Wirren remembered

20110216- Tending the War Graves at Sleepy Hillock Cemetery. 'Stewart Furay and Graham Hobbs tend the war graves. ''"Andy Thompson Photography",'"No use without payment",'"Tel: 07795437362" ,'"www.atimages.com" ,
20110216- Tending the War Graves at Sleepy Hillock Cemetery. 'Stewart Furay and Graham Hobbs tend the war graves. ''"Andy Thompson Photography",'"No use without payment",'"Tel: 07795437362" ,'"www.atimages.com" ,

STAFF from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) last week carried out renovation work to improve the appearance of war graves within Sleepyhillock Cemetery in Montrose, Angus.

One hundred and thirty-two war graves are contained within this cemetery, dating from both World Wars.

CWGC staff, with help from Angus Council, are carrying out work on herbaceous borders and turfed areas.

Montrose played an important part in guarding Britain’s shores during the First and Second World Wars and its strategic importance was identified at an early stage by the War Office, which established the UK’s first operational air station on the outskirts of Montrose in 1913.

Commenting on the work being carried out at Sleepyhillock, the CWGC’s horticultural manager for the UK, Keith Lakey, said: “Sleepyhillock is an attractive cemetery, but with many shaded areas, we have struggled to maintain adequate grass coverage until now.

“However, by replacing turf and introducing over 350 new herbaceous plants, we hope to substantially improve the appearance of the war graves plots.”

Most of the casualties buried at Sleepyhillock served in the air forces, both British and Commonwealth, but army and naval casualties are also buried there. Thirty-nine of the graves date from the First World War, with 93 from the Second World War.

Of the Second World War casualties, 85 are British or Commonwealth, with eight Polish graves.

As was revealed in last week’s “Brechin Advertiser”, amongst those laid to rest at Sleephillock are the victims of the Liberator Bomber air crash from the Hill of Wirren.

This week, we have been inundated with telephone calls and e-mails from people relating to the crash, a limited number who spent their childhoods during the war in the glen and remember the crash.

Even better, we also heard from the daughter of a local lady, who had provided blood, her mother having been of a rare blood type, the same as that of one of the survivors, Gordon Berryman.

Gordon wrote to the lady’s daughter a number of years later and explained what happened on the fateful night.

He said: “We were not on our way back from an operation; we were on our way to it. We took off at Leuchars and set course from Bell Rock (with a defective compass - 45 degrees out)!

“As a result we re-crossed the coast and flew straight into the Wirren, in full flight and fully loaded. We were not carrying a new navigator. We had both the original navigators, who “crewed-up” with the crew during training. They had flown dozens of missions together. We were, in fact, carrying a new second pilot with us.

“Of the 11 crew members, only four survived. The rear gunner, who miraculously did not get a scratch said afterwards, “One minute I was flying and the next minutes I was walking.”

“The new second pilot survived with a fractured leg. The skipper, a squadron leader on his third tour of operational duties, survived with facial lacerations and flew for the rest of the war.

“Because it was night time and the Wirren was snow-covered and we were supposed to be over the sea, my question to the skipper was actually; Hello skipper, is that high land or cloud up ahead? It brought forth a reply, “Hello navigator, that shouldn’t be, should it?” There wasn’t even time for a reply.

”I suffered a multitude of injuries and was invaladed from air force hospitals and subsequent medical rehabilitation units in 1947, some two-and-a-half years after the crash and nearly two years after the end of the war.

“I returned on a number of occasions to visit a wonderful family who were very good to me - Mr and Mrs Cooper of Brechin, Mrs Cooper was the donor for the blood transfusions I needed.

“One of those visits I finally managed to get up to the crash site but I didn’t return again until October 1976 with the intention of seeing the site again. When I got to Wirren it was snow-covered and inaccessible for me. The crew who were killed were buried at Montrose. Although I searched for their graves, I was unable to find them and the church was closed.

“I would not like to see a non-existent new navigator carry responsibility that does not exist and could possibly rub off on the two excellent navigators we had, who did not survive the crash.”