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Wednesday, 15th May 2019

Information sought on 1919 Laytown air crash

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A Drogheda Life reader currently living in England is seeking any details of an air crash which took place a century ago this year, on the 24th July 1919, when a military aircraft from Gormanston crashed on the beach at Laytown and the crew rescued by a group of Boy Scouts who were on summer camp further down the beach.

The reason for our reader Alan Mackay’s interest is that he came across a certificate of thanks issued by the Air Ministry in London to his father who was one of the Scouts involved in the rescue but he would like to know more.

“My father passed away in 2000 and as this is the anniversary year of the event I was looking for other contemporary accounts to add to the family history” Alan told Drogheda Life. Alan has been searching for some time for information on the crash but has so far uncovered little from newspaper archives.

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“While I am not surprised the incident did not make the "nationals" (nobody died!!) I had thought that the local papers might have picked up on a local event" he said. "Even in 1919 the crash landing of an aircraft in the dunes behind Laytown beach cannot have been a usual occurrence.”

While clearing through his father’s belongings Alan and his brother came across a brochure called “Twenty one Years Scouting in Leeson Park 1909 to 1930 which is thought to have been published by the Scout troop and which carries a report of the incident which can be read in full below.

Anyone who may have any information or photos that they would be willing to share with Mr. Mackay should contact Drogheda Life on news@droghedalife.com

Incident at Laytown, Co. Meath, Ireland
24th July 1919 

On July 23rd,1919 The Troop (6th South Dublin. Leeson Park) went to Laytown, Co. Meath, for its Annual Summer Camp. 

From the members of the Advance Guard the Troop learned of the great feats of stunting which were almost daily performed over Laytown by members of the Royal Air Force stationed at Gormanstown Aerodrome, situated some two and a half miles from the site. 

Inspection had taken place on the morning of the 24th and various fatigue parties were at work around the site, when the noise of an aeroplane engine was heard and an aeroplane observed approaching the camp at a low altitude from the direction of Drogheda. 
Attention was directed to this machine because it was flying so low. But it was not realised that anything unusual was occurring, because several machines had been seen during kit inspection, also flying at comparatively low altitudes. 

When, however, the aeroplane just skimmed over the tents and approached a rise in the ground it was clear that the pilot would have difficulty in rising again, and then, with a splintering smack the right wing was wrenched off by a stunted tree, and the aeroplane plunged into the gorse. 

As one man the troop converged on the spot. Through and over gorse bushes the Scouts pelted, and arrived to find a thin curl of smoke arising from a heap of wreckage. A moment later, the machine was a mass of roaring, crackling flame; but Assistant Scoutmaster Kelly, Troop Leader Millar, Patrol Leader Calvert, Second Saul and Mr. Taylor, the camp cook who had first reached the scene, had in a sense, just beaten the flames.

They found the pilot (Lieutenant Goodnoh, R.A.F), who had got clear, leaning dazed against the observer's cockpit. With difficulty A.S.M. Kelly himself an old R.A.F. Observer) had slipped off the safety belt that still kept the Observer (Aircraftsman Gray) pinned in the wreckage, and the others had disentangled his legs, which were jammed. And so in the nick of time, both men were got clear and led off towards the camp, supported by willing hands

Meanwhile other scouts made frantic efforts to control the flames by throwing earth upon the wreckage, but as soon as the occupants of the machine had been safely led away they fell back beaten by the immense heat.

Thereafter they had to confine their efforts to preventing the spread of the fire to the surrounding gorse and bracken.

Hardly had the machine crashed when Patrol Leader Micky Millar set off towards Gormanstown Aerodrome to obtain a Doctor. He ran the two and a half miles along the railway line, and arrived in an exhausted condition to deliver his message. The Doctor flew over to our camp, but found that First Aid had been well rendered by Patrol Leader McGuire.

By this time the machine had practically burned itself out, but the inhabitants and holidaymakers had arrived in full force. So a guard was mounted around the remains of the aeroplane by the Troop. 

Later in the day, as the Ambulance could not approach within a mile of the camp, Aircraftsman Gray was taken to it in the Trek- cart He was the more seriously injured of the occupants of the ill-fated "Lollipops”,the DH9 machine which had crashed. 

Late in November, Lord Holmpatrick, on behalf of Imperial Headquarters, presented the Silver Cross (the second highest Gallantry Medal available to Scouts) which had been awarded, to the Troop for saving the lives of the two airmen.

It was the first occasion on which a troop was so honoured, and the Court of Honour (Now called the Patrol Leaders Council) decided that the Cross should be carried upon the Troop Flag, following the custom prevailing in the French Army. It is worthy of note that through some mistake the Cross is inscribed August 1919, whereas the crash occurred on July 24th. 

It came as a surprise to the majority of the Troop, when on January 2nd 1920, in the course of a Beano, (Not unlike British Bulldogs-general mayhem) Brigadier – General Gerrard, commanding the Royal Air Force in Ireland accompanied by his A.D.C. walked into the Litton Hall. (The Troop meeting place).

He presented to each member of the Troop who had been present at the Laytown crash a letter of thanks for the services rendered by them on that occasion, signed on behalf of the Air Council. With this letter was presented the “Wings" of the Royal Air Force Badge, the Court-of-Honour applied to Imperial Headquarters for permission to wear these badges in uniform, but this was withheld.

The certificate presented to Alan Mackay's father for his part in saving the lives of airmen whose plane crashed at Laytown in 1919.

 

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