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Avro Anson, Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon, March 1945

On Saturday, 10th of March 1945, an aircraft was heard overhead by Gardai at Carlow town and was later observed by military at Maryborough, County Laois and Athlone.  This path forms a fairly straight line across the country, and given his destination was revealed later to be Belfast, the aircraft was being flown well off track.

        path of Anson NK241

The aircraft was observed later by the Gardai at Ballaghaderreen in County Roscommon circling two miles north of the town.

It was reported then in the subsequent Irish Army reports to have force landed at 13:10 hours on boggy ground at Boleysillagh, four miles north west of the town.  There was found to be only one occupant on the aircraft, Squadron Leader J Bowie, 76307 and he was recorded as being uninjured.  There is little other detail in the Irish Army report, G2/X/1391.  The cause of the forced landing is stated as being "Loss of Bearings due to fog".

Local recollections were found in local history publications and on social media many years later.  Echoes of Ballaghadeereen published an account of the crash in December 1991, including the story as told by a local man, then deceased, Mick Fleming.  "The late Mick Fleming of Bohalis recalled how on that day he had been engaged with some others on road making operations at Boleysillagh.  They saw the plane circling the town, realised that it was in trouble, and at 1.15 p.m. witnessed at first hand the nearest approach the inhabitants of Ballaghadeereen had to the war which had raged for six years.
The Avro Anson had buried its undercarriage in the soft bog, but was otherwise intact.  Squadron Leader Bowie was uninjured.  Shortly afterwards, a car arrived from the town bearing the lcoal Garda Sergeant and Dr. Shannon.  The Sergeant asked Mick Fleming who was an L.D.F. member, to go home for his uniform and mount guard on the machine.  This he did, pending the arrival of the Armoured Squadron from Boyle."

Sally O'Grady who was ten at the time, told her memories of the day to her daughter who posted them to Facebook in January 2017.  She recalled that the aircraft flew very low over their family home, and that her father was on the roof repairing the thatch.  She was out the back of house having moved some cows when the aircraft startled her and she ran back to the house thinking it was a German aircraft.  Her recollection pointed the location of the crashed aircraft to be to the rear of the family home, understood to be the rectangular area marked on the image below.
NK241 Crash location

        Anson, Duxford

The aircraft, an Avro Anson, similar to the above example photographed in the RAF Museum in Duxford, was a prewar coastal patrol aircraft which had long ago been relegated away from combat missions.  The Anson instead served most of the war as a tireless workhorse in training and transport roles.

Sqd/Ldr Bowie was taken to the border via the Grand Hotel in Sligo by the Irish Army and handed over at Belleek at 21:15 on the night of the landing.  Commandant Power who accompanied him had later to submit his expenses for refreshments there and a phone call made by Bowie to Belfast from McDermotts Hotel in Ballaghaderreen.

The crashed aircraft drew crowds from all over the area that afternoon and on the following day, the sunday.  The 1991 article in the Echoes magazine recalled:  IN an article in the "Echoes" some years back, Michael Murphy recalled how as a pupil of the Brothers N.S. he had walked for what seemed like miles to the scene, and how for weeks afterwards, alleged souvenirs from the plane changed hands at inflated prices in the school." 

On the 19th March, Commandant J Power, the comanding officer of the G2 branch of Western Command, supplied the following memo on the crash to the staff of G2 Branch in Dublin.

At 13.15 hours on the 10th March, 1945 a British Anson  Aircraft No. NK.241. landed ih a Bog at Boleysillagh, four miles NE of Ballaghadeerreen. The plane was unarmed.

The sole occupant,No.76307 Squadron Leader Bowie, Capetown South Africa, was uninjured and was handed over to the R.A.F. from Castlearchdale at 21.15 hours same night.

Squadron Leader Bowie was proceeding to Belfast on leave from his station at Parranport, Cornwall, England and borrowed the plane from a pal to take him. He lost his way and was observed by Garda at Carlow, Military at Maryborough and Athlone and Garda at Ballaghaderreen where he was seen to circle before coming down, on what he thought was good landing ground, but  on touching earth the plane got stuck in bog and has been salvaged by the Air Corps.

There is an interesting letter written by a Thomas Connell from Ballymote, Co. Sligo, written to the Military Hospital on the Curragh.  He was expecting that the South African Pilot woudl have been 'imprisoned' and would have needed care for the cut he received on his face.  Mr Connell thought that maybe a relative was married to the pilot.  It is interesting that the military report makes no mention of any injuries to Sqn/Ldr Bowie.

The Air Britain book, The Anson File, provides a potted history of the aircraft involved.  It had been assigned during first to 1310 Flight followed by 83 Group Support Unit with its final assignment being to 19 Staging Post of RAF Transport Command.  The latter unit was an administrative unit based at RAF station Perranporth in Cornwall, England.  The Imperial War Museum defined a Transport Command Staging Post as:  RAF Transport Command maintains a series of Staging Posts around the world varying in size from small airfields to major RAF stations. Their principle task is the transport of passengers and freight together with the associated fuelling, repair and maintenance for the aircraft and the provision of meals and accommodation for passengers and aircrew.  The staging post system is described in The Royal Air Force Medical Services, edited by Samuel Cuthbert Rexford-Welch as being akin to railway services, in so much as the Staging Posts acted llike train stations for arriving aircraft.  Transport Command was involved with all forms of transport of personnel, material and aircraft and these administrative units provided a home for otherwise homeless aircraft and personnel moving between permanant postings.   And it seems, these could have assigned to them a light transport like the Anson for general communications and transport flights.

Anson NK241 ended its useful days in the bog at Boleysillagh.  Captain P O'Sullivan of the Irish Air Corps reported some days after the landing that salvage of the aircraft was completed on the 17th March.  The team stayed at a boarding house in Ballaghadeereen but were joined on the second last day  by 20 men from Boyle Army barracks and they assisted in the removal of the two engines.  The condition of the aircraft was described as:  Fuselage twisted and badly strained by landing.  Engines and tail plane undamaged."  As a result, the engines, instruments and tail unit were removed and dispatched to Northern Ireland, being passed over the border at Belleek on St Patricks Day, 17th March.  It seems that an RAF Officer, well known to the Irish military from his many visits to crash sites over the years, H S Moore, attended the crash site in the week after the crash in his role as Liason officer with RAF Northern Ireland.  With his agreement it was decided that the remainder of the aircraft should be burned in situ to avoid the difficulty of salvage in the bog.  It was commented however in the December 1991 Echoes, that this might not have happened as some locals recalled using the wreck as a shelter.

The RAF carried out an investigation into the loss of their aircraft and the results of this are recorded on the Form 1180.

FB Pilot became lost & had to force land in a field, bad weather conditions.

Pilot did not make any flight plan or prepare properly for the flight.  Became lost due to faulty navigation. 

Bad visibility on route pilot had to force land.

The Sunday Post of November 3, 1946 carried the following article referring to John Bowie.

Down on to Prestwick's 2200 yards main runway yesterday afternoon dropped a little yellow biplane.
It was a single-engined Beechcraft Traveller. In it, Mr John Bowie, a Capetown Scot, was flying solo.
He took off from Prestwick and continued to Turnhouse near Edinburgh, last night.  Mr Bowie left South Africa a week ago. His route has taken him by Cairo, Tunis, Marseilles, Paris and London. His actual flying time from Johannesburg was 20 1/2 hours.
Mr Bowie left his native land for South Africa when be was a boy of 11.  He returned to this country to serve with the R.A.F. and held the rank of squadron leader.
He piloted one of the Liberators which took Mr Churchillís party to the Moscow Conference in 1942.

Squadron Leader John Bowie was born on the 5th February 1900 to Ellen and George Bowie in Southampton, England.

The 1970 edition of Who's Who of Southern Africa carried the following entry for him: 
Bowie, John, Property Consultant, Aucioneer, Prop and Financial Broker, Sworn Appraiser, Dir. John Bowie & CO (Pty.) Ltd.; joined African City Properties Trust Ltd.. Jhb., 1914; presently Hon.Chief Pilot in charge of the SA Red Cross Air Ambulance: World War I, Pilot, Lt. RFC. World War II Sqdn. Ldr. Fighter Command RAF; served France, W. Africa, M.E. and and England (was cmmdr. of one of the aircraft which flew Sir Winston Churchill to Moscow); b. 5th Feb. 1900) Scot.; Educ: Scot., America, South Africa; sol Rev. George Bowie; m. 30th September 1937, Edith Waveney, dol Alexander dol Alexander Rough. 1 s., 1 d.; Clubs: Royal Aero, Cape Aero. RJGC. Royal Cape Yacht. Cape Aero Club. Kelvin Grove; Rec: Flying, golf; Add.: 134 Adderley St.. Box 3888, CT Phone 3-1216.

A Medal Rolls Index Card for a John Bowie, records initial service in the South African Field Artillery and thereafter as a 2/Lt in the Royal Air Force during the first world war.

His name is found in the Operations Record Book (ORB) for 24 Squadron, the RAF transport unit based at RAF Hendon near London, at the end of October 1940 stating that he had been posted to RAF Takoradi with effect from 29 Oct 1940.  His name however is not found earlier than this in that ORB.  While his service record has not been consulted as of yet, where his name has been found listed is usually in Transport and aircraft Ferry operations.  At times in 1942 and 1943, his name is again found the 24 Squadron ORB but not on a great many flights.  The mentions of him flying with Churchill to Moscow for the August 1942 conference with Stalin is yet to be confirmed.  He is found mentioned just once in Oct 1942 with 511 Squadron, which was the Squadron formed from 1425 Flight, which it seems was the source of the Liberators that flew Churchill and his party to Moscow.  The crew of Churchill's aircraft, AL504 is well recorded and Bowie is not among those names.  During 1943 he was it seems posted to Nutts Corner aircraft outside Belfast with 104 Operational Training Unit which trained crews for aircraft ferrying flights.  He was on board of and possibly the pilot of Wellington Z1460 which suffered an engine failure on take off and force landed on the airfield. 

He arrived in New York on 17 June 1944 having taken off from Lough Neagh, in Northern Ireland on American Overseas Airways aircraft 7223, a Consolidated PB2Y-3 Coronado.  He travelled from here to Montreal and nearly two months later is recorded as pilot on the delivery to the UK of Liberator RG983.  He returned to New York after that delivery, and back to Montreal and flew Liberator KH299 to the UK and records no other ferry operations in that context.
The February 1970 edition of the South African Medical Journal carried an article about the setting up of the Red Cross Air Mercy Service, a flying doctors service in South Africa.  John Bowie in that article is described as the senior pilot.

John passed away in South Africa on the 15 May 1974.

Compiled by Dennis Burke, 2022.