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Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Cairngarroch Bay Revisited

Regular blog readers may remember me visiting Cairngarroch Bay last year.
Previous Visit
I thought i'd return for some more exploring.It's a very rocky and stony bay requiring careful negotiation of ones feet...

...but the whole natural beauty of the place is worth the effort.

I found the commemorative plaque that eluded me on my previous visit.

A shrine has been made with small pieces of wreckage (i assume) placed around the rock.

I found the following tract by the author Alan James O'Reilly on an Easy Company message board-hopefully he won't mind it's reproduction here. Band of Brothers
Dear All

I believe this belongs here - and especially to this site, for reasons which will become apparent. The book mentioned below is short but touches on a very moving aspect of the 506th's history.

In the World War 2 section of the 506th PIR Association web page, Private Jack F. Sheidler, 2nd Battalion HQ, 506th PIR, is listed as KIA on July 27th 1944.

Last Friday, at the conclusion of a family visit to friends in south west Scotland, I discovered, quite by chance, the tragic circumstances surrounding Private Sheidler's death.

Private Sheilder was one of the victims of a C-47A crash that occurred on July 27th 1944 at Cairngarroch Bay, Portpatrick, Stranraer, Wigtonshire, Dumfries and Galloway. It was the biggest air disaster in that area until the Lockerbie atrocity 44 years later.

A detailed account of the 1944 crash is found in "The Rhinns' Forgotten Air Disaster, One Man's Search for the Facts" by Sandy Rankin, ISBN 0 9535776-9-4, Stranraer and District Local History Trust, Tall Trees, London Road, Stranraer DG9 8BZ.

The C47 belonged to the 441st Troop Carrier Group, 9th Air Carrier Command. It was one of two that took off from RAF Merryfield in Somerset at about 1 pm on July 27th 1944 en route to Prestwick near Ayr, ferrying wounded from the Normandy campaign for the first leg of their journey back to the USA. Each aircraft carried a crew of 9, including medical personnel and 13 casualties.

Approaching the coast of Dumfries and Galloway at an altitude of about 200 feet, attempting to keep below the cloud base, the C-47s suddenly encountered thick sea fog. One of the aircraft avoided the cliffs above Cairngarroch Bay by the narrowest of margins - its undercarriage (only partially retracted for a C-47) actually gouged a furrow along the grassy clifftop. The other aircraft - on which Pvt. Sheidler was travelling - crashed into the cliff face at the northern end of the bay.

The Portpatrick lifeboat was the first rescue party on the scene, arriving at about 7 pm local time with an RAF doctor. They found that all but one of the 22 passengers and crew on board the C-47 had been killed. The sole survivor was the Crew Chief, S/Sgt Merl W. Skinner. He had sustained terrible injuries in the crash and died at about 8:15 pm that evening.

Sandy Rankin, the author of the account, had always had an interest in the incident, having grown up in nearby Portpatrick. His grandfather Alexander Rankin and uncle James Rankin had been members of the lifeboat crew dispatched to the crash site. Alexander Rankin had evidently stayed beside the stricken S/Sgt. Skinner until he died. Unable to move or even scarce touch him, the life boat crew soaked a circle of ground around Skinner with petrol and set fire to it in order to give him some warmth. The RAF doctor did manage to adminster morphine to ease the airman's passing.

Sandy spent many years tracing the background of the victims of the crash. It was not easy but among the most comprehensive summaries he obtained was that of Private Sheidler, who is now buried in Cambridge, England. Jack Sheidler was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Carl Sheidler from Elkhart, Indiana. Jack had been wounded on June 7th 1944. He was 21 years of age at the time. Sandy Rankin has this word of commendation for the 506th PIR, p 35:

"Just prior to the landing of seaborne forces, the high ground overlooking the beaches was siezed and held by men of the 506th Regiment.

"From D-Day until 10th July, when the unit was relieved to return to England, the 506th was to fight in the toughest battles of the Normandy campaign. Many of the men were not to return and many more spent months in hospitals".

Sandy includes a very poignant letter from Pvt. Sheidler's parents to the parents of another victim of the crash, 29 year old 2nd Lieutenant Mary Edith Jackley, a nursing sister serving with the 813th Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron. The photograph of her which is included in the book shows her to have been strikingly good looking. The other details given about her reveal that she was a highly professional young woman of outstanding character.

Mr and Mrs Sheidler's letter to 2nd Lieutenant Jackley's parents reads in part as follows:

"This has been an awful shock to us all. So let's try to take comfort in the Lord. They tell us he does everything for the best. Even this, [though] he tears our hearts out.

"God bless and comfort you in your sorrow."

Sandy Rankin was instrumental in having a memorial plaque placed on the cliff face near the crash site. It was dedicated on July 27th, 1999. 2nd Lieutenant Jackley's sister attended the service on the shore of the bay, during which Pipe Major James Brown played the lament "The Flowers o' the Forest". He had been working near Cairngarroch Bay on July 27th 1944 and had heard the crash.

The bond between the local people around Portpatrick and families of the crash victims - one of whom was a Scotsman, LAC Samuel Gilmour, RAF, of Kilwinning, Ayrshire - remains very strong. It is a genuine example of the 'special relationship' between the United States and Great Britain.

Sandy Rankin has another reason for his pre-occupation with the Rhinns' disaster. (The Rhinns is the name given to the general area.) The Lockerbie atrocity of December 22nd 1988, where 259 passngers and crew of Pan Am Flight 103 died, was mentioned above. Then a serving officer with the Strathclyde Police, Rankin drove a police van into Lockerbie, where he recalls "I could see the smoking remains of Sherwood Crescent, which took the brunt of the crash and where eleven local people died".

He concludes his excellent booklet with the familiar lines from Laurence Binyon's poem, read out at the end of the memorial dedication service by the late Peter Starling, then President of the Wigtonshire Antiquarian Society "without [whose] will and organising ability there would have been no memorial service":

"They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old,
"Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
"At the going down of the sun and in the morning
"We will remember them"

Alan O'R

Close by is Red Cave


  1. That was very interesting....thank you.
    Such a shame that these poor guys survived WW11 and then met their end like that.
    I must get back down to the Rhinns again soon...

  2. Yup...a very sad story.If you delve into ww2 aircraft movement around south west Scotland and Ireland,it's amazing how many lives were lost in non battle situations.Castle Archdale on Lough Erne for instance.Have a look at Joe O'Loughlin's site.

  3. I visted the site from the sea-side, (or at least as close as you could get from that side) with Mr Rankin, his wife and other members of the 301st Airlift Squadron, the direct descendent of the 301st Troop Carrier Squadron. This was is June of 2007. More remarkable was the fact that we were accompanied by the WWII US Army Air Corp Squadron Commander, retired Col. Lloyd Neblett, DFC. Mr. Rankin arranged the trip and made it all possible. He and his wife are remarkable people. A toast was made to those who were lost and give meager thanks fro their sacrifice.


  4. I have been trying to get a copy of the book written by Mr.Rankin. My uncle was on that plane,John H Salmi,a medic. The writings and pictures have been very interesting. I actually talked with Mr.Rankin many years ago as I have been searching for information on my family. I am so happy to be able to see & hear what happened to him.
    Elizabeth Salmi Oliver

  5. Hi Betti,
    has been out of print for some time now.I must borrow a copy and scan it.
    I'll pay another visit to the crash site sometime soon.

  6. That sole survivor was my grandfather. I was serving in Germany and went to visit his burial at Cambridge. One of my Airmen was doing research and stumbled upon the details of the crash. He had asked me to tell him the story as I was told and my grandfather’s name, he then told me about the book and the crash site. I did not get a chance to see where the plane crashed. But this information was nice to give to my mother, whom was only a year old when he died. That was not his aircraft. He volunteered to help fly them out. When I was younger I met the pilot of his aircraft. He still has my mom’s baby shoes that hung in the cockpit of the Mary Lou.

  7. Since the book is out of print, any ideas how to locate a copy?

  8. Hello Lindsay, sorry for the late reply, but your message was waiting moderation and I hardly ever look there.
    The only thing I can suggest is perhaps to contact the author himself.
    He's the current Vice Chairman of
    The Galloway Association of Glasgow and clicking on the link will take you to their page where you'll find a contact us page.


Thanks for all your comments. I may not get to reply to them all, but you may be sure they'll be appreciated.

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