US couple visit Scottish site of relative’s WWII bomber crash

Mearl C Waswick's B-17 "Flying Fortress" made an emergency landing at Strathaven in 1943. Picture: Donald MacLeod

Mearl C Waswick's B-17 "Flying Fortress" made an emergency landing at Strathaven in 1943. Picture: Donald MacLeod

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An American couple have made the journey of a lifetime to the site where a relative survived an air crash in the Second World War.

Mearl C Waswick was a tail gunner on the B-17 when it made an emergency landing in Strathaven, South Lanarkshire, in 1943.

He and all nine fellow crew members walked away from the Flying Fortress bomber, which came down in a field at Braehead farm and sparked a stampede among locals for its cargo of fresh fruit.

Now, his niece Vicki Graham, 63, and her husband Barry, 65, from Yankton, South Dakota, have visited Scotland for the first time and, helped by a taxi firm, travelled to the crash site and tracked down a witness.

Archie Watt, 84, saw the plane come down when he was an 11-year-old boy working in a nearby field with two farmers.

He said: “They just came out of the blue. The first I heard was the tops of the trees getting stripped off by the plane passing through them and then it did a bellyflop and landed without the undercarriage coming down.

“We went across and when we got there they were all out. The crew were fine as I remember. It was a perfect landing under the circumstances. They picked the right field. There was hardly a mark on the plane.

“It’s very nice to meet the Grahams. I didn’t get to know any of the crew but I’ll never forget it. It was the biggest fright of my life. Every time I see a plane flying it flashes through my head.

“We didn’t know very much at the time, it was all hushed up. It wasn’t even in the local papers because at that time that kind of thing was taboo. Within a week it was stripped down and taken away by the army. It was just a total secret.”

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The crash also remained a secret in the Graham family for decades until their daughter Carrie wrote a story about her great-uncle, who died in 1999. He produced a penny he took as a reminder of the crash, which she now wears on a necklace, and told her a little of what happened.

Standing at the crash site on Wednesday, her mother said: “It’s very emotional. It was part of my uncle’s history and I kind of wish he could have been able to come and see the place and meet the people and meet Archie again.

“He didn’t talk a lot about his war. He was a very shy and quiet man.

“My uncle was the only injury. They all got out the top of the plane and when they were getting out one of the guys stood on his face. He didn’t tell us that, it was his friend, another crew member.

“He said the people around here were wonderful.”

The plane was heading from Newfoundland to a base in Polebrook, Northamptonshire, via Prestwick, South Ayrshire, when it lost an engine 1,000 miles out in the Atlantic and then ran out of fuel on being diverted from fog-bound Prestwick.

Mrs Graham said the pilot told the crew to parachute out but they stayed with him as he brought the plane down safely.

The couple were driven to the site by Glasgow Taxis, which also arranged for them to meet Mr Watt there.

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