The Cairngorms are a wonderful place and apart from the well tramped Munros and superb climbs there are places of great wildness and the area is full of tales and secrets. During the war there was a huge military presence here and also a lot of training taking place. It is also a place where sadly many aircraft crashed in these high lonely mountains many far away from help. There were few survivors. This is one of the stories that was nearly lost in time.
A few years ago after I had been pretty ill 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 78 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 to be 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 pathless walk up to the plateau where the crash site lies. It was 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 on a previous visit last 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. They asked if I would assist them to this place that means so much too them especially their father.
On the day we met in Aviemore at 0800 it was an early start for me .
Phil and the boys had driven up from the South late Friday night. On the day I had some help from pals Pete, Yeni and Bernie for the day and the weather had been great week and was still holding up.
We met at the Cairngorm Hotel in Aviemore 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 Bynack 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 have had and what an adventure over the last few days and more to come. They were camped in 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 the weather was good and a good 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 part of the 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 path workers 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 walking ground and the route is never easy poor. My pal 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. That day it was so 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 Phil’s 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.
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 over 70 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.
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?
Thank you for everything you did for us on Saturday. It was a both a pilgrimage and an adventure for me, John and Julian to visit my Dad’s crash site. It was a pleasure to meet you and your friends Pete, Yeni and Bernie and to be on the mountain with you and enjoy the camaraderie of a group of mountain rescue men. The visit to the crash site was an experience to be remembered and valued forever. We wouldn’t have known quite where in the Cairngorms the crash site was if John hadn’t seen your blog and we would never have found it or got to it without your guidance. Thankfully we were all fit enough to get there and back – although my legs ache now!
We were certainly blessed with the weather – perfect conditions for the walk and fantastic views from the paths and from the top. The quiet and solitude on the mountains and the desolation of the crash site was something not experienced in our everyday lives. When we first heard the helicopter but couldn’t see it the engine noise was atmospheric. When we heard it again and it came into view it was like a fly-past in honour of the fallen crew. I was pleased to be able to leave the six poppy crosses with the wreckage as tributes to my Dad and the other five men who were killed there in the course of their wartime service.
The vision of the site will stick in my mind, filling in a hole in my family’s history, and I am sure my sons will remember the day for the rest of their lives.
Thanks again for taking us on the visit and for making it such a good day all round.
This is why I visit and will continue to do as long as I am fit enough. Thanks to Phil and family for the use of their photos and a specail insight into their family.
A huge honour to be sent this photo of 45 Commando on Beinn Eighe Remembrance Day by RSM Scotty Muir. At the 1951 Lancaster Crash Beinn Eighe a few years ago. 45 Commando.RM @royalmarines
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.
Thank you to the family for letting me being with them on that special day.