South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 491
January 2017

Roy Bowman
Land-line; 031 564 4669
Mobile; 084-951 2921

As the 8th December 2016 was the Branch's Annual Cocktail Party, there was only one speaker, Ian Sutherland. His subject was

"Another Aeroplane Crash in the Scottish Highlands".

On Tuesday, 25th August, 1942, an R.A.F. Sunderland flying boat, W4026, took off from Invergordon on the North West Scottish coast, with the Duke of Kent, the King's youngest brother, on board, with his entourage of 3, for a 'goodwill visit' to British and American forces stationed in Iceland.

The Sunderland was developed from the British S.23 Empire flying boat used by British Imperial Airways, and extensively re-engineered for military purposes. It had two .303 machine guns in the nose turret, a dorsal turret with two .303's and the tail turret with quad .303's. It could carry 2000 lb. of either bombs, mines or depth charges, and sufficient fuel for 16 hours flying time. It was nicknamed 'the Flying Porcupine' by the Germans for very good reason!

Examples of this aeroplane can be seen at R.A.F. Hendon near London, or at Duxford, South of Cambridge.

The normal crew complement was 11, and the captain on this flight was Flight Lieutenant Frank Goyen, an Australian regarded by many as one of the best Sunderland pilots in the RAF. Also on the plane was the Oban-base Commander, Wing Commander Thomas Mosely. A flight plan had been approved, which required the 'plane to fly NNE to Wick, then due north to John O'Groats, turn left and then north-west to Iceland.

Shortly after leaving Invergordon the plane flew into cloud, which deteriorated into thick fog, and for whatever reason, the plane turned part-left to fly over the coastline, south of the small coastal town of Dunbeath, and thirty minute after take-off, it struck rising ground on the hillside of Eagles Rock, somersaulted, the almost full fuel tanks exploding, killing all bar one of the occupants instantly. It had been heard overflying Berridale, a coastal village south of Dunbeath, by a Royal Observer Corps member, but not by the ROC member at Dunbeath, indicating that it had deviated from the approved flight plan too soon.
Why ?

A small search party was assembled and set off from Braemore, a small village inland from Dunbeath, to the area of the crash. Arriving at the crash site they found no survivors and returned to Braemore. On the way they met two local Special Constables, who proceeded to the crash site. One of them was Will Bethune who identified the body of the Duke of Kent, who was not in the cockpit at the time of the crash. The others were identified by their identity tags, but there were only 14 bodies at the crash-site - where was the missing person, the tail-gunner, one Flt. Sgt. Andrew Jack.

On the afternoon of the 26th, the day after the crash, he appeared at a local dwelling in a shocked and dishevelled state, he told the occupant, a Mrs. Sutherland, "I'm a crashed airman, can you give me a drink ?"
She asked "Are you from the Duke of Kent's crash?"
"Yes, I'm the only survivor ", was his reply.
She took him in and contacted the local Doctor, who arrived shortly after and then he was taken to a local hospital where he soon recovered. While there he spoke openly about the crash with other patients, until he was visited by senior officers from the Navy and the R.A.F., who 'assisted' him to sign a statement. After that he never discussed the accident again - why?

During the War, about 33,000 aeroplane accidents were recorded, but very few could be thoroughly investigated. This one was not, as the reason was quite simple, for whatever reason, the plane had deviated from the flight plan too soon. I was recently told by George Bethune, the son of Will Bethune, the special constable who identified the Duke's body, that the general consensus is that friends of the Duke, were known to be staying in a Lodge near the hamlet of Braemore, and it was decided to alter course to fly over that area , a fatal error to make when flying blind in the existing weather conditions. Finally, Rudolph Hess, Hitler's Deputy, was definitely NOT on the plane!
But conspiracy theories still linger!

The Branch Chairman, Roy Bowman, conveyed the thanks of the audience to Ian Sutherland for his superbly researched and prepared presentation. The members then retired to the ante room where a wine tasting took place together with snacks and a good festive time was had by all present.

Little did we know the news that was to break on us on the following evening when I was informed of a Facebook entry by Heather, Ken Gilling's wife, that he had passed away whilst on a family break at Cape Vidal. The news was immediately disseminated by the cascade method to as many members as could be contacted.

Ken's passing has left a great hole in the Societies organisation and his myriad of functions have been disseminated amongst the committee.

Please find our tribute to Ken attached.

AGM - 13TH APRIL 2017

This meeting is the most important meeting of the year, where members exercise their democratic right to elect a new Chairman and committee from within their numbers.
Please forward your choice of candidate to Col. "Tex" Westgate at email address
The present committee consists of:

Next Meeting:

Thursday 19th January 2017 (NB THIS IS THE THIRD THURSDAY)
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture
: "The Indo-Chinese Soldiers at Clairwood Camp", by Arthur Gammage.
Main Talk: "The Battle of Vaalkrans - defeat snatched from the jaws of victory", by STEVE WATT in memory to the late Ken Gillings.

Thursday 9th February 2017 (NB - Reverting to the SECOND Thursday)
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture
: "South Africa's last Colonial Exploit", by Professor Philip Everitt.
Main Talk: "The Struggle for South Africa", by Donald Davies.

Thursday 9th March 2017
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture
: "The South African Medical Corps in WW1" by Lt Col Dr Graeme Fuller
Main Talk: "Deelfontein" by Dr Arnold van Dyk

Meetings are held at the Murray Theatre, Department of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal Howard College Campus, Durban at 19h00 for 19h30.

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We as a Society have been shocked by the untimely passing of one of our longest standing Members, Ken Gillings, in a swimming incident at Cape Vidal on the 9th December 2016, whilst on a holiday break with his family.

Ken was a retired military man, who has conducted tours of the battlefields and game-reserves of South Africa over the past 40 years. Social media posts acknowledge Ken as an absolute gentleman with a passion for South African History and a guide extraordinaire.

A Life Member, he was a mainstay of the KZN Branch of the South African Military History Society as he took on the tasks of organising the Speaker Roster for the monthly talks, organised the Society Annual Tour to some extraordinary places with a continuous commentary about interesting facts pertaining to the area, he kept tabs on all battle-sites through his contacts with AMAFA, serving on committees to solve impasses between the need to keep historical sites intact and the needs of the local people. The trip to the battlefields of the Western Desert that he organised, was a trip well remembered by all who attended, as being well organised and of great interest to all.

Ken was born in the Danhausser/Dundee area and was fluent in Zulu which stood him in good stead when he matured and began his studies of the "Land of Heaven". He attended Westville High School before entering the world of commerce. Like all young men of his time he was called up to do National Service which he did with the Natal Field Artillery, rising to the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major, Warrant Officer Class 1. Revered by his men as a "gunners Sergeant Major" he was well liked by all. He became secretary of the Gunners Association and was the organiser of all the Gunners memorial events, dinners and social events. He was also a Rotarian and a M.O.T.H., serving as Old Bill of the Winston Churchill Shellhole.

He is remembered for the numerous books on the battles of Kwa Zulu Natal he researched and had published, such as "Discovering the Battlefields of the Anglo Boer War", "The War Memoirs of Commandant Ludwig Krause" and Battles of Kwa Zulu-Natal as well as the many handbooks he wrote about the various sites.

He will be remembered for the presence he brought to any gathering but most of all he will be remembered as Ken, husband of Heather, father of Douglas, father-in-law of Kim, grandfather of Ethan and a man amongst men.

"Kumnandi eAfrika" Ken.

Roy Bowman

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South African Military History Society /