Crash report stirred childhood memories

The Beaufighter crash reported in TheSouthern last week brought back vivid memories of that day for me and my family.

My father was shepherd on Greenhill Farm and we stayed in the shepherd’s cottage close to the farmhouse and steading where the fields on Greenhill Farm marched with Dryden Farm. My father was working on sheep in the steading and I had the job of feeding lambs with bottles of milk.

I was only nine years old at that time and remember that particular aircraft disappearing behind a small wood between our cottage and me. I realised it was crashing because of the noise it was making and by the angle of its decent. I could not see the crash site because of the wood – but I heard an enormous explosion, a noise like thunder.

Very soon after, and still looking skywards, I spotted a parachute descending which came down quite heavily, approximately 100 yards from me. Thinking it was a German airman I took to my heels and ran back to my house as fast as I could. Arriving back at the house I saw my father and the farmer, John Mills, talking to the other crewmember who turned out to be the pilot.

The pilot asked me if I had seen the other parachute land and asked me if I could go and get him. By the time I ran back he had gathered up his chute below his arm and was making his way down to another cottage that appeared to be nearer.

His chute was covered in blood and I found out later that on landing he had hit his head on a stone. The Rae family lived in that cottage and the pilot gave them the “D” ring from his parachute to keep as a souvenir and I recall seeing it hanging on their living room wall.

I ran back to tell the pilot where his navigator was heading and listened in to the conversation between the pilot and my father. He said they were Canadian and the aircraft was a Beaufighter. He instructed the navigator to bail out and he would try to land the plane, but soon realised that the terrain was too rough. He then bailed out himself and said they were very lucky to escape because it was a difficult aircraft to escape from by parachute.

From memory I am sure he said they had a torpedo on board and I doubt if I could have imagined him saying that – but it could have been the reason for that very loud explosion.

We visited the crash site after the crew had been picked up and very little wreckage could be found. The pilot lost one of his flying boots on the way down by parachute and he said to my father that if he found the other boot he could keep them. It could have been good luck, but as my father tended his sheep he did indeed find the other boot. They made an excellent pair of boots for the motorbike, especially as my father was a dispatch rider in the Home Guard.

In the weeks following the crash, a Beaufighter flew over the house doing victory rolls – we could only assume it was the same crew. The crash site is only a short distance from the base of the Ashkirk radio mast and I have a plan of the layout of the fields on Green Hill and Dryden, one of which is now marked “aeroplane field”.

James D. Hogarth BEM