I think we first heard about it through idle social chit-chat in a pub in Lichfield, some 500 miles south of our current location, but the urge to investigate led us on a back-road from Gairloch to the Shieldaig Loch Hotel, where we found a car-park convenient for a hike into the surrounding hills – in search of an unusual World War ll war-grave.
The story is little-known but well-documented online for those who seek it out. It revolves around the tragic crash of a US military aircraft, en-route home at the end of the War.
On 13th June 1945 this ill-fated US B-24-H Liberator bomber was returning to the USA from Prestwick airport with 15 airmen on board. The crew of nine was from the 66th Bomber Squadron along with six other ‘passengers’ – all from Air Transport Command. The route should have taken the aircraft over Stornaway but perhaps due to instrument or navigational failure it was flying over the rugged coastline of Wester Ross where, in heavy cloud, it hit the top of the 981m high mountain Slioch, incurring damage to its bomb-bay doors. It appears that the pilot then attempted an emergency landing in Loch Gairloch but crashed instead into rocky outcrops close to a number of small lochs known as the Fairy Lochs. All aboard died.
The crash-site is now regarded as a war grave with twisted scraps of weather-tarnished rivetted aluminium scattered over a stretch of otherwise innocuous-looking heather. A concentration of recognisable engine-cylinders; wheel assembly and propeller-blades are also clustered in and around a tiny loch – made all the more chilling and fantastical on the day we found it – by the cloudless blue skies and mirror-calm surface of the loch, out of which wreckage still protruded.
Closer inspection revealed a tiny memorial plaque set into the rocks close by, bearing the names of all those lost. Two small American flags had clearly recently been planted in the heather at its base.
One of the most sobering thoughts of our visit was the respect which had clearly been shown for the site, since much of the wreckage has been left untouched here for over 70 years – to provide a telling monument to lives needlessly lost during (and even after) the conflict of a World War.
To lighten our mood after such a fascinating, emotive and humbling visit, we celebrated the fact that we didn’t get as lost on the way down as we did on the way up.