One of our aircraft is missing. The fate of Lysander R2026

Author. R Morley BA(Hons) Hist.

During the course of the Second World War South Loch Ness was the site of a number of aircraft crashes and forced landings, all the result of Pilot error of mechanical problems rather than enemy action. Whilst prior to this incident searches had been made for missing aircraft or after reports of hearing an aircraft crash, this article chronicles the first confirmed ‘grounded’ aircraft which occurred on the morning of the 25th October 1940.

That morning a Westland Lysander serial number R2026 from 614 Squadron Coastal command, piloted by Pilot Officer Richard England and crewed by Sergeant Gunner John Walker took off from their base at Longmans Aerodrome to patrol a sector of the Squadrons allocated patrol area which stretched from Beauly to Berwick. The aircraft flew westwards from its base on the North side of Loch Ness where it developed engine trouble. Pilot Officer England made the decision to cross to the South side of the Loch and look for a suitable landing site. At 1030am the Pilot chose his site and attempted a landing on what appeared to be a suitable site. The Lysander came to rest near Tomvoit on part of Easter Muirnich farm about 60 yards South of Woodside Cottage, the home of Mrs Shaw Cameron. On landing the Lysander collided with the stone dyke forming the boundary between Easter Muirnich and North Lyne knocking 10 yards of the dyke down and severely damaging the Lysander’s undercarriage, fortunately both airmen escaped uninjured.

Lysander Aircraft

At midday Constable Colin Ross attended Gorthleck Post Office as part of his general patrol. On arrival Mrs J MacDougall the Post Mistress informed him of the crashed Lysander. Constable Ross immediately attended the scene where he found Sgt Walker guarding the aircraft. PO England had left heading to Gorthleck, he was however picked up by Patrick (Paddy) Murray who was heading home on his motorcycle from Foyers Factory to Aberchalder. Paddy took PO England to his house where his wife served breakfast whilst a message was sent to PO England’s Squadron informing them of the situation.

 Having established the exact location of the aircraft and that the crew did not require medical assistance, Constable Ross headed for Gorthleck Post Office where he used the phone to inform Police headquarters of the incident. On doing so he then returned to the Lysander and stood guard until the arrival of five RAF men at 6pm who relieved him.

A downed aircraft was always something of interest to the local population and would attract sightseers. It would appear that this was no exception. On 4th November1940 Mr H A Skelton, Manager of Foyers Factory, Justice of the Peace and Local ARP controller wrote to the Chief Constable of Inverness-Shire Constabulary voicing his concern that ‘RAF guards (of the Lysander) are distributing some of the .303 ammunition to the people in the district by way of souvenirs, I rather think that some considerable quantities have come into the possession of some individuals’. Mr Skelton considered this highly undesirable believing that the ammunition may ‘be used for poaching or it might even get into the hands of Fifth column or other enemy agents’ the ammunition was though of limited use, John Murray recalls that it would not fit into the .303 Lee Enfield rifle with which his Father would take the occasional deer with. The distribution of ammunition was not the only community benefit that the crash provided. A number of other items were sold or gifted to locals by the RAF guard. John Murray recalls his father, Paddy also acquiring a sheepskin flying jacket and boots whilst a large amount of the aircrafts fuel found its way into local hands. No doubt a more than welcome windfall in times of severe fuel rationing.

An official investigation was mounted into the unauthorised disposal of War Department property and Paddy Murray was required to attend an identification parade to pick out the Airman who had sold him items from the Lysander. Though Paddy recognised the man he ‘neglected ‘ to identify him to the authorities. There is no record of anyone being prosecuted for the loss of items from the crash site of Lysander R2026.

Copyright RMorley 2019

The Bombing of Gorthleck Mains

Author. R Morley BA(Hons) Hist.

The height of the German air offensive during 1941 saw the Luftwaffe visit Stratherrick on at least four occasions. Whilst the bombing of British Aluminium’s Foyers factory is well known, details of the other three are less well recorded. This article based on Foyers Police Office Occurrence book and an interview with a local resident will hopefully bring the events of Monday 7th and Tuesday 8th April 1941 more into the public consciousness.

At 0904am on Monday 7th April 1941 Constable Colin Ross, stationed at Foyers received the first Air raid message of the day, the all clear was sounded without incident at 0940hrs. Air raid warnings during 1941 in Stratherrick were a common occurrence, by the end of the year Constable Ross would have received ninety nine such warnings from Gorthleck 42 (Code name for Foyers factory) four of which would result in direct enemy action.

At 1021pm the same day PC Ross received the message ‘Air raid message Purple’ (Raid likely), he activated the air raid sirens and immediately after heard the sound of aircraft in the distance followed he recorded by ‘ten violent explosions, believed to be somewhere in the Stratherrick district’. PC Ross upon requisitioning a car from Mr Ken Ross (Merchant, Foyers) set out along with War Reserve Constables Rae and MacInnes to make search for the locus of the attack. En-route they encountered Simon Fraser (mail contractor) who offered to assist in the search.

At 1245am on 8th April 1941 a ‘huge crater was discovered on Gorthleck moor, 97 yards west of farm steading at Gorthleck Mains tenanted by Angus Matheson (Farmer) residing there’. Matheson who was also a Special Constable was awoken by the search party and stated that he was unaware that a bomb had dropped near his premises and hadn’t heard a thing. Matheson checked the Mains for damage, the extent of which amounted to no more than a few shattered windows before assisting in the search for additional craters. Continuing the search in a westerly direction, nine more bomb craters were found, extending in a direct line for just over half a mile from the initial one.

During the course of the search at 1.15am 8th April 1941 another aircraft was heard Constable Ross records ’flying high, approaching from a southerly direction. It passed overhead as if going towards Drumnadrochit. Soon afterwards the plane returned by the same course heading south in the direction whence it came, at 1.25am flashes of fire where seen followed by nine heavy explosions somewhere in the hills about Wester Aberchalder’. 

At 9am on the 8th April Constable Ross met with Donald J MacKintosh, Aberchalder’s gamekeeper and together they began to search for where the bombs from the second raid had fallen. They initiated their search on Beinn Bhuraich and located the first crater at a point about 3 ½ miles south of Aberchalder lodge. The crater was measured as ‘40 feet wide and 20 feet deep’ and the line of nine craters stretched over one and a half miles the last one being on Corriegarth estate, half a mile south of the boundary fence between it and Abercalder.

Wester Aberhaulder

Some days later Special Constable J MacKintosh (Newlands, Errogie) handed to Constable Ross a bomb fragment that had been found with the markings on it SO5. I have been unable to verify to what these markings relate but they are likely to refer either to the bomb type or its manufacturer.

It is fortunate that during these attacks unlike the one against Foyers Factory damage was minimal and there were no casualties. The question will however be asked ‘why was this area targeted’. In the authors opinion there are a number of possible scenarios. Firstly the attack on Gorthleck Mains could be a simple case of target misidentification and that the actual target was Foyers factory. Speaking with a local resident who recalls the night of the raids, he remembers how in 1941 a farm building at Gorthleck Mains which housed a steam engine had a tall chimney and looked ‘more like a factory than a byre’ whilst Foyers Factory was covered in ‘nets, broom and gorse’ for camouflage making it very difficult to identify from the air especially at night. Secondly the raiders may have been unable to find Foyers Factory and instead looked for a target of opportunity which Gorthleck Mains presented.

Regarding the second attack, the raiders on being unable to identify the factory may have decided to drop their bombs on the south side of a loch on which they thought the factory may lay hoping for a lucky hit. The final scenario is that upon failing to locate Foyers Factory the raiders aborted their mission and as was standard operational procedure jettisoned their bombs prior to returning to their airbases in Norway.

The night of 7-8th April saw extensive German Air raids over Scotland with 15 towns and cities targeted. Ministry of Defence records only indicate one German loss over Scotland during the period 7-8th April 1941 which was a Heinkel HE111 crashed due to engine failure at Fife Ness and piloted by Uffz H Braucks of Kampfgeschwader 1/KG26. Whether or not this was involved in these attacks further research may reveal.

Copyright RMorley 2019