Ronn’s wartime Spitfire story grows wings

OUR mystery story involving claims of a crashed wartime Spitfire near Selkirk and its Canadian or American pilot deepened this week.

A number of Southern readers and website users got in touch with bits of new information and their own stories.

Last week we told how former Selkirk photographer, Ronn Ballantyne, who for the past two decades has lived in the Canary Islands, had been obsessed by a story told to him by a man claiming to have been a Canadian pilot during the Second World War.

The man had come into Mr Ballantyne’s photographic shop in Selkirk in the late 1980s and said, during the war, he crash-landed his Spitfire at Dryden, near Selkirk, after losing his way back to his airfield in southern England.

He had wanted Mr Ballantyne to take photographs fo the crash site, but never showed up for their agreed meeting the following day.

However, Netta Mackenzie, who runs a guesthouse in Selkirk with husband Ian, remembered the man in question, telling TheSouthern he had stayed at the couple’s B&B on numerous occasions in the 1980s and early 90s.

But Netta gave us a Californian address for the man, who she said had given the name of Harold A Raasch and that he had passed away some time in the 1990s. A week later and we have several reports from people who grew up in the Dryden/Ashkirk area during the war and can remember several crashes.

Rob Phaup, who is now in his late 80s, lives in Eastern Berwickshire these days, but back during the war lived on the family farm at Ashkirk Town.

He says the aircraft which crashed at Dryden was an RAF Beaufighter, which he had seen come roaring out of the fog on an April morning in 1943, before crash-landing.

“I remember seeing two parachutes and the crew were alright,” said Mr Phaup. The two men in question were the pilot, Flight Sergeant Haley, and his navigator/radar operator, Flight Sergeant Fairweather.

They had abandoned the twin-engined Beaufighter after it suffered an engine failure and it then crashed at Dryden Farm.

Mr Phaup, who says he was in his 20s at the time of the next incident, says this involved a Hurricane fighter being flown by a Norwegian.

“It too came out of the fog and made a couple of attempts to land in front of the house at Ashkirk Town. He then tried to land at Headshaw, where there was some flat ground, but the aircraft went into some ditches and turned over. It happened opposite the old quarry.

“People from Selkirk came up on their bicycles to look at the aircraft. We went up to see it as well. It was lying upside down and RAF men were taking it apart and putting it on a low-loader to take away.

“Police told us the pilot had been a Norwegian and he’d survived just a broken nose after running out of fuel.”

Meanwhile, Leith reader Jim Fuller said he read our story with interest, as it brought to mind an incident which occurred in the area in 1940/41.

“My family was evacuated from Edinburgh to stay in Kirklea and one afternoon, whilst returning there from Ashkirk school, my younger brother and I heard the sound of a low-flying aircraft, followed by a loud explosion and flames which shot up over the crest of the hill lying north of the road near to Aleneuk poultry farm.

“Being curious eight and 10-year-olds, we ran over the hill until we reached the site.This was more a crash than a crash landing.There was smoking, burning debris spread over a wide area.

“No -one could have stepped out alive. Our intention to investigate further and to collect a memento was foiled by a local worker who chased us away.

“Later, news confirmed that it was a British plane and that the pilot was unhurt. In that case, he must have baled out earlier.”