‘Truth is Out There’, Claims Investigator of
Donald Fraser’s curiosity about unsolved crimes,
inexplicable accidents and all manner of unusual occurrences has led him
to years of research and writing. The outcome is the publication of a
selection of the cases that have intrigued him most, under the title Scottish
‘For a great many years I have been fascinated
by certain types of mysteries’, explains Donald. However he has often
been frustrated by the scarcity of hard facts in the few available
books. He is a firm believer in the popular saying that ‘the truth is
out there’, but equally convinced of the need to go and find it for
himself. And, while he is happy to put forward his own solutions and
theories, he is equally willing to allow the reader to draw his or her
own conclusions from the best available evidence.
Amongst the ten cases Donald examines are some
celebrated mysteries that have captured the imaginations of generations
of Scots, and others that have never been dealt with in a book before.
They include: ‘The Deserted Beacon’, the strange disappearance of
three lighthouse keepers from the Flannen Isles; ‘Robbery or Revenge?’,
a mystery assailant fires a volley of shots through a remote cottage
window on the Ayrshire coast, killing one of the occupants; ‘Sabotaged?’,
the extraordinary disappearance of submarine HMS Vandal; ‘The
Edinburgh Bushrangers’, could two men who ran riot in Scotland’s
capital have been fugitives from Ned Kelly’s gang in Australia?
Most controversially of all, in ‘A Royal Tragedy
… or Cover-up?’, the author uncovers startling new evidence that
despite years of official denials, the Duke of Kent may have piloted the
plane that crashed into a Highland hillside in 1942, claiming his own
life and the lives of 13 passengers and crew.
The author does most of his writing in the wee
small hours, combining it, as he does, with a full-time job. He prefers
to draw a veil over his daytime activities, revealing only that they too
involve him with mysteries of one sort or another!
With dry wit and a keen eye for detail, Donald
Fraser, whose previous book was the popular Scottish Disasters,
skillfully evokes the time and setting of each incident and discloses a
wealth of new and unexpected information in the process.
From Chapter 8: ‘A Royal Tragedy… or Cover-up?’
Scotland’s adverse weather has featured in many
of the most horrific accidents, disasters and tragedies that have
befallen our nation in past years. Indeed, even in this book, in half of
the chapters, nature’s elements play their part, whether it be in a
major role or otherwise. Perhaps the influence that hostile weather
conditions exert is severely misjudged, for it seems that when they are
involved, the mystery invariably becomes all the greater.
At the start of World War II, Oban, thanks to its
natural sheltered position on the west coast of the mainland and its
excellent communication network, was selected as suitable for the
location of a front-line RAF Coastal Command Station. Its aircraft, all
of them flying boats, were to patrol the North Atlantic on missions
aimed at keeping the waters of the Northern Approaches safe from lurking
enemy U-boats, monitoring convoy movements and taking part in search and
rescue operations. The air crews who flew the flying boats were a truly
international force, with men from all corners of the world in their
ranks. Unfortunately, the turnover in personnel of Coastal Command was
abnormally high due to the large number of losses compared to some other
branches of the RAF.
In March 1942, as part of the natural rotation of
squadrons around the various bases, no. 228 Squadron brought their
Sunderland aircraft to Oban from Stranraer. Unbeknown to anyone at this
time, one of their planes was to feature later that year in a major
mystery of the War.
Flight Lieutenant Frank McKenzie Goyen, an
Australian from the state of Victoria, although only 25 years of age,
was one of the most experienced pilots on the base with thousands of
flying hours to his credit. His aircraft, a Mark III Sunderland with the
call sign W-4026, had a crew of ten, all of them experienced in
operational matters. The youngest, 20-year-old rear gunner, Flight
Sergeant Andrew Jack, was a Grangemouth lad. His father was a foreman
docker in his home town, a well-known semi-professional footballer who
was proud of his son’s achievement in defending his country.
On Sunday 23rd August 1942, six months into their
tour of duty at Oban and after flying hundreds of missions, the crew of
W-4026 were given a break from fighting the war and instructed to fly
their plane to the RAF base at Invergordon on the Dornoch Firth, where
they were to uplift a special passenger.
The Sunderland took off from Oban and followed the
length of the Caledonian Canal until reaching its destination. Although
this was probably the shortest route in any case, Goyen was following
instructions that a flying boat should always attempt to route any
journey over water. Perhaps one reason behind this was that these types
of aircraft were notorious for their slow rate of climb, the maximum
being about 200 feet a minute, and therefore they were not particularly
agile. They were, after all, flying boats, and not really suitable for
use in the mountainous areas of the Highlands.
On arrival at Invergordon, the crew discovered
that their VIP passenger was to be His Royal Highness, the Duke of Kent,
brother of the King. In his capacity as Air Commodore in the Department
of the Inspector General, the Duke had been given the task of visiting
RAF bases and interviewing the flight crews and ground staff, listening
and noting their grievances or otherwise and thereafter reporting his
findings to the Air Ministry. With hindsight, it was probably nothing
more than a round of Royal visits designed to keep up the morale of the
men at the sharp end. After all, here was a member of the Royal family
in military uniform doing his bit for the war effort. It gave the right
impression to the public at large that no one was exempt from pulling
together to defeat the enemy.
As their distinguished passenger was not due to
arrive at Invergordon until Tuesday, the early arrival of W-4026 gave
the crew time to relax and enjoy their surroundings. Many old
acquaintances were met in the mess and stories of earlier exploits told
and re-told. Goyen’s crew, like almost every other, had varying
backgrounds. Counting himself, it consisted of three Australians, one
New Zealander and seven British. Irrespective of their differences,
everyone now had a common purpose and enemy.
The Duke of Kent and his entourage of three others
arrived in Inverness early on Tuesday morning, 25th August 1942, from
the overnight sleeper train from London, and he was driven the last few
miles to Invergordon. He had instructions to visit the RAF base at
Reykjavik on Iceland, a place he had been to before. After meeting with
Goyen, he was introduced to the crew members, who included Wing
Commander Thomas L. Moseley, another Australian who, as the Commanding
Officer of 228 Squadron, had invited himself along and would be acting
as co-pilot on this trip, bringing the total crew number to eleven.
Once everyone was safely on board, the Sunderland
began her taxi-ing in the Firth. Unusually, on this day the sea was flat
calm and the flying boat thundered along the surface for longer than
usual, carrying 15 personnel, over 2,500 gallons of fuel and a full
payload of munitions. Goyen was looking ahead for any sign of even a
small wave that he might be able to use, like a ramp, to give his plane
a final push into the air. Eventually, after about three miles, the huge
aircraft gained air under its belly and slowly began to climb into the
sky. It was 1.10 p.m.
At this point, the first mystery arises. There are
no copies of the W-4026 flight plan available today. This was not a
flight plan filed by the pilot, but one that had been made up for him to
follow and was therefore part of his orders. That such a thing existed
there is no doubt, because it was later referred to in official
correspondence, but what happened to it, and the official orders, can
only be guessed at.
The usual flight path for an aircraft flying to
Iceland was for it to follow the coastline north to the Pentland Firth,
then turn west and head for the Faroe Islands and thereafter the
ultimate destination. It was planned in this manner so that as usual,
the plane would be flying over water at all times. Only in emergencies
were flights allowed to cut across the corner of this part of the
mainland, and then only when north of Wick, where there are no mountains
as such, only hills of medium height.
Fifteen minutes into the journey, the Sunderland
hit a mixture of cloud and dense fog. However, this had been expected,
thanks to the accurate weather forecasts from the base at Invergordon.
These reports also mentioned that the foul weather was localised, as the
Pentland Firth was in clear conditions. W-4026 flew on in the fog blind,
using her instruments to calculate height, speed and direction, and what
happened in the next five to fifteen minutes no-one can say with
Between 1.30 and 1.40 p.m., the Sunderland was
heard droning its way lazily above a river valley known as Berriedale
Water, which is south of Dunbeath, which in turn is south of Wick. The
noise of its Bristol Pegasus engines startled a number of the locals,
who could hear it but could not see it, due to the mist.
The plane continued up the valley and passed to
the side of a 2,000-foot high ridge known locally as Donald’s Mount.
As it lumbered on, slowly losing altitude, the 800-foot high cliff of
Eagle’s Rock loomed out of the fog. The Sunderland tried hard to climb
and turn away from the rising edge of the rock face, the pitch of her
engines now a roar, but it was all too late. The aircraft struck the
side of the ridge leading to the cliff and cartwheeled a number of
The wings broke off as the fuel tanks, almost
full, along with the depth charge munitions, exploded and engulfed
everything in a massive fireball. Only one man survived the inferno.
At the moment of impact, the rear gun turret had
broken off completely from the main fuselage and, like a human
cannonball, Andrew Jack found himself being hurled through the air,
ensconced in his glass dome, and clear of the explosion. He was badly
injured, receiving cuts and gashes from where he had made contact with
the broken glass, but although stunned and shocked, he managed to free
himself and immediately went towards the crash site…
‘The credo of the X Files generation. "The
truth is out there", is quoted by the author in his foreword to
this collection of real-life riddles from Scotland. The truths he seeks
through dogged detective work are more down-to-earth than the paranormal
territory investigated by Agents Mulder and Scully, but they are
nevertheless all gripping mysteries.’—The Herald
Donald Fraser was born and brought up in Glasgow
and still lives in the city with his wife and two children. He finished
his education in the same year that comprehensive schools were brought
in. His writing is done mostly in the wee small hours, combining it, as
he does, with a full-time job. Between both, his involvement with
mysteries of one sort or another is continuous. He is the author of
Scottish Disasters, also published by Mercat Press.