“Lest we forget”
Many people visit Ben Mac Dui as the second biggest mountain in the United Kingdom it is a busy mountain. It is amazing how many visit this summit yet fail to notice a memorial marked on the map. 70 years ago on the 21 of August 1942 there was a plane crash on Ben MacDui .The memorial is about 500 metres from the summit, on a ridge, the view is incredible. There used to be a wooden plaque but now there is a metal one next to a small cairn and some wreckage. It is a great navigational point to find especially in winter but to me it is another very poignant place.
On the memorial are the crew names
Sgt J Llewellyn – (Pilot)
Flight Sergeant G Fillingham (Observer)
Pilot Officer W Gilmour (RCAF) Canadian Air Force. (Navigator)
Flight Sergeant Carruthers (Wireless Operator/ Air Gunner)
Sgt J B Robertson (Wireless Operator/ Air Gunner)
This is to commemorate an aircraft crash here 70 years ago. It was an Avro Anson Mark 1 DJ106 the aircraft crash killed all five of the crew. The aircraft and crew flew from RAF Kinloss in Morayshire in Scotland and was on a Navigational Exercise. The crash was located by the Royal Observation Corp on the 24 August and it took till the 27 August to remove all the casualties off the hill. This was in the dark days of war when Britain was fighting for its life. The Cairngorms was a huge training area, much of it sealed off and the public not admitted. The mountains were the ideal place to test the skills needed by many different troops and Special Forces.
The Avro Anson was a two engine aircraft and wildly used as a training aircraft by the RAF and Commonwealth crews. Many of whom were lost in the mountains and the sea during training. This was due to the aircraft being very basic with limited navigation facilities, communication and the crew training short to support the war effort as quickly as possible. In addition the maintenance of the aircraft would have been very basic due to shortages of equipment and manpower. Crews were needed as quickly as possible for the war effort and unfortunately aircraft regularly crashed. Many crews died in the mountains after surviving a crash but dying of injuries. This was why in later in the war The RAF Mountain Rescue Service was formed.
As a member of Mountain Rescue for nearly 40 years, one can only imagine the recovery operation to recover the fatalities. This was a very remote place in 1942. Access was a long 3 -4 hour walk with basic equipment, no helicopters in these days and highland ponies may have helped with the transport of the casualties. There was no Cairngorm Mountain Rescue team in these early days. Even in August the Cairngorm plateau can be a very inhospitable place.
There is a lot of wreckage around the crash site even after all these years. Both of the Armstrong Sidley Cheetah engines are still there. The wreckage follows a line about 300 metres into the burn the Allt a’ Choire Mhoir where one of the engine lies. Pieces of the undercarriage some of it made of wood and sections of steel framework and lots of aluminium panels are still there. To wander round on a clear day as I did this month is a moving experience. The views of the Larig Gru and the huge corries of Coire Bhrochian and An Garbh Coire are impressive, this is a special place. The burn has several pieces of wreckage including a tyre. If you follow it further down the hill, you will see the power of nature and more wreckage. In winter the crash site can be under snow for several months and I have often used the memorial as a winter navigation training point when I was with the RAF Kinloss and Leuchars Mountain Rescue Teams. It is hard to find in a Cairngorm whiteout and the ground on the Larig Gru side is very steep. The stream and gully is usually full of snow and most of the wreckage is buried in winter.
I did a piece for the BBC to be shown on the anniversary of the crash on BBC Scotland and BBC Wales. The weather was incredible and the views amazing, what a backdrop over to Angels Peak and Devils Point. It was a truly moving day and I hope we manage to portray some of the atmosphere of this special place. Three of the crew are buried in the cemetery at RAF Kinloss Abbey and the other two were taken home to Wales and Windermere. Whenever I visit a mountain with a crash nearby I try to leave a small cross in remembrance of those who gave so much.
Even today aircraft still crash in the mountains and in 2001 two American F15 aircraft crashed about half a kilometre from the Anson on MacDui. The F15 was state of the art technology aircraft and unfortunately both crew were killed. It took 2 days to find the aircraft, even in these days of huge changes in technology and equipment. Nature has a way of showing man who is in charge! The whole recovery took several months to clear of all the wreckage, unlike during the war when there were no resources and aircraft were left where they crashed.
The high mountains of the UK have many such aircraft crashes from the war, where few survived after a crash and one near Ben More Assynt the crew are buried at the site. We must never forget the cost to these young lives; these were young men who died on the mountains for us to have the life we have today.
If you visit I hear that the plaque needs a clean let me know I must get over and check it out. Please be careful if visiting this site this is a wild place on a bad day and especially in winter.