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Gairloch digs deep after theft of girls' collection box for air crash memorial

By SPP Reporter

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A glum Isla McWhinney with the plundered charity box
A glum Isla McWhinney with the plundered charity box

THE mean theft of a collection box has upset two young sisters raising money to honour five American airmen killed in a wartime plane crash in Wester Ross.

The news of the theft has seen the Gairloch community rally round to make sure 10-year-old Iona McWhinney and her sister Isla (8) can still go ahead with their plans to erect a memorial plaque at the crash site near Achnasheen.

The sisters recently visited the spot with their dad Ian and a group of friends and they were saddened to see that, unlike other wartime crash sites in the area, there was no memorial to the men who died when their B-26 Marauder bomber hit the mountain in bad weather during World War II.

Mr McWhinney, who with his wife Jess runs Dry Island Shellfish and various tourism businesses at Badachro, said his daughters decided to raise some money for a commemorative plaque and put collection boxes in the Badachro Inn and The Shop at the Pier in Gairloch.

“One day Isla went to check the box at the Inn and discovered someone had broken into it and nicked all the notes,” he said. “She was really upset. We all were. You just don’t expect that sort of thing to happen here.”

Mr McWhinney told her he would make up the £70 or so they think was stolen, but once word got round about the theft, community donations started to come in.

“The charity shop in Gairloch gave us £100 and there have been lots of other donations to make up the shortfall,” he said. “The policeman in Gairloch, Neil Rathbone, is a very good piper and when he came out to take statements from us he offered to play his pipes for a whip-round. Everyone has been very kind. Hopefully we have got enough money now for the plaque, and anything left over will be donated to the Highland Hospice.” Mr McWhinney also paid tribute to the landowners, Coulin Estate, for their help and co-operation with the project.

“They have been absolutely A1 about this all the way along,” he said. “From the beginning they said they would make up any shortfall and they are also donating the manpower and equipment we’ll need to get the plaque installed.”

As a keen hillwalker with an interest in local history, Mr McWhinney has visited the scene of several military crashes in the area. He said: “There are two well-known crash sites in Wester Ross — one above the Fairy Lochs near Badachro where an American Liberator bomber came down in 1945, and another on Beinn Eighe where a British Lancaster bomber crashed in 1951.

“Both of those have commemorative plaques. I think the site of the Marauder crash was just forgotten about. It’s quite remote and it’s a hill not many people climb because it’s not a Munro.”

The accident happened on June 3, 1943, when the bomber was flying from the USA to Prestwick, via Iceland.

This was a recognised aircraft ferry route which should have taken the Marauder over Stornoway, but it strayed too far east over the mountains on the mainland. In thick mist and rain it crashed near the summit of Beinn na Feusaige in Glen Carron, south-west of Achnasheen, killing all five of the crew.

On board were the pilot, 1st Lt Merritt Young (26); bomb aimer 2nd Lt Robert Anderson; flight engineer Staff Sgt Vincent Bravo (24); radio operator Staff Sgt Marshall Miller and gunner Master Sgt Lewis Cross.

Three were returned to the USA for burial and two were buried in England.

Mr McWhinney knows of another site about three or four miles away where a British bomber crashed in 1940 and plans to commemorate the five crew there on the same plaque as the Americans.

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