Remembered on a Scottish peak, first of World War II’s fallen

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A POIGNANT ceremony will be held tomorrow on the Bennachie Hills – which dominate the landscape of east Aberdeenshire – to dedicate a memorial cairn to three RAF servicemen killed in two plane crashes there.

Two of the men were killed on a training flight on the first day of the Second World War – the first casualties of the global conflict – and the third in a Gloster Meteor jet crash in 1952.

Relatives of one of the men are travelling from Canada for tomorrow’s ceremony where the cairn, containing small pieces of the wreckage of both planes, will be formally dedicated at a simple service conducted by an RAF padre.

The cairn will commemorate Ellard Cummings, 23, a Canadian pilot with the RAF, and his gunner, Ronald Stewart, 24 who became the first official British military casualties of the Second World War when their Westland Wallace biplane crashed into the mist-shrouded hill on the afternoon of 3 September, 1939.

Pilot Officer Cummings and Leading Aircraftman Stewart, from Paisley, who was about to be married, had been flying from Dyce to RAF Evanton in Easter Ross when the plane crashed on the Bennachie range’s Bruntwood Tap summit. The bodies of the two men were found still strapped into their seats.

Also being commemorated is Pilot Officer Brian Lightfoot, 22, from Yorkshire, who was killed on 12 February, 1952, when his RAF Gloster Meteor jet was on a low-level training flight from RAF Leuchars in Fife. The jet crashed on Oxen Craig, the highest peak on Bennachie, in a snowstorm. The jet exploded on impact, scattering wreckage across a wide area.

Following the Meteor crash, a rough cairn was erected on 528-metre-high Oxen Craig by servicemen from RAF Edzell who had been deployed to the hill to remove the main pieces of the aircraft wreckage.

But a new cairn, honouring all three men, has now been erected at the site by the Bailies of Bennachie, the voluntary conservation society formed almost 40 years to encourage interest in the range of hills.

Jackie Cumberbirch, the senior bailie of the organisation, explained that James MacKay, one of the founders of the Bailies of Bennachie, had been researching the crashes on the hill for several years and had succeeded in making contact with a number of relatives of the servicemen who had been killed.

She said: “We decided to erect a permanent memorial to these brave men and the cairn incorporates small pieces from the wreckage of both the Westland the Meteor, which can still to be found scattered across Bennachie.

“It will be a fitting tribute to these men.”

The brother and two nephews of Pilot Officer Cummings are understood to be flying to Scotland from Canada for the ­ceremony.