The Crash in Scotland
The Crash is the opening chapter of MacGregor's War. The following excerpt depicts MacGregor waking up in the Cottage Hospital in Hawick, Scotland, one of two survivors when their B-17 Bomber crashed on the return from a bombing mission over Wilhelmshaven, Germany:
I hadn’t realized until I heard the voice saying ‘easy lad, easy’ that it was
a real person in front of me and not my imagination playing tricks on me again.
Once more the vision returned and I reached out to touch the hand wiping my
face, my fingers grabbing the wrist and not wanting to let go for fear it would
again escape me.
“Well noo, yer awake lad”, came the voice.
It was a woman’s voice, very soft and gentle and the words had a different sound to them, almost as though I had heard them before but I couldn’t remember where. Everything seemed so strange. I’m James but where the hell am I? What is this place and who is this woman talking to me? Nothing made any sense.
I tried to think back to the last thing I could remember. Waking up, breakfast, briefing……..yes, our bomber squadron had assembled in the briefing room and we found out that we were going to bomb the U-Boat yards at Wilhelmshaven, Germany. The flight plan called for us to head directly north towards Scotland, then East from England, across the North Sea, and enter Germany coming in from the north off the Ocean. This would give us the least amount of time over Germany and the U-Boat target area. The total estimated flight time was 7 hours. Our return flight would be along the same route.
After the briefing, we began our preparations for getting underway. The ground crews were busy fueling the plane and loading the bombs, checking out all the normal things before turning the plane over to the crew. Even though this was my 15th mission I still had this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach at the thought of going up.
We had a new crew with 2nd Lt. Mitch Cunningham Pilot and 2nd Lt. Doug Mason, co-pilot. Both Hetrick and I had flown with Lt. Mason on our 13th but our plane took some flak on mission 14 with four guys getting banged up pretty bad from shrapnel and new men were quickly assigned to take their place. I had the feeling that both the planes and the men who flew them were expendable. There were ten of us on each plane and if we didn’t come back, we would simply be replaced with new men and new planes. Mechanical failures caused four of our aircraft to turn back before they had reached the English coast, but the remainder of the formation proceeded on the briefed route in accordance with the pre-conceived flight plan.
At 1215 hours we were getting close to the target area and I could see the black puffs of smoke exploding to my right and left as we began to take flak. The thought of getting hit triggered something in me and slowly the events of the mission started coming back. As the engines droned on, the flak became very heavy, almost thick enough to get out and walk on. It was about 1225 hours and we had no sooner dropped our load of 12 five hundred pounders and then came the sudden loud blast behind my head and a horrific gaping hole about two feet in diameter just a few feet to the rear of my gun turret. The wind came gushing in with pieces of metal and other debris being blown frantically about. The abruptness of the explosion so close to me sent chills through my entire body. My right leg began to tingle and I took off my heated glove and reached down to my calf only to find that a piece of shrapnel had apparently torn my flight suit open and I drew back a hand filled with blood. The plane began jerking terribly with Lt. Mason saying, “My God we’re hit badly up here. Both Lt. Cunningham and Lt. Meyers are dead.”
The plane began shuddering and continually got worse as we began banking to the left away from the others. The whole damned thing began shaking so bad that I thought the tail was about to fall off. I could see the smoke streaming by my turret and then what appeared to be part of a wing flap. I was terrified at the thought of us going down and being all alone in the tail turret was not exactly the place I wanted to be right now. I looked around towards the front of the fuselage and I could see Hetrick standing there at his waist gun position but Joe Brown was slumped in his harness apparently shot up bad. Jesus Christ, things were not looking good. The pilot and navigator both dead and Joe Brown looked on the way. Thoughts began to run through my head that this could end up being my last flight. I kept thinking of the planes and crews that didn’t come back from previous missions......Rudy, Fred, Gonzales, we were all having drinks only a few weeks ago and now they were gone.
Suddenly the smoke stopped streaming past and the vibrations lessened somewhat and again Doug, “OK guys, we had an engine fire but it’s out now and the engine is feathered. We’re badly damaged but still in the air. Be ready to bail out if things get worse. We’re headed back to England.”
MacGregor and his friend Hetrick were the only two survivors of the crash in Hawick. Hetrick eventually ended up getting shipped back to the United States. After two months in the Cottage Hospital in Hawick, MacGregor was returned to his unit but not before becoming deeply involved with a nurse named Gillian Mackenzie. The town of Hawick plays a special role in the book in that it was the hometown of MacGregor's Father. I had originally thought that it might be a bit of a "stretch" having the plane come down there but after doing some research on crash locations, I found that a B-17 had crashed in the Teviot Hills near Jedburgh which is only ten miles from Hawick.