw several fire engines coming back last night.
After a breakfast I drove past the great hills to meet Scott from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) in the car park at the Inchnadampth Hotel where he was staying. He was going up to check the new Memorial for the Anson aircraft that crashed in the winter of 1941. The Memorial has been up for a couple of years and to see how it had settled in this wild location. I had been asked to guide Scott up to the Memorial as he had never been there before. The weather was perfect just a chill wind when we met but bright sunshine. The CWGC do a great job and look after over 26000 graves in Scotland and this grave is up at 2000 feet are one of the remotest in the UK. 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.
Sadly the crew of 6 who died here are buried up in this wild place one of they few places where due to the remoteness and the dark days of the war 13 April 1941 and they were interned here at the crash site. Most people though that they were buried at the local Churchyard but this was not possible in 1941 and why in my mind it was important for the site to be formerly recognised for the future and the peace of mind of the relatives a few I have met.
It is a steady walk in from the car park and can take 2 – 3 hours and in winter or bad weather it is a tricky place to locate. Yesterday it was such a lovely day to walk with a chilled wind just to keep you cool. The sun was strong so it was on with the sun-cream at the start. I had not met Scott before and we had a great chat on the way up and I explained why this place meant so much to me. It was mainly because my old Boss from the 70’s in the RAF Sqn Ldr Eric Hughes who looked after me when I was a wild young man. Eric was also the Officer i/c the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team when I joined and sadly passed away a few years ago. He was instrumental with others in looking after the grave and even helped put a cross cairn on the site in 1985. The RAF Kinloss team assisted by others over the years have helped with the maintenance but after 70 years it was in a poor state.
Eric was worried as he got older that no one would look after the site where these young men lost their lives. I had visited the site as I did on many occasions and combined with the two Munros Conival and Ben More Assynt makes a great end or start to a hill day. I had also introduced many young team members to this site. As Eric got older and became very ill I had promised him that I would do my best to ensure the site was made secure for other generations. Not long later after Eric passed away I revisited the site and it was in need of care. The cross was in a state and as I am getting on in years we needed something done officially. I had contacted the CWGC about help and I after some heavy correspondence I managed to arrange a visit to the site with Ian their main man in Scotland. I had to repeat that few knew that the crew were buried at the crash scene and many thought that they were in the local churchyard at Inchnadampth, where there is a plaque commemorating the loss of 6 crew on a lonely mountain. They were not located until 6 weeks after the crash by a local shepherd after a wild winter.
One can only imagine the horror he came across when he found the aircraft and the six crew as one who has been to many crashes with my work in RAF Mountain Rescue so I know what he must have felt. The crash is high in the wilderness of Assynt and the walk in is a wonderful way to see this wild area. On the walk up you leave the main path that the Munro baggers follow to the big Munros Ben More Assynt and Conival and follow a lovely winding stalking path to a small hut that the stalkers and fishermen will use. We stopped here and had a drink it was still a bitter wind but the path was dry and the views outstanding, Scott was loving the situation and was great company,he was a joy to be with so enthusiastic. I was still not feeling great but the old body keeps going on a day like this. This was not a day to rush and I had so many stories of my 20 journeys up and down since I started this project 6 in full winter since 2012.
The views from here are magic the big Corbett Glas Bheinn at 776 metres with its rough screes shinning in the May sun and the hidden lochs that open out as you traverse to the ridge. This can be wet boggy ground but not after this dry spell the ground was firm and the rock dry to walk on. There are a few limestone crags about near the ridge and today it was hot here out of the wind.
It gets steeper here and in poor weather you can lose the path as you drop to the river and then work steadily up through the crags to the ridge. In winter snow can make this hard going but today it was a grind up and then we got some shelter in the crags, the limestone radiating the sun and out of the wind for a while we had another break. I put on more sun screen and my hat and gloves for the open ridge and loch higher up.
I love this area it is wild land and the words of the great poet Norman MacKaig describe this land so well. This area is so shaped by nature and among the rocks and lochs scooped out by the glaciers and weather.
“Glaciers, grinding West, gouged out
these valleys, rasping the brown sandstone,
and left, on the hard rock below — the
ruffled foreland —
this frieze of mountains, filed
on the blue air — Stac Polly,
Cul Beag, Cul Mor, Suilven,
Canisp — a frieze and
From the rocks you move onto the ridge and the loch nan Cuaran it is a lonely place even today with the wind making waves on the loch surface. Scott was impressed by this place and was taking even more photos than me. This is classic Assynt country and so atmospheric as it is also a great viewpoint. Now you can see all the great peaks, Quinag to the west and the big Munros Ben More Assynt and Conival and the wild open locally named “aeroplane flats”
From here we followed the loch along a fair way to the river and explained in bad weather the path is hard to follow and you have to use the loch and river as a navigational aid. Today it was easy a bit of wind but fun in the sun.
After crossing the river that flows into the loch we followed the river up it was magic the sun hitting the water and the clarity made this a wonderful place to be. It was nearly 2 and a half hours to here but so enjoyable. There used to be some wreckage in the burn but I never saw it and we were soon up on the famous “aeroplane flats” where the plane crashed in that wild February night in 1941. You feel this place as soon as you arrive it is wild and open, did the pilot try to land here, what was the story all these years ago in a winter storm? So many questions and then you see the Memorial if you know where to look.
On the flats Scott spotted the Memorial he knew what he was looking for from his photos and we were soon there. It is a moving place, open and evocative with some wreckage about, two engines one still with a propeller and in the huge peat hags where the main impact point is there is a tyre and other bits. There is little left after over 70 years and the granite Memorial unobtrusive but such an impact. I am not into memorials in the mountain but this is a headstone for the crew that are buried here so in my mind it is so necessary.
I always go back to the story and it is hard to believe that this aircraft lay up here for 6 weeks till a local shepherd found it after the worst winter for many years. In winter this is a wild place of no shelter to the elements and one can only imagine that day in 1941. It is told that one of the crew was located away from the wreckage and may have survived the crash but was heading into the wrong direction. There is a lot more to the tale but in a sad period of war but it was just another tragedy in these dark days. It was just more losses and to be missing and no clue where you were alive or dead for many was a tragic time.
Scott checked things out and cleaned the inscription, he was pleased that it had settled in the peat. It was looking great and he explained that they will visit the site regularly and it is now on their inspection list and I can now relax an know that all the effort for several years and costs was well worth while.
We spent about an hour at the Memorial it was looking sparking in the sun and washed down and cleaned lovingly by the spring water Scott had used. Scott was pleased that it was in great shapeand he clearly loves his job and that these who gave their lives are never forgotten. He has some tales of visits to wild places all over to ensure that these graves are well looked after, this will now be another tale for him and the story will not be forgotten.
It was time to go, I had a 3 hour journey home after the walk out about 2 hours it would be a long day. We we wandered along seeing a few fish in the burn for the first time near the crash site. It took a bit of pain on the knees to get back down and it was a lovely walk out. We stopped a few times to rest and enjoy the views and chat.
It was about 1500 when we got back to the car park and swapped details for photos and I headed home via Ullapool for some fish and chips. My car oil light came on but that is another story but got some oil from my pal at Black Bridge and then at Contin garage. I was tired it was a long day 14 hours but a sparkling 115 miles drive home. The car parks were full of walkers yet we had seen no one all day or any wild life.
Arriving home after a great day now time for a rest and and maybe sort out the car. I sorted the kit and noticed a sheep tick under my knee, I was wearing long trousers so be aware.
After 15 visits and 230 miles each time involving over 3000 miles of travel, so many nights away 3 visits in winter the Memorial is fit for purpose. It will need little maintenance over the years and will be looked after by the establishment. I am glad that so so many who now know the tale of the night the Anson Crashed in Assynt. One can only imagine the Shepherd who found them 6 weeks after the plane went missing. That is a tale in it own and the family of one of the crew who made the long journey weeks after it was located to the crash site to pay respects to their son.
These tales are told in more detail in my blog and the wee Church at Inchnadampth. It is great to know that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission will look after the grave and the memorial for ever. Eric the job is done, I hope you are pleased?
Never forget those who gave so much
“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.
Dedicated to the crew and the late Eric Hughes MBE.