Memorial for lost airmen and hero sheepdog Sheila

The crew from the B17 Flying Fortress.
The crew from the B17 Flying Fortress.

A special commemoration was held earlier this month to mark the 70th anniversary of a fatal Second World War plane crash in the Cheviots and the heroic part played by a shepherd’s dog.

Sheila the sheepdog was awarded an animal bravery award for her involvement in the rescue of American crew from the hills, after the B17 Flying Fortress of the 303rd Bombardment Group US 8th Air Force crashed on December 16, 1944.

The Allied Aircrew memorial.

The Allied Aircrew memorial.

Two of the Allied aircrew on-board, including Sgt Frank R Turner, were killed in the tragic incident, but Sheila managed to rescue a number of survivors.

She was awarded the Dickin Medal for this act and was the first civilian pet to receive this honour.

Her only puppy, Tibbie, was later flown across to South Carolina to live with Sgt Frank R Turner’s mother.

But while this story is well known, there is another tale which isn’t quite so renowned. This being that Sheila and her owner John Dagg had been involved in an earlier rescue.

Cadets attended the Allied Aircrew memorial.

Cadets attended the Allied Aircrew memorial.

On January 16, 1942, Vickers Wellington Z1078 of 150 Squadron RAF was returning to RAF Snaith in Yorkshire following a night bombing mission over Hamburg, Germany. The aircraft’s communications and navigation aids were inoperative.

When the pilot was passing over the English mainland, he encountered very heavy mist.

Unable to determine his course and unable to call for assistance over his radio, the pilot soon became disorientated in the mist, snow, wind and darkness.

As a result, he flew further north-west than his intended route to RAF Snaith and continued heading north until his aircraft was over the Cheviots.

Royal British Legion Riders attended the Allied Aircrew memorial.

Royal British Legion Riders attended the Allied Aircrew memorial.

Due to the blizzard conditions and heavy mist, he was unaware that he was now over high ground.

Very soon, the aircraft crashed into West Hill on a shoulder of the Cheviot.

Local shepherds realised that an aircraft had crashed when they encountered a strong smell of burning on the hills.

Three shepherds, with Sheila, headed for the crash scene, where they found that several of the crew had died in the accident.

John Dagg and Sheila the Sheepdog.

John Dagg and Sheila the Sheepdog.

To commemorate both acts, and to honour those airmen who were killed, a small act of remembrance was held in Wooler earlier this month, on Saturday, December 13.

It was organised by Keith Cockburn, of Coldstream, with representatives from The Royal British Legion, plus members of the riders branch, Air Cadets of 1016 (Berwick) Air Training Corps, 6th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland attending with Standard Bearers from the Royal British Legion and the Air Training Corp.

Mr Cockburn decided to mark the 70th anniversary of the crash of the Flying Fortress that had tragically crashed near Braydon Crags on Cheviot after meeting Rod Merritt during filming for a feature documentary, To the Border Bred.

Rod is the son of Sgt Frank R Turner, one of the two members of the Flying Fortress crew who had died in the crash. Rod and his wife Meg travelled from Florida, USA to visit the memorial in the College Valley, which is close to where Rod’s father died in 1944.

A small act of memorial took place there which both Rod and John Dagg Jnr attended.