Miles Martinet HP371
December 28th, 1943 would close out a bad month in the history of aircraft crashes in Ireland. Already, that month eight American airmen had died in crashes in Sligo and Kerry, five men of the Royal Air Force in Donegal and six airmen of the Polish Air Force in Kerry. This grisly tally would be finished off with a tragic crash in County Monaghan in the days after Christmas.
On that day, an aircraft crashed 3 1/2 miles west of Scotstown in County Monaghan in the townland in Knockatallon. The Irish Army report created by the Army's Intelligence Branch, G2, contains a number of officer's reports and memos on the crash. These various reports record the time of the crash as 10:00 or 11:00 in the morning. None of them mention anything of the weather conditions at the time. The following was the conclusion reached by the Irish Army on the reason for the crash:
"According to local reports, as heard from Gardai in Scotstown, the Aircraft had been flying an approx. Southerly course, at very low altitude, for about five miles, before it reached the scene of crash. Just before it crashed it turned and was then moving in approx. Northerly direction. From this description it is probable that the aircraft stalled in a turn at very low altitude".
A memo kept on the day of the crash records that, reports from the area of the crash were received in Baldonnell aerodrome at about 14:00 on the 28th December. A hand written note from 18:30 hrs appears to read "Mil Attache office informed me that there was a MARTINET missing that this was probably it". Early on the morning of the 29th, Lt. Teague of the Irish Air Corps left to travel to Knockatallon from Baldonnel. His initial reports were that the aircraft was completely burnt out and had been of wooden construction. The remains of a target towing winch were identified in the wreckage. Later that day another hand written report apparently from the G2 Branch states "Major Delamere states that a/c is definitely a Martinet target towing aircraft and is beyond doubt the aircraft posted as missing whilst on a Communications flight from Belfast to St Angelo (near Enniskillen). It records that the local Gardai (Police) in Scotstown were spoken to and they were asked to "inform Cdt. Power that the deceased pilot's name was Flt Sgt Mac Millan, (which I ascertained from W Commdr Begg through Major Whelan) and to facilitate Cdt. Power in producing the registrars certificate of death." One can see in this the level of co-operation between the Irish Defence forces and the British authorities in these cases. Wing Commander Malcolm Glassford Begg of the Royal Air Force was the British Air Attache in Dublin.
The Irish military personnel at the scene were drawn from the 12th Cyclist Squadron. These men provided a guard for the crash scene and participated in the removal of F/Sgt McMillan's remains. Commandant J Power, the G2 officer of Western Command over saw the final arrangements for Fl/Sgt McMillan. The Irish Army handed over his remains on the Clones - Newtownbutler border post at 9:30 on the evening of December 29th. There is no clear indication when the army completed their operation in Knockatallon in the days following the crash. Due to the post crash fire and the wooden construction of the aircraft, only the large engine and other heavy parts were removed from the scene. The last available reports indicate that what could be removed would be transported to Cavan Military barracks for disposal. As is clear from visiting the area in 2011, not all metal parts were removed by the Army!
The pilot of the aircraft was Flight Sergeant (F/Sgt) John Reid MacMillan 986831, a Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR) pilot from Edinburgh. John was 32 years of age and married to Rebecca with one son, Thomas. John's remains were not returned to Scotland for burial but lie at peace in Irvinestown Church of Ireland churchyard in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, just a few miles from where he died. His Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone bears the inscription: RESTING WHERE NO SHADOWS FALL.
In 2011, John's nephew's wife, Doreen was kind enough to pass on some of John McMillan's family history as well as photos of John. John was born to Thomas and Agnes McMillan in 1911. John's father was among those killed on 25th September 1915 at the Battle of Loos serving with the Highland Light Infantry. John's mother Agnes married again after the war and suffered the loss not only of her son John in 1943 in this crash, but in 1945, John's half-brother, James L Ferguson, with the Royal Armoured Corps died on active service in India.
Thanks to a kind MacMillan family friend who replied to a letter published in a Edinburgh newspaper in 2008, Doreen was able to trace Thomas McMillan to his home in Melbourne Australia. Thomas's family were able to supply a copy of F/Sgt J R McMillan's RAFVR service record. From this file it was possible to trace John's wartime service. He enlisted in the Air Force in April 1940. At the time of enlistment his occupation was given as 'Motor Driver'. His initial period of service up until about February 1941 suggests he was employed as a Petrol Bowser Driver. In the spring of 1941 he was re-mustered and declared fit for aircrew duties. It was August/September 1941 before he joined number 6 Initial Training Wing. During December 1941 through to January 1942 he was transferred first to Canada and on to his flying training. His flying training took place under what was called the All Through Training Scheme (ATTS). This scheme meant that John undertook all his flight training from basic to advanced single engine training at the Darr Flight School located at Ponca City, Oklahoma. This school was staffed by RAF officers but the aircraft and training personnel were American military and civilians.
Upon completion of his flight training, John returned to the UK where he was posted to 6 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit in Oxfordshire. This would have seen him learn to fly multi-engined aircraft, including the Airspeed Oxford trainer and it would have allowed him to familiarize with flying in the decidedly more murky skies of Northern Europe. Two further postings with 3 School of General Reconnaissance and 8 (Coastal) Operational Training Unit (OTU) were followed up with him being posted to 131 Operational Training Unit in July 1943. 131 OTU was based at Killadeas in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. He was promoted to Flight Sergeant during his time at Killadeas and his service file records him to be a pilot of very good character.
Research among British aircraft records shows that on December 28th, 1943, a Miles Martinet target towing aircraft from 131 (Coastal) Operational Training Unit crashed in Monaghan. This training unit was based at Killadeas flying boat base and the nearby RAF St Angelo airfield, in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. It was equipped with the Catalina flying boat based on Lough Erne, while land based aircraft like the Martinet would have operated from the runways at St Angelo. The Royal Air Force Museum in Hendon holds an Air Ministry Form 1180 for this aircraft, Martinet serial number HP371. This report is shown in the following images:
The hand written text on the back of the card reads as follows:
N/K a/c crashed in Ireland + caught fire.
C.o.I. AOC & AOCinC concur. C.I. cannot arrive
at any conclusion as to cause of acc. OC, AOC &
These letters stand for:
N/K - I understand that this simply means, Not Known, in that the overall reason for the loss was not known.
C.o.I / C.I - Court of Enquiry
A.O.C. - Air Officer Commanding
AOCinC - Air Officer Commanding in Chief
OC - Officer Commanding.
acc. is short hand for accident.
At the top of that sheet it records that F/Sgt McMillan had a total solo flying time of 198 hours, with 100 of them on the Martinet aircraft type. He also had completed 14 hours of night flying. There are other numbers entered above those figures and I understand these are updated flying hours as a result of the Court of Inquiry. The card also records the purpose of the flight to have been 'communications' but there is no indication as to John's intended destination. RAF St Angelo airfield is the modern day Enniskillen airport. The airfield at St Angelo is little more than 21 miles from Knockatallon. The map below from Microsoft Bing maps shows the two places in relation to each other.
In May 2011, I made a very interesting trip up to County Monaghan and the townland of Knockatallon where John's aircraft crashed.
My first port of call was the Sliabh Beagh Hotel in Knockatallon village and the owner there John Moyna was very interested in the crash and was delighted to finally see a picture of John McMillan. His familiarity with John's name stemmed from the fact that a local man named Jimmy Gallagher used to write a small story about the crash every Christmas in the local newspaper, the Northern Standard. It is unclear yet if Jimmy was an adult at the time of the crash or if he was a youth, but his home sat on a small rise above where the crash occurred. Jimmy passed away nearly 20 years ago but he left a legacy of John's memory at least with the older locals. Sadly almost all the older members of the community have passed away, one old lady died in the winter of 2010 and she might have recalled some details. John Moyna from the hotel did mention that almost every house in the village used to have a piece of the aircraft, which is not unlike other communities where crashes occurred.
John explained where to find the crash location itself, which was back along the way I had come, just at the bottom of a small bump in the road. I drove back to the location of the crash and after asking a few people on the road I was pointed up to a particular house. As I parked up I seen a man come out of the house, and introducing myself I found I was speaking to Mr. Danny Mclloone. I explained that I was looking for information about the crash and he turned on his heal saying, 'I have a bit of that airplane'. And low and behold, from under a pallet in front of his house he pulled a large semi-circle of metal. Looking over this broken metal assembly I guessed that this was the nose exhaust collector ring from the front of the engine cowling. Photos of the assembly are shown below.
It was said that the aircraft had taken a chimney off the house Danny lives in now, then owned by the Colturne family, and had crashed into a corner of a field just below at the side of the road. He found the piece of the aircraft outside the abandoned home of Jimmy Gallagher. Danny pointed out that the area at the time of the crash would have been largely devoid of trees and would have appeared quite open looking, the road running through it is quite straight although it is bumpy. Also, at the time there was no electricity or telephone poles on the road side. The area of the crash is known locally as The Long Hollow. He understood from the old people that the weather was fine on the day of the crash. After a while he mentioned that local people were affected by the crash, knowing that a stranger had met his met his death in their community at the side of a road.