WW2 bomber crash remains a mystery

Bill Morris - relative of local man who pulled a female pilot from the water during WWII at St Monans
Bill Morris - relative of local man who pulled a female pilot from the water during WWII at St Monans

A St Monans man is hoping to solve a World War Two mystery after discovering members of his own family were involved in a dramatic sea rescue.

Bill Morris, who has lived in the fishing village all his life, is trying to find out more about the rescue of a young allied pilot after her Barracuda bomber came down in the sea near the burgh in May 1945.

The story of the rescue has been a difficult one to piece together.

The pilot and rescuers were told not to discuss the accident at a time when ‘loose lips sinks ships’ was very much the mantra after six years of war.

But a few years ago, the pilot’s account finally came to light in a new book, Spitfire Women of World War Two, when author Giles Whittell interviewed her at her home in South Africa.

In the book, Betty Keith-Jopp described how she found herself in thick clouds at the Firth of Forth after taking off from Prestwick on her way to Lossiemouth.

After following her orders not to fly over the clouds, the young pilot was turning back when she saw the water just a second before hitting it.

“I made a good landing, all things considered,” she said.

“The plane landed gently and sat there on the surface for a few moments, then started sinking.

“Why that dear little fishing boat should have come chugging along just then, really and truly, it was a miracle.”

The book names John Morris as the rescuer - Bill Morris’ great grandfather’s brother.

Bill explained: “Betty spoke about this boat just appearing out of the mist and it was just as well as you don’t get long in that water, maybe half an hour or so before you’re in real trouble.

“John Morris died shortly after the end of the war in 1947 and the accident was never really discussed so there are still parts of it we are trying to piece together.

“I don’t know that John Morris would have known who he was rescuing - he might have been expecting to find a German pilot in the water.”

Betty Keith-Jopp was taken to Crail where she recovered and eventually left the Air Transport Auxiliary a few months later.

Trying to pull the whole story together, Bill found a report on the crash in an edition of the East Fife Observer from May 29, 1945.

The report contained some extra information that has confused matters further.

“The Observer named David Morris as the skipper of the boat ‘Provide’ that rescued Betty.

“He was another brother of my great grandfather so John Morris could well have been there and still have been the man that rescued her.

“But we just don’t know for sure and we don’t know exactly where it came down either.

“I had been told it was around 100 feet off the bathing pool at St Monans but there are some suggestions it could have been a few miles further north.

“She described this rescue as a miracle but even now we don’t have all the information about what happened.”

Bill is hoping that when the full story is told of the Barracuda rescue, the bravery of the local fishermen will be recognised.

Parts of the story have been pieced together from different sources, but the full picture has yet to emerge.

The location of the plane wreck may become clear in the coming months, when members of a salvage team visit St Monans to see if they can salvage any parts of the plane.

“I would like to see some recognition for the what the rescuers did,” Bill said.

“There may have been good reasons to keep the story hushed up at the time but there isn’t now.

“The pilot described the rescue as a miracle, so I think we should do something to recognise what these people did.”

Anyone with any information about the rescue can getin touch with Bill Morris at ruanfhoder@hotmail.com.