The Wellington aircraft crash near Geal Charn 10 December 1942 and a survivors story. The Corrour Tragedy.

Yesterday I had a lovely visit from Andrew and Karin Miller who had travelled all the way from Australia. They had been trying to get information on an aircraft crash that a relative died in during the war. He told me how the family missed him and like so many dies so young. The aircraft were very basic in these days and the navigation was simple as were the weather forecasts and this was when the war was a fight for survival. There were so  many crashes and much was classified at the time due to morale. We lost so many aircraft training and when they crashed in a remote area such as this it would be some effort to bring the casualties home. Yet one of the crew survived and had a marathon walk out in full winter at night of a high Munro top. What a sad tale but worth a read?

They found my piece on the internet and we had a lovely few hours I showed them the area and some of the photos of the crash site in this remote area. We have arranged if I stay fit a visit to the crash site on there next visit to the UK. They were lovely folk who were great company and we managed some lunch in the Bothy and they were impressed with a visit round the village.   They headed of to visit the grave of James at Lossiemouth and they told me for 40 years flowers were put on the grave every year by someone in Lossiemouth, they never found who it was and were so impressed by there kindness. It was great to be able to help and I gave them a copy of  of the crash area marked on my map, which they will treasure. They are lovely folk who are involved in helping folk in many ways in Australia and it was a joy to meet them. They are lovers of art and gave me a lovely lithograph as they left and a voucher for the Bothy.

 

Hello David
I have read with much interest your personal interest on the
Wellington crash on  10 Dec 1942.

Andrew and Karin Miller from Australia on a visit to their relatives grave and hopefully a visit to the crash site in the future.

The pilot James Heck was my uncle.
I didn’t ever meet him because I was born in 1953 however James was my
mother’s brother.
My mother and my grandmother spoke much about their loss of James (a
son and a brother)

I am in Aviemore at the moment (I arrived today).
I would be very interested in having a chat with you about your
research on the crash?  He came yesterday for a visit with his wife.

Beinn Alder Crash  10 th Dec 1942

This is some of the wildest country in the UK, if going in be aware of big walk in/or cycle and these are big mountains, good navigational skills are necessary. Please respect the crash site and be aware that young lives were lost here. Even today with mountain bike access please be aware that this Estate is very good to walkers and climber. This is due to respect and trust of each others activities especially during the stalking season.

There is an amazing story of a Vickers Wellington  aircraft 10/12/1942 that crashed south eastern flank of Geal Charn  One  crew member survived in mid-winter and went for help – what a story that few have heard. Wreckage can be found on Geal-Chàrn, and then at various points downward on the slopes of Leacann na Brathan, in the vicinity of Ben Alder

The crew, from B Flight of No.20 OTU, were on a day navigation training flight from RAF Lossiemouth on 10 /12/1942. The planned route was from base to a point some 30 miles east of Peterhead – Crieff – Friockheim, near Arbroath – Maud, near Peterhead – base. At some point the aircraft deviated from this route and at about 15:00 while heading in an easterly to north easterly direction (some 40 miles off course) flew into Leacann na Brathan on the south eastern flank of Geal-charn which at the time was snow covered and enveloped in blizzard conditions.

The only survivor of the crash, Sgt Underwood, after checking for signs of life from his crew made his way off the mountain and arrived at Corrour Lodge in a very poor state. He was taken in and the next day transferred to hospital in Fort William. I cannot imagine trying to get off the mountain high up in winter from this area and all your crew are killed. How Sgt Underwood managed this is a tale of survival and huge mental courage this is one of the wildest areas and remote hill country in the UK, Sadly little was known of this tale as in 1942 it was the dark days of the war and I would imagine crashes etc were fairly restricted information. One can only think what was in his head as he headed down to Corrour and what he said to the keeper and his family who live in this remote place? It is an incredible survival story and to have to leave his mates must have been awful, survival in this place in mid December is a huge pull. 

After the aircraft had failed to return from its exercise a search was organised but nothing was found before the report of the rear gunner reaching Corrour and help was received. The rest of the crew died in the crash.

Following the recovery of the bodies of those who had been killed the task of clearing the site was given to No.56 Maintenance Unit at Inverness. They inspected the wreck and decided to abandon it until the spring of 1943 before any work could begin. The recovery operation eventually began in July 1943 with a camp being established some distance from the site, assistance was rendered by army personnel of the 52nd Division, Scottish Command. They provided 25 pack mules and a 3 ton lorry. With these most of the wreckage was removed from the site, but today a reasonable amount still remains. Some tale! I am sure there was an aircraft Tyre down near the road coming out of the BeinnAlder Track near the Dam at Loch Eiricht and the railway line; it would make sense that is where some wreckage was taken by the mules?

The wreckage is in three debris fields, with the lowest lying (containing a few twisted pieces of fuselage) right on the main path going over the Bealach Dubh between Ben Alder and Geal-chàrn at an altitude of about 730m. It was here that much of the aircraft was brought down by mules and I am sure that is why the wreckage is there on the path? I am sure this is where the wheel came from as the road passes the point where I used to see the aircraft wheel.  Please be aware this is a tricky wild remote area if you plan to visit where the snow holds on for a long time. 

OS 10-figure grid refs (GPS):

NN 48049 73196
NN 48072 73585
NN 48223 73680

Thanks to Danny Daniels and others for the information.

What a film this story would make and few have heard or have knowledge of this story, it was hidden in the tragedy of the war. I bet there is still a few who would know the tale, the keepers from Corrour would have been involved as would the Beinn Alder Estate any information would be gratefully accepted.   I had planned to go up on the 70 th Anniversary but was ill for two years. I will make a point of going up on this 75 th Anniversary in 2017 God willing!   I did but the weather was so poor no photos were taken and most of the wreckage was covered.

Do you have any contacts on the Estate who may be have a tale of this epic?

David “Heavy” Whalley heavywhalley@btinternet.com Oct 2018

Culra bothy Dec 2003

A few years later in the same area but not so high up as the crash site this tragedy occurred, this is a wild area of 6 Munro’s that even today are a big event. There is a bothy at Culra but that is out of action just now due to a problem with asbestos.

The Corrour tragedy on 29 -31 December 1951. Five members of the Glencoe Mountaineering Club form Glasgow decided to spend New Year at Ben Alder bothy. All were fairly well-known mountaineers at that time. I spoke to Hamish McInness many years ago about this tragedy and he knew some of them as mountaineering was a small sport then. They had planned to get the train to from Glasgow to Corrour Station near Loch Ossian a lonely but beautiful place to the North of Rannoch Moor.  They arrived after the afternoon train and got a lift from a lorry to Corrour Lodge at the end of the loch. After a meal cooked in the woods they set off for Ben Alder Cottage some 11 kilometres away over a high pass at 2030 hours. They were carrying large packs with 3-4 days food as the bothy at Ben Alder Cottage is very basic. After about 4 kilometres the party became tired and 3 decided to bivouac in the lee of a river at about 500 metres. The other 2 pushed on and tried to cross the beleach W.S.W of Ben Alder but due to deep snow they also bivouacked.

They woke at 0600 and with the wind now and a gale blowing behind them tried again to reach the beleach; they turned back and met the others at 0915 near a small lochan. The weather was so bad that they found it difficult to pack their kit. They all then tried to head back to Loch Ossian only a short distance away. The wind was in their faces and weather were extremely wild, winds over 80 -100 mph recorded across Scotland; one by one they succumbed to exposure and died. The only Survivor was the wife of one of the fatalities who reached Corrour Lodge where the local keeper and the SMC were staying and mounted a rescue party. Nothing could be done; it was a terrible tragedy and rocked mountaineering in Scotland for many years. They must have had such a hard time dealing with such a tragedy. There is an account of this in the book the Black Cloud (L.D.S. Thomson) and the SMC journal Vol 25 No 143.  It must be noted that some of the accounts are taken from the survivor who had lost her husband and will still in a state of shock even a few weeks after the incident. Weather forecast in 1951 was very vague and exposure was unheard of in those days. In the same SMC Journal Doctor Donald Duff a pioneer of Scottish Mountain Rescue wrote an article on Exposure Tragedies, much is still relevant today. In 2013 in the same area a solo walker was found after a big search, another fatality this is wild country and in winter a hard place to be.

This is from our walk in December 1978   Leaving Ossian Youth Hostel on our 21 day unsupported walk we did the 5 Munros adding in Beunn Na Lap on Geal Charn we had a epic a white out came in and we struggled to find the ridge to Carn Dearg, Twice we retraced our route the nearing was right yet there was a cornice baring our way. Time was not on our side and we climbed down it. We were on the correct line but the snow was so heavy it had a big cornice on the wind.  It was then on to our last Munro and the bothy, shattered that was in early December and we were very fit. It shocked me that we had such a hard time. How did the survivor get off these hills on his own in similar weather.

We had one big day before a break at Dalwhinnie all night it snowed even more and the bothy was covered outside in snow in the morning. There was the estate track that in two to three hours that would take us to Dalwhinnie but that was not the option we headed out into the “White Room” again to Ben Alder and Beinn Bheoil big hills with very tricky navigation on the summit plateau with huge Cornices. This is as wild as the Cairngorm plateau and remoter we would have to be on our toes.

https://www.peakdistrictaircrashes.co.uk/crash_sites/scotland/vickers-wellington-l7867-geal-charn/

http://www.aircrashsites-scotland.co.uk/wellington_geal-charn.htm

Oct 2018 From Andrew Miller the power of the Internet from a relative of the crew of the Wellington, who lives in Australia. We had a great visit and hopefully they will accompany me on a visit in the future.

 

 

1972 Lancet edge near the crash site.

About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Aircraft incidents, Articles, Bothies, Enviroment, Friends, Mountain Biking, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

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