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Library Reference Number: 170

U.S. 44th Bomb Group Crash Site

Jack Burgess, Saltire Branch PRO.

In Library Story Index No.17, Branch member Harry Wilson, DFM, relates his experience with No.4 Missing Research Unit in Germany during the years following WW2. Even at that time when people were braced to meet war-time conditions, it was felt inadequate for families to be burdened with stark messages such as "Missing - believed killed." With 42,000 men unaccounted for, next of kin were unable to grieve due to the uncertainty of knowing if their loved ones were dead or alive. The very nature of operational flying made events even more uncertain, for even if evidence existed their aircraft had crashed, where were crew members interred?

The Jack Ketchum Crew (Jack Ketchum Back Row, 2nd from LeftDid this situation arise in Scotland, where perhaps allied aircrew had crashed with identities not being established thus causing severe anxiety to worried relatives? We decided to find out when our hill-walking son James came across a crash site in Gairloch area some years ago, with a small American flag and a US 44th Bomb Group memorial complete with crew names on a plaque. This was enough for us to decide on a closer investigation.

One and half miles up a hillside close to the "Fairy Lochs" where we had been warned the area had an eerie atmosphere all of its own - we found this was a fair description. We found the crash site with the warning "This is their resting place - treat with respect and take only memories." Local people appeared to take this literally, as fresh flowers were lying in what amounted to a mini-shrine, with an upright prop blade as a centre-piece, with a model B24 and small American flag alongside. Even when seeking directions and inquiring how to reach the crash site, the local hotel owner and a fisherman we asked, were very wary and protective and reminded us that nothing should be tampered with or removed.

Being interested, we felt the warnings were almost unnecessary, as the deep silence, the scattered wreckage in a remote hill area, the fresh flowers, the model B24 and the obvious effort shown to create a mini-shrine seemed sufficient to earn respect. The metal plaque bearing names and details of the young crew had obviously been erected with care. So much so, that the crew's resting place has been designated an official war grave.

The story that will unfold here is composed of contributions from many different sources, for the grave is that of nine American crew members of 66th Squadron, 44th Bomber Group, plus six US Service passengers, whose final flight took place on 13th June 1945. Squadron records ceased in April 1945 when 44th Group was being broken up and personnel returning to USA. The absence of service records was therefore the start of a complex situation of identifying those that had crashed on this lonely Scottish hillside. The driving force behind the fact-finding mission was undoubtedly members of the Shuttleworth family from Stockton-on-Tees who regularly visited Scotland, and in 1970 when son Ian was only 12, came across the site. This discovery started several years of tracing identities, which led to the task of installing the names on a memorial plaque bolted to the rock face.

Thankfully, The Aircrew Association has world-wide membership, which enables many short-cuts to be made in finding information and tracing events. In this case, the obvious contact was Charles Joseph Warth of "Southern Comfort" B24 fame who lived in Cincinnati. An Aeronautical Historian, Governing Trustee of the USAF Historical Foundation, more importantly, he was also an ex-member of U.S. 44th Bomb Group.

Joe Warth and I met each year at the ACA Reunions for a chat, having a common interest in Liberators where Joe was still able to enjoy B24 flights in USA. The year was 1996 when we met once again for the National ACA Reunion in Cardiff. On this occasion, Joe introduced me to David Shuttleworth (ex-Lancaster Navigator). It was a rewarding discussion, as David was able to describe details of the family?s long-term commitment in carrying generators up the Gairloch hill enabling power tools to be used in constructing the memorial. Joe Warth, being a former member of 44th Bomb Group was also able to give relevant information. The following brief account is a record of information gained, and partly explains what transpired prior to the fateful crash.

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First Lieutenant Jack Ketchum (22) was a veteran of 33 operations over Europe bombing enemy airfields, war factories, SS Headquarters etc. On two occasions he had been reported "missing in action" after crashing, once in Belgium and another time in Russia, but Jack had always made his way back to his UK bases in Hertfordshire and Norfolk. Bobbe Ketchum his wife, whom Jack had married when she was only 18 (he 19), was no longer worried; the war in Europe was now over and her husband was due back in USA any time now. For all their youth, they were considered to be an "old crew" and were considered to be ready for returning back to the States.

Memorial with Plaque bearing names of crew & passengers.Things were not moving quickly enough for the crew, they had been scheduled to return home on the "Queen Mary" but when offered the chance of a B24 that had just been repaired to fly themselves home, they jumped at the chance. They had turned down one or two other aircraft as being unfit, but when B24 Serial No. 42-95095 became available, they decided to take it, although it was not one of 44th's own planes. Agreeing to take six other members of U.S. Air Force as passengers who were also keen to get back home, in addition to nine members of crew, they took off from Prestwick. It was 13th June 1945, and they planned to fly by Mull to Stornoway, then turn west for Iceland and on to the States. The wind was from the west, and for whatever reason, the B24 flew 25 miles east of where it should have been with poor visibility and grey sea mist shrouding the land.

What the local postman saw that day looked like the sun rising over Shieldaig. An RAF Navigator, home on leave, rushed to the scene of the crash. In his view, it was obvious the aircraft had come down, slapping into a loch and out again, then it slammed into a rock face. Everything was blackened, a fire-ball had gone rolling up the hill, which possibly fitted the postman?s description of "a sunrise over Shieldag."

Crash investigators discovered there had been a fire in one of the engines. This may have led to the crew seeking a place to land on-shore rather than in the sea. In doing so, it is also thought that the aircraft clipped one of the hill peaks losing the bomb doors in the process. In spite of the reports on fire and human remains being spread far and wide, it is remarkable that one of the few personal items returned to Jack Ketchum's wife Bobbe was a black & white photograph of herself wearing a costume with white beads on the collar - the outfit she wore at her wedding to Jack. Bobbe Ketchum was devastated and disappointed with the outcome of the crash, in that her husband and aircrew were not properly honoured, as they were not entered on the congressional roll of war dead. Hopefully, the work of the Shuttleworth family helped to ease the sadness.

Aircrew Association member David Shuttleworth had been a wartime Navigator, and his two sons (particularly Ian) shared his interest in aircraft. With Ian, it was almost an obsession from the age of 12 to investigate further into air crash sites; but with this one it seemed even more special. He felt a compulsory urge to become even more committed over the next twenty years in paying more frequent visits to the Gairloch crash site, and writing to various authorities and 44th Bomb Group members to find more information. Ian Shuttleworth had been successful in discovering the identities of all those who had perished in the B24. Having done so, his additional visits from his Stockton-on-Tees home culminated in carrying up a generator and equipment to erect the much appreciated and approved memorial and plaque which he paid for himself. The plaque contained personal details of all those who had perished in the Scottish Highlands crash.

Dedication Photo; Shuttleworth Family on Left,  RAF Kinloss Padre on Right.Far from stopping there, Ian tracked down Bobbe Ketchum in the United States. She had re-married since Jack Ketchum's fatal crash, but confessed she had never really recovered from the shock of losing Jack, who had survived so many other crashes while on operations. He had a history of returning to base on three engines. Ian Shuttleworth invited Bobbe to Scotland along with Jack Ketchum?s brother Bill, and after meeting them in Glasgow in April 1989, took them to the Gairloch crash site to show them the resting place of their loved ones for the first time. At a later date, some of the other crew members families also visited the crash site. In fact, after viewing the scene, it was they who came to terms with the fact, that this site should be fully recognized as a "war grave" as they felt there could never have been sufficient remains of their loved ones to have been interred elsewhere.

Ian Shuttleworth?s next move was to organise a suitable dedication ceremony which took place in June 1991. Ian was by this time 33 years of age, and he had spent 21 years since he, as a 12 year old, had first started on his commitment to this crash site. His efforts were successful in that having a dedication ceremony with the Padre from RAF Kinloss officiating; his aim of the site being granted the status of a War Grave was successful.

Along with hundreds of other crash sites all over the UK, this one may have remained an anonymous relic of aerial warfare unrelated to any human victims unfortunate enough to have crashed there. Had it not been for the curiosity and commitment of a 12 year-old schoolboy in 1970, it may have remained as such, especially in a quiet, remote area, just another unidentified heap of scattered debris. Thanks to Ian Shuttleworth's dedicated work spread over twenty years, we can now appreciate the human tragedy of a 22-year old U.S. Pilot who having completed 33 operations over Europe, just failed to overcome the final hurdle in rejoining his young wife in USA.

At least, the B24 crew?s families had confirmation of how they died and where; but it is almost certain that the true reason for the crash will never be known. Even after twenty years, Ian and his father could not entirely agree on what caused the fatal crash; and no one has scoured the area for clues more than themselves. Without their help this article would never have been written, and we are grateful also to the Shuttleworth family for giving us photographs of the Jack Ketchum crew and the dedication ceremony which took place in 1991.

Finally, we can only trust that hill walkers or tourists making their way up to the Fairy Lochs will enjoy the peace and tranquility of this special place; but will also keep in mind the words Ian Shuttleworth inscribed into the rock - "This site is their resting place. Please treat with respect and take only memories. - Thank you"

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