In the February 2008 issue of Back in the Day we printed a snippet about a plane that made an emergency landing on Tolsta beach. At the time we appealed for information about the incident and were contacted by Rhoda Murray, a member of the North Tolsta Historical Society.
She told us of an eye-witness account that appears on the Society’s website and kindly gave us permission to use it.
The late Donald ‘Loddle’ Macdonald (No.28), gives a good description of the of the ‘Air Plane Episode’ and also gives an insight into village
life around 1940.
“The incident occurred around the beginning of November 1939. I was weaving at the time as I had not reached the age for the RNR.
I ran out of bobbins the night before and decided to catch Logan ‘s bus to town and get enough to finish the tweed.
Logan and Fortaidh had no timetables - you caught the bus in the morning and you were trapped in Stornoway till they had finished their business.
When I got back to Tolsta around 4pm I noticed three youngsters at the end of our house, Dolaidh a’Ghrèin (Donald Mackenzie, School Road), ‘Easy’ (Angus Maciver of 26) and Aonghas Beag Bhiagain (Angus Murray of 29).
I just reached them when the drone of an aeroplane coming from the irection
of the Ard, attracted our attention.
Very soon a bi-plane appeared, maybe a Tiger Moth. The plane flew along
the machraichean and over the Sìthean Mòr and when it got to Abhainn Lìgh it turned right to Gob Hàis and then south along the sandy beach.
The Sìthean Mòr hid the plane from us and when it did not reappear at the south side we came to the conclusion that it must have landed on the Sandy Shore. I handed the bobbins to my mother and the four of us scurried towards the shore.
Darkness was approaching. There were no fences on the crofts and the crops had been gathered in for the winter, therefore we could cross all the crofts.
Our target was the gap at the bottom of croft numbers 44 to 48. A gap created mainly by a stream, which we called Allt Phuilleam. As we were
running we were expressing our thoughts to one another – thoughts that would fill another couple of pages!
We concluded that it would course, it would be carrying a Spandau (machine gun), and so it would take some doing to capture the pilot!
As we approached from the high ground we could see the plane a short distance from the Cleite Beag. Between the plane and the shore was a line
of sand dunes with muran growing on them.
We decided to keep behind the dunes till we were abreast of the plane. I could see that the pilot was outside the plane and there was enough daylight
for me to see the red, white and blue around the fuselage.
I stood up and said, “Come on boys, she’s British!” We approached the pilot who encouraged us to come forward. He came forward also and asked whether or not we could speak English. I said,
“Yes,” and then he asked where he was and what part of the globe was it.
I told him that he was on North Tolsta Sands on the Isle of Lewis. He shook his head in bewilderment and said, “You better come into the cabin and show me on the chart.”
When it dawned on him that he had strayed well off course he leaned back and laughed. I asked him, “What is so funny?”
He then enquired, “What was the language you were speaking as you approached the plane?”
I replied, “Gaidhlig.”
“When I heard you I thought I had landed in a foreign country,” he said and added, “I was laughing at my own stupidity!”
He then wanted to know where he could get a phone and was there a garage where he could refuel.
“When I came out of the fog and saw this land of yours, it was the most welcome sight I ever saw. There isn’t a drop of fuel in this plane,” he continued.
We agreed to take him to the Post Office and assured him that he could leave his plane unguarded. In those days you could leave something in the open and nobody would touch it - changed days!
We headed for the Post Office across the crofts till we came to Dodds – number 39. It was up the cart road of this croft that we escorted our South African airman. We considered his eyesight to be in good shape. Pity he didn’t use it when he crossed the Minch!
We barged into the Post Office without knocking. As we approached the counter, Neil Mackenzie, the owner, peered over the rim of his spectacles,
and, on recognizing us three, he pointed to the door and shouted, “OUT!”
Quite a number of curious youngsters had now gathered. Finally someone came out to tell us that the pilot was to be taken to Stornoway for the night.
Next morning I woke up as dawn was breaking. I could hear my father in the kitchen, so, knowing that he would have the fire going and the tea brewing, I decided to get up, get dressed, have something to eat and be first down at the
As in remote areas of Scotland, and especially in the islands, we were denied the privileges of running water, sewerage and electricity and so in discharging the necessities of nature, a person had to go outside to an out-house.
Once outside, to my amazement, I was aware of quite a number of people making their way towards the shore. I would not be first at the plane, so there was no sense in rushing. After my breakfast and family worship, my father and I made tracks to the shore, where quite a number had gathered, including women.
The airman arrived, accompanied by a Daily Express reporter and an official from the airport, each carrying a can of petrol.
Having refueled, he surveyed the ‘taking off’ area. Since the weather was frosty the area where the streams were emptying themselves into the sands was hard enough for a take-off.
He told us what his plans were. He was looking for volunteers, preferably youngsters, who would be willing to go under the wings and lift the plane up while he was taking off.
He gave us a demonstration of what was required and warned us, “When the plane gathers speed and if any one of you is unable to keep up with it, then you drop flat to the ground.”
Since everybody was anxious to play a role, he got his selection without any
bother and he put us shoulder to shoulder along the lower wings. He told us that he was going to taxi to the edge of the hard sand and as soon as he reached it he was going to open up and we were to do as he had told us.
With a short take-off he was airborne and made a direct flight to Stornoway Airport .
Next day, in the Daily Express, the story was on the front page. If only one could get a hold of this edition, one could read a story which was blown up out of all proportion!”
Visit the excellent and informative North Tolsta Historical Society website on: www.tolsta.info