miss. Immediately I set about making preparations.
Ron Anstey had said, "I was a wireless operator/air gunner on the crew of Dave CLYNE, a pre-war Scottish international footballer. On the night of 12 May 1944 with a full fuel load and depth charges under each wing we failed to clear high ground on Vatersay Island and crashed onto a hillside. Sargent pilot, Dave Clyne; Wop/AG, Fred BASSETT and Rigger (mechanic), Patrick HINE were killed. The other six of us escaped with injuries. Roy BEAVIS the flight engineer was the only conscious crew member, managed to put out a fire in an engine nacelle by throwing clods of earth on it. He also obtained help in the morning from a croft* down below. The survivors were taken by the Royal Navy to hospital in Oban via transfer from Barra. Later to RAF convelescent care in Oban."
My first contact to conduct my Cat-crash-site on Vatersay was with a local parish priest familiar with Vatersay. He confirmed the site by citing that he had actually seen the remains. The pastor put me in touch with a Mr. Duncan Campbell who had been raised on Vatersay. Mr.Campbell had even recalled the crash occasion and climbing the hill to the crash on the following day. In detail, he noted that many military personnel at the site as well as noting a sheep had been sliced cleanly in-two apparently by one of the Cat's propellers. Mr.Campbell also informed me that much of the Catalina was later taken away to Oban. With his knowledge, the location of the crash site was pin-pointed for me.
As I checked the ferry timetable for winter sailings, I was committed to leave Oban five past midnight, Sunday to arrive at Barra Island 5:20 A.M. However the ferry would also depart Barra at 9:15 that same morning. This time-frame left me only FOUR hours in which to get to the crash site on Vatersay and return, or await THREE more nights for the next-scheduled boat! My sister in law removed some anxieties as she informed me that a causeway is now in place between Barra and Vatersay. So! I borrowed a mountain-bike and made my plans. Holley, my nine year old daughter decided she wasn't going to miss out on this adventure. Also with Remembrance Day coming up we collected poppies to take with us.
Holley and I rested on Sunday afternoon to catch the ferry out of Oban. When we arrived at Castlebay, Barra we set off enthusiastically. On leaving town we were stunned by the absolute darkness of night. Our round bike journey would be about ten to twelve miles, assuming we successfully found the
wreckage. After one wrong turn down a farm road and Holley came off her bike and a farm dog barked wildly around us in the darkness, I momentarily wondered about my sanity. However as fortune may have its way, shortly after, Holley spotted "JX 273's" remains. There in the grey light of a cold Atlantic sunrise the wreckage gradually began to take on recognizable shapes. We had only about 30 minutes of daylight before we had to bike back to Castlebay. We immediately climbed Heishval Beag and found the crash impact site. We took photographs and noting the remaining wreckage to consist of pieces and sections consisted of one to two feet in length on to ten foot long sections of fuselage and wing. Then in reverence to the three RAF crewmen who died here, Holley and I erected a small memorial cairn and planted the poppies, shared a prayer then made a mad cycle dash back to catch the ferry. Arrived back at Oban at 2:30 P.M.
We were both elated and exhausted from our experience. This was tempered a few days later when our photo-prints were not all of the desired quality. However, I wrote to Mr.Anstey and sent him some of the better photographs. A week or so later I received a call from a Mr.BASSETT. The name seemed familiar. He introduced himself as the son of one of fatalities of JX 273 crew. Allan Bassett was born just a few months after his father, Fred died in the Vatersay Island "Catalina" crash. Allan had been informed of my visit to the site and wanted to thank me for my expressions. Ron Anstey had forwarded my letter and photos to Mrs.Fred Bassett, now in her eighties. At the time of the crash Mrs.Bassett worked in a village police station. Mr.Anstey wrote to her "in-care-of-that-police station." Despite being retired over 20 years the present police managed to forward the letter. Within her pleasure and her son's I was then contacted. Allan told me that the receipt of the letter and photos by his mother were very deeply appreciated and cheered her. Mr.Anstey was also pleased that she was still known to the present day police.
Allan Basset had not known of the surviving wreckage until my letter arrived. Nor had he been to Vatersay. I am pleased to say he is now planning a visit to Oban and Vatersay as I am to meeting and assisting him in his journey to memorialize the terminal site of his father's last flight on a lonely Hebridean hillside known as Heishval Beag.
(NOTE: JX 273 was a Mk1 VB Catalina built by Boeing of Van-