Revisiting scene of Hill of Wirren tragedy

editorial image

A TEAM of individuals from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission will be visiting the site of one of the most tragic air accidents to occur in Scotland during the Second World War on Wednesday (today).

Seven airmen lost their lives as they returned from a mission in the North Sea.

Consolidated Liberator GRV1, number KG857, of 547 Squadron, Coastal Command, RAF Leuchars, was returning to its home base after an anti-submarine patrol over the North Sea piloted by Flt. Lt. Harold Ellis and his crew of nine.

However, the crew made landfall too far north, striking the Hill of Wirren, in Glen Lethnot, disintegrating, and killing seven of the assembled crew.

Two of the crew suffered only slight injuries and helped the severely injured pilot out of the wreck.

He was taken to Stracathro Hospital, where he made a good recovery.

The Royal Air Force still hold a record of the report put together by Sergeant Berryman,.

Itreads as follows: “Because it was night time and The Wirren was snow covered and we were supposed to be over the sea, my question to the skipper was “Hello skipper, is that land or cloud ahead?”. This brought forward the following reply, “Hello navigator, that shouldn’t be it ?”

“There wasn’t even time for a reply. The Liberator hit the slopes of the mountain only about 15 metres from the top of the high ground and a short distance to the east of the summit.”

The commission will, this week, conclude recent maintenance works which have been carried out at Sleephyhillock Cemetery on the outskirts of Montrose, where a number of the crew who lost their lives that fateful evening are buried.

Spokesman Ranald Leask told the “Dispatch” that, while the organisation’s role was one of maintenance and upkeep on the graves, he also planned to do some filming near The Wirren site, where the accident occurred.

Ranald said: “The War Graves Commission look after all cemeteries and memorials for those who died in the two World Wars.

“As you would imagine, most of the sites are in France and Belgium, from the First World War.

“After France, the UK has the biggest number of war graves than any other country and these tend to be civil cemeteries and church yards and they can range from two to 200 hundred graves, depending upon the reasons the casualties are there.

“We have groups of people going around the country on an ongoing basis inspecting what work needs carried out, hence what’s happening at Montrose.

“The grass and flowers need a bit of a revamp and that will be concluded next week.

“The cemetery will be interesting enough, but it would be good to explore the men behind it.

“We will be shooting a video for our website and I would think the crash site would have some stunning scenery around it.

“The stories behind the people buried are always the most interesting thing.

“And although this accident took place north of Brechin, the fact the dead are buried in a cemetery near Montrose is significant, as RAF Montrose was the first operational air station in the whole of Britain having opened in 1913.

“Its an incredible story and all the more significant given that these men had obviously seen off the German Navy, only to become victims of the Scottish climate.”

The last words spoken over the plane’s intercom were by the bomb-aimer who asked “Is that a wall up ahead skipper?”.

Flt/Lt. Ellis visited Edzell annually for many, years thereafter and made a pilgrimage up to the spot where his comrades died.

The work of the commission ensures their memory is maintained for future generations to recognise.