On 20th September 1942, Supermarine Spitfire R6992 came down near the Irish border in Co. Monaghan. The iconic plane took off from RAF Aldergrove, Crumlin, Co. Antrim. Spitfire R6992 was "war weary", having seen extensive action during the Battle of Britain. Now serving in RAF 1402 Meteorological Flight, the plane had already grounded 3 times, either shot down or crash landing.
On 20th September 1942, the cloud base was between 300 and 500 feet. While flying over Co. Tyrone, the engines failed and controls froze in cloud at around 20,000 feet.
Flight Lieutenant Gordon Hayter Proctor bailed out at 4,000 feet, landing safely near Crilly, Co. Tyrone in Northern Ireland while the plane came down south of the border. The plane exploded and burst into flames after impacting the ground on farmland of Patrick McKenna near Figullar, Emyvale, Co. Monaghan.
Irish Army Archives contain details of the crash. One of the first on the scene was 2nd Lieutenant Vincent Kenny of 11th Cyclist Squadron based at Cavan Barracks, Co. Cavan. He submitted his report to the Irish Army Eastern Command on 22nd September 1942.
Kenny received notification of the crash by telephone from the command duty officer at 1315hrs. Not knowing the nationality of the crashed plane, he took an armed party of one NCO and six other men. On arrival he found Local Defence Force and Civic Guards from Emyvale and Monaghan town already at the scene. These men were under command of Staff Officer JJ McGleoin. After establishing that no interference had occurred with the wreckage, 2nd Lieutenant Kenny took charge.
Wreckage of Spitfire R6992
McGleoin and his men had attempted to extinguish the fire. The flames destroyed the plane and 4 hand cocks of hay belonging to farmer McKenna. Part of the wings and fuselage of Spitfire R6992 scattered up to 300 yards away from where the nose of the plane came down.
Kenny informed the command duty officer at Emyvale Gardai Station. Irish authorities gave permission for two RAF officers to examine the plane for a high explosive detonator. The Garda took details such as their names and car registration number for identification purposes. The officers could look at the wreckage but were to remove nothing from the scene.
At 1615hrs, 4 Royal Air Force and 2 Royal Ulster Constabulary officers in uniform arrived at the crash site. Kenny refused their request to examine the wreck as the two permitted technicians were due to arrive. The allowed RAF men arrived in civilian clothing at 1730hrs carrying their documentation. Their examination lasted about half an hour and turned up no threat from a detonator.
2nd Lieutenant Kenny oversaw collection of the wreckage and McGleoin and his men remained on guard overnight. The Irish army took loose aluminium and tin scrap back to Cavan Barracks on a truck.
Gordon Hayter Proctor gained membership of the Caterpillar Club for his bail out of Supermarine Spitfire R9662. As trained, he gathered and hid his parachute as locals politely approached with pitchforks. Some reports suggest he was back in the air at 1800hrs that day.
On landing, he received help from locals including William Johnston who watched the pilot parachute to earth. Flight Lieutenant Proctor asked his whereabouts, relieved to be on the right side of the border. Johnston, who was an employee of Mr. William J Knox of Crilly House took him to the nearest telephone. Knox permitted the pilot to use the Crilly House telephone and prepared him a hot meal.
The RAF Flight Lieutenant left with a constable of the RUC, most likely from one of the nearby villages of Aughnacloy or Caledon. The barracks at Clones received the remaining wreckage of the Supermarine Spitfire. It was awaiting disposal in October of the same year.
It was the morning, a Sunday morning and I remember the loud noise of it. My father was milking cows in the byre and he heard the noise and he ran into the house thinking it was on fire. We then discovered it was a plane – it took the tops off the trees and a piece of it fell down in a gooseberry bush behind the house. I remember much of the plane being removed by the Army, and remember seeing it on a lorry.
Josie McCusker – Interview with BBC Radio Ulster – 2017
Archaeological dig of Spitfire R6992
In May 2017, a group of surveyors from Queen’s University Belfast, aviation historians and archaeologists dug the crash site. Pupils from two schools in Monaghan and one from Co. Londonderry observed and helped with the excavation. The team was also joined by Josie McCusker, now aged 80. She was five-years-old when the Spitfire crashed on her father’s farmland, almost setting the barn alight.
While the Irish authorities cleared most of the debris of Spitfire R6992 away in 1942, there were still remnants buried. The site was first explored with ground-penetrating radar in September 2016. Metallic deposits were only 4 metres beneath the surface.
Using a toothless bucket, they removed soil inch by inch. Discolourations in the earth indicated the point of impact. Much of the soil was dark and the smell of aviation fuel and oil was still strong after 75 years. Digging down, they found parts of the fuel tank and the engine remains.
The cockpit door was a bit of a surprise. The last person to use it was Flight Lieutenant Gordon Hayter Proctor who was later declared missing while serving in Burma. He has no grave and now he will be remembered in a bit of Monaghan. The display will be an homage to him.
Jonny McNee – Derry City and Strabane District Council Project Organiser – 2017
Among the finds were parts of the 750 kg Rolls Royce engine, plates inscribed with manufacturers details, and the cockpit door. The team cleaned up artifacts, catalogued them, and offered them to Monaghan County Museum for a permanent display.
In June 2018. Proctor’s niece Sarah Tysoe visited the crash site in Co. Monaghan. She visited from England as Monaghan County Museum prepared its new exhibition telling the story of: The Monaghan Spitfire – Life on the Border with a World at War. A life size Spitfire replica makes up part of the exhibit as do parts of Gordon Hayter Proctor’s unfortunate Supermarine Spitfire R6992.