Northern Ireland

Community marks memory of World War II air crash

There were 11 plane crashes in the Sperrin Mountains during World War II, five of them in the Plumbridge area. The sites are remote, but BBC NI reporter Louise Cullen reports on how the community in the Tyrone village is making sure the memory of one crash lives on.

Mullyclogha Mountain, a few miles outside Plumbridge, has changed little since 6 March 1945, when an Avro Anson crashed just below the summit. It was carrying five servicemen on a training mission from Scotland.

Two local men rescued the sole survivor, 16 hours afterwards.

Image caption Michael Shaxson was the sole survivor of the 1945 crash

Michael Shaxson returned in 1982 to thank the men who had saved him. He died in 1996, but his wife Doreen joined relatives of the other victims to unveil a memorial on Mullyclogha.

"I thought this was ancient history now, but I'm touched that it is still remembered and I think this is so important, that the next generations do remember the war," she said.

It is believed this was the only Plumbridge WWII crash in which there was a survivor. The crew had gone off-course in thick fog. Believing they were over the sea, they flew lower to get their bearings. But tragically, they were over the Sperrins.

The four young men who died were Sergeant Richard Button, 19, from Yorkshire; Warrant Officer Jack Pennack, 24, from Essex; Flight Sergeant Robert Gillian, 27, from New South Wales, Australia, and Flying Officer Ian MacFadyen, 21 from Ontario.

Rosemary Cunningham had been compiling a scrapbook about her uncle, Richard Button when the Glenelly Historical Society contacted her about placing a memorial on the mountain. She and her brother, Mark Lowry, knew little about the story.

"I knew my uncle had died in a plane crash but I didn't know why, so I've learned so much today. Hopefully people will come here over the years and see what really happened," said Mark.

Image caption Glenelly Historical Society set out to mark the crash

Jack Pennack's daughter, Daphne, was four months old when her father was killed. She had been visiting his grave all her life, without knowing how he had died.

She now knows about the plane crash and that her father is buried in the grave she has tended.

Although he grew up in Canada, Flying Officer Ian MacFadyen still has relatives on the Scottish island of Tiree. His second cousin Alan MacClean made the journey to the mountain.

"A lot of people weren't remembered like this and it's nice to be remembered," he said. "I'm going to see his cousins in July, so I'll tell them all about this."

Members of a North Antrim family were the local representatives of Australian airman, Robert Gillian.

"Robert's father was born outside Ballycastle, so my Daddy and Robert were first cousins," said Eileen Brady. "It's just nice to be here to celebrate this memorial with all the other families."

Rose Mary Murphy, the secretary of the Glenelly Historical Society, helped bring the relatives to the mountain to unveil the permanent memorial on the 66th anniversary of the tragedy.

Image caption Doreen Shaxson said it was important for future generations to remember the war

"The crash had an impact on the very close community here," she said. "It was something older people still recall very vividly. But it wasn't all accurate, so it was a case of bringing together the story they had to tell and the stories from the families."

The society is now hoping to recover some of the wreckage of the plane.

While much of it was buried on the mountain, some parts were taken away to be used on local farms. Paddy Lindsay took an oxygen cylinder, which his father found a use for.

"Whenever he sowed carrots, he rolled the bed with the oxygen cylinder. I think it's at my father's house yet!"

If you have any memories or family stories of the Sperrin mountain crashes or any pieces of wreckage, the Glenelly Historical Society can be contacted through their website, www.glenellyhistorical.org.uk.

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