- Contributed by
- Alasdair Sutherland
- Location of story:
- Tongue Highlands of Scotland
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 17 July 2004
A Lucky Escape
On the 25th August 1943 a Handley-Page Hampden bomber (Number P5334) of RAF Coastal Commands 519 Squadron 1406 (Metrological) flight, took off from Wick airport in Caithness at 9:35am. The unit operated Hudson’s, Hampden’s and Spitfires the squadron’s duty was to measure climatic conditions, so future weather predictions could be made. Flights were made over Iceland, then east towards Norway and then back via the Faroe Isles, a trip of over 7 hours.
At 13.25hrs a message was heard at Sullom Voe, in the Shetlands that the aircraft was reporting engine problems, ten minutes later an SOS was heard, no further radio traffic was heard and no trace of the aircraft was ever found. Later that day 519 Squadron Commander Flight Lieutenant H R Puplett took off in Hampden (Number P2118) to search for the missing plane. The other crewmembers were Flying Officer Ritchie (Navigator), Flying Officer Faulks and Sergeant Hudson-Ball were the observers.
Puplett searched all night (nearly eight hours), for the missing plane until by midnight they were flying through a lightning storm heading back towards Wick. Flying Officer Faulks was listening to the radio but the transmissions in Morse were distorted by the electrical storm, as he worked he saw a blinding flash followed by a violent blow and he was knocked out.
The aircraft had flown into Ben Loyal (2,504feet) at 150mph, the mountain is a few miles from the small village of Tongue, and 50 miles from their base at Wick. Flying Officer Faulks had been thrown clear from the smash and came round to find his aeroplane a blaze all around him, he then crawled behind a rock to escape from the exploding ammunition cooking off in the fire.
He lay in the open for about six hours until a rescue party arrived from the nearby farm at Ribigil, the rescue party led by shepherd E Campbell and Dr F Y McHendrick found and then treated the injured Flying Officers. The rescue party then strapped Faulks to a piece of aircraft wreckage, filled him full of morphine and dragged him off Ben Loyal.
The first part of the journey from the base of the mountain was by horse and cart, Faulks was then transferred to an RAF ambulance for the journey to Golspie’s Lawson County Hospital about 40miles away. On his arrival (15hours after the crash) at hospital he was found to have very serious injuries including a broken right leg, a smashed up left foot and severe facial injuries and was initially not expected to live. He did live and spent 18months-receiving treatment for his injuries before rejoining his squadron and flying again before the war ended.
Shepherd E Campbell and Dr McHendrick were both awarded the British Empire Medal for their rescue of the downed aviator on that night. In all they made six trips up and down to the aircraft that night, recovering the injured man and the bodies of his comrades. Dr McHendrick was also praised for his efforts in keeping Flying Officer Faulks alive as they removed him to safety.
The wreckage of Handley-Page Hampden (Number P2118) can still be found on Ben Loyal today, bullet riddled panels and machinery scattered through the gorse testament to the time when the war came to a small hamlet in the Highlands of Scotland. 10,875 men from RAF Bomber Command died during World War 2 not all of them in action as this story tells.
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