Family visit to crash site in Scotland leads to discovery -- and precious memento
Published Wednesday, January 9, 2019 11:55PM AST
Last Updated Thursday, January 10, 2019 12:00AM AST
Sgt. Reginald Pauley was a young pilot from New Brunswick who was killed when his Spitfire fighter plane crash in Scotland during the Second World War.
After a family trip to the Orkney Islands, a piece of the wreckage of that plane has been turned into a keepsake more than 75 years later.
Pauley’s plane went down in Scotland in 1941 when he was returning from an early morning patrol. His plane struck the hillside and he was killed instantly, says his great nephew Kevin Berry.
Locals ran to the scene and found Pauley still in the cockpit with his hand on the controls.
“There is fog and mist and stuff and these islands have mountains,” Berry said. “They were trying to get up over it. He just about made it; his wing man did make it.”
Pauley had just turned 20 years old when he was killed. His last letter home was sent four days before his crash.
It says “you know that Spitfires are the best fighters in the world, but I might say that things aren't very safe and I'm dicing with death every time I take one of the Spits out.”
Most of the plane has been removed and over time the location was somewhat forgotten until a group of military researchers led by Will Shearer, rediscovered the crash site in 2009.
A search led Shearer to Berry, who by chance had been planning a trip with his son Ryan following his university graduation.
So, they decided to head to Scotland to visit their relative's grave.
“It was in this churchyard on the west side of Orkney Island,” Berry said. “This ancient graveyard, and there were three airmen buried there; two British guys and Reg. The grave is basically out overlooking the Atlantic to Canada.”
The next day they were taken to the crash site.
“There was still the trench in the ground that the plane had dug 70 years ago,” Berry said.
While there, they found the piece of the hatch cover.
Being the same age as Pauley was when he died, Berry’s son felt an immediate connection to his great-great uncle and wanted a keepsake, so he took a small piece of the wreckage and had a necklace made with it as its centerpiece.
“(He was) just this kid from Port Elgin, out of place in Scotland flying this plane,” Berry said. “He had no business being there, really, and I think for Ryan it was really just … what a waste … what a loss.”
Ryan Berry now lives in Australia and the piece of the Spitfire the family brought back will be donated to the museum in Sgt. Pauley's home town of Port Elgin, N.B. The necklace, though, will stay with Pauley’s great-great nephew, wherever adventure takes him.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Jonathan MacInnis.