Memorial to plane crash on Darnaw
The Daily Express Dragonfly air crash, 1937
A De Havilland DH90 Dragonfly, a five-seat biplane and perhaps the most luxurious private aeroplane of its day, went down in the Galloway Hills near Newton Stewart in Scotland in February 1937. The plane was owned by Daily Express Newspapers - the ownership had recently been transferred from Lord Beaverbrook, the newspaper's owner. The plane was being used by the Daily Express in the course of putting together a series of features about the planned changes in civil aviation routes recommended by the Maybury Committee. This was a group set up by the Government under the chairmanship of Sir Henry Maybury and was responsible for making a blueprint for civil aviation in Britain. The Maybury Committee's findings were awaited with great interest around the country. Many local authorities owned airports and stood to gain should the Maybury Committee come up with the answer they required. The committee recommended a system of air routes and airports based on a hub and spoke principle, and this included the building of a new airport between Liverpool and Manchester. However, the Maybury plan was never put into operation because of the onset of war.
The Daily Express sent a senior reporter, Major Harold Pemberton, son of the novelist Sir Max Pemberton, with a photographer, 22-year-old Reginald Wesley, to report on and take pictures of some of the routes. On 2 February the Dragonfly flew into Renfrew from Ireland and then at 11am took off for Speke airport. The pilot was Lesley Jackson and his wireless operator was Archibald Phillpot. Jackson was flying for Personal Airways who were operating the plane for the Daily Express.
The plane left Renfrew and disappeared. When the aircraft was overdue at Speke the RAF led a search for it. Initially there were reports of a plane being heard over the Lake District. One of the searching planes, an Avro Anson, crashed but fortunately no one was injured.
On 4 February, a shepherd living in the hills near Newton Stewart found the crashed plane. Having heard on the wireless that a plane was missing he remembered that he had heard the sound of an aircraft while out on the hills. So he set out and climbed to near the top of Darnaw, one of the peaks in the Galloway Hills. There he found the crashed plane and the dead bodies. He then cycled the 16 miles to Newton Stewart to break the news and fetch the police. Blinds were drawn and people lined the streets in silence as the bodies were brought down from the hill. The story made headline news.
A court of inquiry was held sometime after at Kirkcudbright. The Air Ministry's senior investigator, chairing the enquiry, interviewed a pilot by the name of Wilson who had spoken to the Dragonfly pilot just before he took off. Wilson had a theory that Jackson had planned to fly over the River Clyde to take some photographs. While getting back on course he could well have seen a stretch of water that he may have mistaken for the Solway Firth. Clatteringshaws Loch had been turned into a reservoir and was being filled up with water. Having just been constructed, it was not yet on the map. If Jackson had mistaken it for the Solway Firth he might have descended to below the recommended level of 5,000 feet. In the murky conditions and with fog low over the hill, it seems he went into the mountain; he tried to pull out but hit the hill again. The plane crashed and burst into flames.
Some time afterwards the Daily Express paid for a memorial to be built on the top of Darnaw. It is there to this day. Hundreds of mourners were there for the dedication. A lone piper played The Flowers of the Forest, while an aeroplane from the local club flew over and dipped in salute.
Making History consulted the aviation historian Peter Cannon; Peter Skinner and Larry Williamson of the Croydon Airport Society; and David Devereux of the Stewartry Museum.
(Thanks for info BBC Beyond the broadcast website)