Author’s Note: My maternal grandfather – Author Gibson – used to tell my mother and her sister about the day he and his comrades-in-arms had to go up a mountain on a remote Scottish Isle and retrieve the dead bodies of around twenty US (or ‘Canadian) Serviceman near Xmas time. He would also relate the story of the Nazi German U-Boat who surrendered to the HMS Beaumaris castle – along with many other wartime stories – such as U-Boats coming-up for air at a distance and the two crews sticking finger-up at one another! This was to do with the minesweeper being ‘to small’ for the U-Boat to bother with – particularly as its function of ‘clearing mines’ was of no direct threat to Nazi German shipping! When I was young (probably during the 1970s) my grandfather would tell me exactly the same stories! He also said that one-day he fired a rifle at a nearby Nazi German sea-mine that exploded with such force that the HMS Beaumaris Castle lifted-up into the air before falling (with a ‘thud’) back into the sea! As I have no way of knowing for sure – and given that the log-book of the HMS Beaumaris is ‘missing’ – George Smith could well be right in his recollections. This is despite the MOD ‘hinting’ that an important incident took-place on November 26th, 1942 – just seventeen-days after Arthur Gibson came aboard – and around a year prior to George Smith came aboard! When human-beings age a funny thing can happen to their memories. Details can be clearly remembered whilst all-round contexts are either completely forgotten or equally mistaken for other interpretations of reality, etc. Whatever the case, I thank you, Mr George Smith, for trusting me – and trusting in me – because you knew and respected by grandfather – Arthur Gibson! I will never forget your trust! ACW (5.11.2021)
George Smith (1924-2016) started communicating with me in 2010 – when he was 86-years-old! He was so lucid and active at this time, that I did not really comprehend or appreciate just how old he was! My maternal grandfather – Arthur Gibson (1911-1997) – was exactly this age when he passed away in 1997! The fact that Arthur Gibson was 13-years-older than George Smith allowed me to encounter a man who had known my grandfather but who had outlived him by a number of years. I believe George Smith (and myself) exchanged letters for around three-years (augmented with the occasional telephone call). this carried-on until late 2013 – when I heard that George was resting from being ill, etc, and out of respect I left him to quietly recoup. However, George Smith did share a tremendous amount of personal experiences about his service during WWII. What follows are a number of ‘extracts’ from his hand-written letters regarding the time the crew of the HMS Beaumaris Castle were tasked with climbing a mountain on St Kilda and retrieving the dead bodies of either US or Canadian Servicemen killed when their aeroplane either hit an air-pocket (Arthur Gibson) or collided with the mountain (George Smith). Arthur Gibson never gave a year, and if he did I cannot remember it (as I was a child at the time), but both men seemed to think that the incident took place ‘near Xmas’ as there were wrapped presents scattered all over the ground and the weather a lack of light (even in the day) matched this assumption)! Arthur Gibson went up the mountain on St Kilda John Youngman!
When I subsequently contacted the MOD (Naval History Branch) about the ‘lack’ of information within my grandfather’s War Record (1942-1946) – I was told that their Department ‘did not hold’ any records pertaining to the HMS Beaumaris Castle ‘escorting a surrendered German U-Boat’. Furthermore, my enquiry regarding the St Kilda crash was completely ignored – but my attention was drawn to the date November 26th, 1942 – when Arthur Gibson’s War Record suggests he was engaged in ‘unusual’ or ‘hazardous’ duties. As this is unlikely to be a Nazi German U-Boat surrendering when the Nazi Germans thought they could still win the war (and given George Smith clearly recalled the surrender of the German U-Boat happening during the late afternoon of May 8th, 1945), logic dictates that this date – 26.11.1942 – was the time that the crew of the HMS Beaumaris Castle recovered the dead bodies on St Kilda.
Indeed, the mission did not take long and Arthur Gibson’s War Record states that these ‘Duties’ started on the ’26th of November’ and ended on the ’26th of November’ 1942! One peculiarity on Arthur Gibson’s War Record states that on the 19th of April, 1945 – he left the HMS Beaumaris Castle and was stationed at ‘Goran Road Naval Base’ for just one-day – before returning to the Beaumaris for around seven-months (from the 20th April – 27th of November) during 1945. St Kilda is comprised of a group of highly dangerous rocky (volcanic) outcrops that appear to ’emerge’ suddenly out of the sea – which form an archipelago. St Kilda lies around 40 miles (64 km) West of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides – and 100 miles (160 km) West of the Scottish Mainland. Having remained virtually unaltered over time, St Kilda has become one of the most significant refuges for seabirds, including endangered species. Once supporting an estimated population of 180 people on the main island of Hirta – isolation, emigration, dwindling resources, illness, and commercial influences led to the islanders being evacuated to the Mainland – at their own request, in 1930. The Royal Navy maintained a presence on Hirta during World War I, but the derelict islands remained abandoned during World War II, and it was 1957 before they were occupied again, when the British Army established a radar station designed to monitor missile testing ranges on South Uist. Today, St Kilda is administered by the National Trust. Interestingly, an RAF Memorial Plaque does record a number of aeroplane-crashes across the islands:
From what George Smith appears to be relating, the crash seems to have been upon the mountain tops of ‘Hirta’ – even though the RAF Memorial Plaque (also situated upon Hirta) recalls an ‘unidentified’ Wellington Bomber (?) hurtling into the island of Soay! How or ‘why’ could an RAF Wellington Bomber in wartime be simultaneously a) known to have ‘existed’ whilst b) having that ‘existence’ comprehensively ‘doubted’? This alone sounds very suspicious and strange! Soay is situated about half a mile Northwest of Hirta. It would seem that the launches of the HMS Beaumaris Castle landed at ‘Village Bay’ on Hirta if indeed that was the location of this mysterious crash. As Soay appears to lack any open beach area (a fact that needs to be checked) it is more likely to have been Hirta – but there is nothing sure about any of this. Furthermore, ordinary young men engaged in potentially dangerous activity at a time of war – should not be realistically expected to remember the exact details of the actions they are involved in – as that is the responsibility of the Officers present. Bearing this in-mind, I think George Smith did a remarkable job at recalled these events for me when aged 86-yeas-old – events that occurred in the blur of youth some 66-years previously! This explains why at one-point George Smith says he cannot remember the date the St Kilda event happened – whilst on another he thinks it might have been 1944. The bodies were in recognisable pieces – but were ‘stiff’ presumably from rigor mortis or the cold conditions. The two-man teams were equipped with one stretcher and two-blankets per team and were told to gather one head, one torso, two-arms, two-legs and two-feet (feet were often still in shoes and boots) – they did not have to match – and place all this human material upon a single stretcher. The body parts were secured between the two blankets (and tied-down) – with Arthur Gibson carrying the back of his assigned stretcher with John Youngman carrying the front-end down the hill. Due to the undulating terrain, body-parts would occasionally ‘work their way-out’ of the two blankets – causing to two-man teams to have to stop, place the stretchers flat on the ground – and strive to restore these parts (usually a protruding hand and arm, etc) back into their original (and secure) positions whilst maintaining respect for the deceased. After reaching the beaches, George Smith explains that the body-parts were then transferred into ‘body-bags’ and/or wrapped in ‘merchant-marine-canvas’ (probably the latter being more accurate for the time) in preparation for transportation on the launches back to the HMS Beaumaris Castle. The entire operation took around twelve to eighteen-hours with George Smith saying it was late when it was completed (between 22hrs-00hrs) – but no later or longer. The bodies were stored on the floor of the mess hall aboard the HMS Beaumaris Castle over night when they were then transported to Stornoway. They were received by none-too-pleased US (or Canadian) Forces. The extracts are dated:
- St Kilda Data 15.7.2010 – George Smith Letters
- St Kilda Data 16.8.2010 – George Smith Letters
- St Kilda Data 10.9.2010 – George Smith Letters
- St Kilda Data 12.1.2011 – George Smith Letters
St Kilda Data 15.7.2010 – George Smith Letters
St Kilda Data 16.8.2010 – George Smith Letters
St Kilda Data 10.9.2010 – George Smith Letters
St Kilda Data 12.1.2011 – George Smith Letters