The 70th anniversary of a tragic Deeside air crash in which eight men perished has been marked by the pensioner who, as a teenager, trudged through deep snow to locate the downed plane.
Andy Brown was 15 years old when the Wellington Bomber, which set off from Lossiemouth on a training flight, crashed into a Cairngorm hillside in January 1942 and lay undiscovered for weeks.
Mr Brown’s great-uncle had seen the plane’s tail sticking out of the snow from a distance in Glen Cluny whilst checking his deer, and had alerted the local constable. Together with Mr Brown and his father, who was a sergeant in the Home Guard, they discovered it was an RAF bomber, reported as missing over the North Sea.
Two months later, the frozen bodies of the tragic crew were recovered from the wreckage and buried in Dyce Old Churchyard, near the wartime RAF base. The airmen were from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.
Fifty years later, Mr Brown led another expedition to recover the plane’s engines, so they could be turned into a memorial to the men in Braemar.
Mr Brown, 85, said: “What upset me more than anything was that there were Canadians, New Zealanders and Australians in the crew - all trainees apart from one officer - and these lads came to this country to fight and all died in the Cairngorms. Most of my life I thought that I must try to see if I can get a monument to these men.”
Aviation journalist Jim Ferguson said: “Few people are even vaguely aware of the very large number (believed to be around 8,000) who died in flying or training accidents, this before they became operational and were notionally in a much more dangerous environment.
“All too often, a lack of experience, combined with bad weather and somewhat tired aircraft, took their toll, with the first and second of the above causes almost certainly playing a major role in the crash of the Glenshee Wellington.
“Having unsuccessfully searched one gorgeous summer day for the crash site, this being semi-officially listed as “4nm S of Derry Lodge”, my subsequent note in the local paper attracted an immediate and extremely positive interest.
“Provided with more accurate position information, the crash site was subsequently located without further difficulty, a pathetic scatter of fragmented metal lying high on the brae face and the rest is aviation archaeology history.
“Led by Andy Brown, the local community swung into action and with, amongst many others, the assistance of the then Royal Guard from Balmoral and the SAR unit from RAF Lossiemouth, the engines came off the hill.”
The engine was mounted on a granite plinth adjacent to the existing Braemar village war memorial, and unveiled by HRH The Princess Royal. It is now a major stopping point for thousands of visitors to the village each year.
Folowing a lengthy planning wrangle, Mr Brown was given permission to erect a collection box made from a World War Two bomb, next to the Wellington engine, so people could donate money to the RAF Benevolent Fund.
Scottish Director of the RAF Benevolent Fund, Bob Kemp, said: I had the pleasure to meet him (Mr Brown) some years ago, when he decided to help the RAF Benevolent Fund by erecting an inert 1000lb bomb in the town centre to be used as a collecting can for the Fund.
“Andy was faced by numerous problems in this task, not least a strong opposition by a small minority of local people, some of whom were incomers to the region who were against the erection of a bomb in the town centre.
“Andy’s application to erect the bomb was not granted planning permission on a number of occasions but this to Andy was a challenge, rather than a setback.
“After tireless and stoic efforts by Andy, his persistent determination was rewarded when his appeal to the Scottish Government Reporter was finally upheld and the bomb was erected.
“As Director Scotland for the RAF Benevolent Fund, I am responsible for emptying the contents of the bomb from time to time. The results have been just terrific. “The RAF Benevolent Fund has benefited by thousands of pounds and, importantly, will continue to benefit into the future.I have the greatest admiration for Andy Brown. To me, he displays the true qualities of a Scottish soldier: vision, determination, leadership, innovation, true grit and a great sense of humour. I take my hat off to him.”