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Police Constable Gerrie and the missing Wellington Bomber

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Imagine it is February in 1942 and the Second World War is being fought in many places around the world.

You are in Braemar Village which is in Aberdeenshire, in the Scottish Highlands. Braemar Village is approximately 58 miles from Aberdeen and that you are a Scottish Police Constable serving on the Home Front. [Braemar is the place where they hold the 'Royal Highland Games.]

As Private Fraser from Dad's Army might say, 'it is a wild and lonely place.' Most of the able bodied men have gone to serve in the armed forces and it was mainly the young and the old and those in reserved occupations that have been left behind.

In fact it is one of the worst winters they have ever seen. Heavy snow falls and bitterly cold temperatures and freezing winds that just cut through you to the bone. But life must go on and Gamekeeper James Wright is out in the hills checking on the deer on the Estate and using his telescope spots something strange and it appears to look like the tail section of an aircraft. It would be impossible for James Wright to reach this spot because of the deep snow and the distance involved.

Later that day Gamekeeper James Wright reached the nearest village which was Braemar and reported what he had seen to the local Police Constable James Gerrie who immediately telephoned his Headquarters to find out if any aircraft were missing. Police Constable James Gerrie was informed that no aircraft were missing. James Wright was also a member of the local Home Guard and was convinced he saw what he saw and that was part of an aircraft on the snow covered hillside.

Police Constable James Gerrie decided that on the following morning he would lead a search party to the scene of this mysterious object. The party would include Gamekeeper James Wright and William Brown who was a council employee and who would drive the lorry with the snow plough attached and William Brown's 15 year old son Andy Brown. Remember most of the abled bodied men had already gone off to war. The snow plough could only take them so far and then they had to trek the rest of the way. The conditions were slightly better when the snow was frozen on the surface but at times the snow was powdery and they then found themselves waist deep in the snow. Eventually they reached the same position that James Wright had been in the day before on discovering the object using his telescope but they still could not be sure if this was part of an aircraft or just ice on some rocks. Therefore the small party had to continue on for a further mile or two to reach the site. Gamekeeper James Wright had been right, the search party found the sun was glinting off the glass from the rear gun turret and from the tail of the aircraft. Unfortunately the party could do nothing for the 8 dead aircrew buried under the snow as the weather conditions were too severe. They had found Wellington Bomber [R1646] which had crashed approximately one month before which was on a training flight from 20 Operational Training Unit from Lossiemouth. 

The RAF were informed of the discovery on the 22nd of February in 1942 and a surveying unit was sent to the scene of the crash to investigate. The weather conditions were so severe over the Winter that the 8 bodies of the crew had remained on the snow covered hillside for two months. 

On the 2nd of March in 1942, the remains of the majority of the crew were buried in Braemar churchyard.

I have attached a photograph of Police Sergeant James Gerrie's  medals. 


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more photographs.....

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Part 2 - 'It only takes one person to remember.'

Andy Brown was the 15 year old boy who took part in the original 4 member search team in February of 1942. Finding the Wellington Bomber and knowing that its 8 man aircrew had died must have created memories that would remain with him for the rest of his life.

Andy Brown believed there should have been a memorial to them and so in 1999 he applied to the Ministry of Defence for permission to recover the Pegasus engines from the R1646 crash site.

The engines could only be removed from the site by helicopter and a RAF Sea King helicopter from Lossiemouth was requested to assist in this operation.

A big problem was getting the two engines off the hillside and to a place where it would be safe for a helicopter to airlift them from the crash site and to their new temporary home. This is where the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regiment volunteer and came to the rescue of the project. The regiment was part of the Royal Guard at Balmoral Castle in 1999 and interestingly they had also been part of the guard at RAF Lossiemouth in 1942.

The two engines were successfully taken to Andy Brown's workshop where one of the engines was prepared to be part of the official memorial and I believe the other engine was going to a local museum.

On Thursday the 21st of August in 2003, the memorial was unveiled by Princes Anne in Braemar. The District Pipe Band payed, the boys and girls of the local Air Training Corps provided the Guard of Honour, representatives from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and their Shetland Pony mascot and RAF Lossiemouth all attended, along with many other representatives and people. There was even a 'fly past' by a Tornado aircraft from 15 Squadron based at RAF Lossiemouth.

The Wellington Bomber's 8 man crew were made up from individuals from the UK but also from Australia, Canada and New Zealand and so their flags were flying and wreaths were laid on behalf of these countries as well.

By all accounts it appeared to be a very grand and special day for all those involved in the memorial service and even after over 60 years since their deaths, they had not been forgotten. 


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