Anson N9857 - Beinn an Fhurain


Anson N9857 from 19 OTU

On Sunday April 13th 1941, the crew of Anson N9857 XF-F from 19 OTU (Operational Training Unit) at RAF Kinloss on the North East coast of Scotland, were briefed for a cross-country training flight. The routing for the flight was to be:- RAF Kinloss - Inverness - Oban - Stornoway - Cape Wrath - Achnashellach Station - RAF Kinloss.

The Pilot onboard the aircraft was Flying Officer James Henry Steyn, (42275), DFC from Johannesburg, South Africa who had recently been screened after completing 44 operations with 10 Squadron. He was 23 years old. Pilot Officer William Edward Drew, (45356), from Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire, age 28 was Observer (Navigator). Sergeant Charles McPherson Mitchell, (912122), from Ballater, Aberdeenshire, age 31, was the Observer under training. Flight Sergeant Thomas Brendon Kenny, (551620), from Barnsley, Yorkshire, age 20, was the Wireless Operator/Air Gunner. Sergeant Jack Emery, (976995), from Trowbridge, Wiltshire, age 20, was Wireless Operator/Air Gunner under training and Sergeant Harold Arthur Tompsett, (931417), from Croyden, Surrey, age 20, was also Wireless Operator/Air Gunner under training.

The aircraft took off at 1018 hrs and set course for Inverness. At Oban they sent a radio message saying that they had descended to 500 feet in order to remain below the cloud base. Later they radioed their position at Kylerehea. By now they had run into bad weather, and by the time they arrived overhead at Stornoway airfield the visibility was bad and Stornoway airfield had closed its runways due to the depth of snow on them.

At 1302 hrs, N9857 sent a message confirming their turning point at Cape Wrath. They indicated that they were attempting to climb over the bad weather. Approximately 10 minutes later, the Wireless Operator at RAF Stornoway picked up a very faint Morse message. "icing up...........lost power in port engine...........losing height........descending through 3,000 feet ......." and then nothing more after that.

This was indeed a dire situation for an aircraft to be in, flying as it was, with mountains of +3,000 feet all around.

The aircraft crash landed on the plateau of the mountain Beinn an Fhurain approximately 3 miles east of Inchnadamph in Sutherland, Scotland at around 2,300 feet. On landing the starboard wing hit a rocky knoll and shattered which sent the aircraft cartwheeling. The fuel in the wing ignigted and burnt out most of the wing and part of the foreward fuselage.

The blizzard which swept the North West Highlands that day was ferocious, it was the most severe snow storm to have been recorded in the area in over 100 years. The same day that Anson N9857 and crew were lost three local shepherds in the Inchnadamph area perished less than half a mile from their homes while out attempting to gather their sheep in to shelter.

At RAF Kinloss, Anson N9857 was recorded as being overdue, and as time passed, as missing. Extensive air searches over the next few days failed to find any trace of the aircraft and it was presumed lost at sea.

The fate of N9857 and her crew was not discovered until 25th May 1941 when Mr Law, a local shepherd, came across the wreckage of the aircraft while he was out on Beinn an Fhurain. The bodies of five of the airmen were found inside the remains of the fuselage, wrapped in their parachutes. Evidently at least three of them had survived the crash landing but had died of exposure. The body of Sergeant Mitchell was discovered some half a mile away sheltering under a large boulder. It is believed that he had set out to get help but he too had succumbed to the cold.

Due to the remoteness of the area and the difficulties involved in accessing the crash site, the airmen were buried side by side at the scene by police and Estate workers. A large cairn made with peat and rocks in a semi-circular shape was built over where the bodies lay.

After the war, the War Graves Commission visited the site to consider if the bodies of the airmen could be recovered and taken to the cemetery. However, they determined that it would be impossible to bring the remains of the crew down the mountain and so the graves remain on Beinn an Fhurain as the highest graves in the United Kingdom.

In June 1985, Cadets from 2489 Air Training Corps (Bridge of Don) in Aberdeen organised an expedtition to rebuild the cairn which marks the airmens grave as it had become tumble down and dilapidated over the years. The cairn was rebuilt and a 9 foot high cross was erected on the top. A ceremony was held during which the local Minister rededicated the cairn.

The graves of the crew from N9857 on Beinn Fhurain
graves of the crew

Acknowledgements: My thanks to Andy Summers, Paul Warrener, Jim Hughes in Scotland & Rob Davis in England.

Visit to the crash site of Anson N9857 in 2002

The Date: 31st August 2002

The Team: Myself and a group of other vistors to the area, led on the expedition by Andy Summers the Countryside Ranger for the area.

Starting from Inchnadamph at 1100 hrs on a warm, windless and sunny day, it looked as though we were going to have excellent conditions for walking. Perhaps, dare I say it, even slightly warm? I should have known better. The weather in the Scottish mountains can change from minute to minute, from one extreme to the next. By the time we had climbed to about 1,500 feet we were in mist and there were no views to be had.

Although the first part of the walk was along tracks and paths, the second stage was very much a case of picking your own way through heather, boulders and bogs. There certainly is no defined path that leads to the crash site which is on a plateau.

Debris from the aircraft is scattered over a wide area and some large parts of the aircraft still remain, including both engines.

Large parts of debris
One of the engines in a bog
The other engine sits alone on the plateau

After spending a short time at the crash site we descended the mountain and arrived back at Inchnadamph at 1800 hrs, seven hours after having set off.

A memorial to the airmen from Anson N9857 was erected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission at the entrance to Inchnadamph Old Churchyard, Assynt, Sutherland.

The memorial at Inchnadamph Old Churchyard
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© Linzee Druce 2002-2012