On The War Memorial Trail…..The 1942 Plane Crash In North Tryon

August 20, 2020.  Not all wartime deaths happen overseas, or in other parts of Canada.  Occasionally one happens right in your neighbourhood.  That was the case on June 11, 1942 when North Tryon was the scene of a fatal plane crash.  Aboard were flight student Ralph Gordon MCCUTCHEON and his instructor, Flight Sgt H. L. SPINNEY, from the No. 9 Service Flying Training School RCAF in Summerside.  This flight training school was part of No. 3 Training Command RCAF, carrying out British Commonwealth Air Training Plan training operations.

43134_b193387-00026 Ralph McCutcheon picture from schoolbook

Ralph McCutcheon.  (Photo courtesy of http://www.ancestry.com)

North Tryon resident Vernon Inman was a witness to the crash and recollected that “… I was walking to the North Tryon School with my sisters and Ralph Edwards and saw the plane coming down.  I was 12 years old at the time.  I saw a parachute come down by the old mill and saw another parachute on the wings…”  The instructor safely landed by the old mill, but the student’s parachute caught on the wings and he lost his life.

CIMG4284 Jul 20 2020 Vernon at 1942 crash site

Vernon Inman indicates scene of the plane crash in June 1942 in North Tryon.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Vernon was keen to see what was happening, and noticed that beside the local store “… there were two men with a horse and buggy.  I jumped on and we went to the crash site.  The road wasn’t paved and the Trans Canada Highway wasn’t built yet.  There was a road, but it was only a dirt road, not even gravel…

What was the weather like that day?” Pieter asked.

Vernon replied that “… it was a nice sunny morning…” and explained that the cause of the crash was never publicly reported.  It was big news on the Island, particularly in the small community of North Tryon and surrounding area.

….Everyone went to the crash site as they knew the plane had come down.  The wing of the plane hit a pumphouse and there was a small fire, but no explosion.  The plane was broken in many places.  The instructor’s parachute went across the pond, but the student didn’t make it. His body was taken from the wreckage and a blanket covered him.  He was lying near where a birch tree is growing now.  I’ll never forget that his legs weren’t covered and I could see them….” 78 years later, that image has still left an indelible impression on him.

While the crash was widely reported, not much was known about the student who died.  Ralph Gordon McCutcheon was only 21 years old, born February 6, 1920 in Buffalo, New York, and the son of Sydney Joseph McCutcheon and Mabel Martha Billica, who lived in Toronto.  He enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in Toronto, Ontario in September 1941, interrupting his education at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York.

Although he had no flying experience, he’d expressed a desire to become a bomber pilot or an observer.  He was initially posted to various bases for training in Ontario and New Brunswick, receiving high marks for training courses, and recommendations to train him as a pilot.  On April 10, 1942 he arrived at No. 9 Service Flying Training School RCAF in Summerside towards that goal.

1-AJ-583-IMG_0568_2-720x393-600x328Harvard pic from harvards.com website

Harvard plane, similar to the one used on June 11, 1942.  (Photo: http://www.harvards.com)

At the time of the crash he had been training in a Harvard MK2 plane. The official report of the crash deemed it an accident while doing “…aerobatics...”, and stated it occurred at 9:15 am.  Eyewitness accounts in the report mirrored Vernon Inman’s recollection.  It noted that “... eyewitnesses state that parachute seemed to be caught on plane which dragged the airman down to his death…”  A handwritten entry added that “…aircraft flicked to the right at the top of the loop then parachute caught on plane…” McCutcheon died instantly of “…multiple fractures and a cracked skull...

Vernon explained that the plane crashed on the border line between the Dawson property and what is now a blueberry farm.  “… Myron Dawson’s sister Martha did guard duty at the crash site as people were trying to take pieces of the plane as souvenirs.  She was in the military and had been sent there from Summerside… 

Vernon didn’t leave the site without a memento of his own… a piece of the wheel, which still retains the original yellow colour.

CIMG4286 Jul 20 2020 Vernon at 1942 crash site

Vernon Inman holds a piece of the wheel from the Harvard plane that crashed in 1942.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

…I may be the only witness still alive, except for my sister Aletha, who lives in Michigan.  She’s two years older than me…” Vernon reflected.

In researching this story, Pieter learned that McCutcheon’s body was transported by train to Toronto.  His classmates from the air school in Summerside accompanied his coffin to the train station.  McCutcheon is buried in Prospect Cemetery in Toronto, Ontario.

Thank you to Vernon Inman for his eyewitness recollection of this tragic accident.  Other eyewitness accounts from adults at the time of the crash can be found in ‘Remember Yesterday; a history of North Tryon, PEI 1769-1992, Volume I’. (See https://islandlives.ca/islandora/object/ilives%3A166275v1#page/4/mode/2up) If anyone has more information or photos about this event, please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca or comment on the blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

On The War Memorial Trail…..The Search For Barney Reuben McGuigan

August 7, 2020.  In many cases it is very difficult to find a photo of a soldier from WW1 or WW2.  Last year, a request was made for photos and information on PEI soldiers from WW2 who were buried in The Netherlands.  (See Photos and Info Requested For WW2 Soldiers From PEI Buried In The Netherlands)  One of these soldiers, buried in the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek, was Bernard ‘Barney’ Reuben MCGUIGAN.

Over the past months, Pieter was lucky in finding photos from family members for:

One last soldier from PEI who is buried in one of the three Canadian War Cemeteries in The Netherlands is still without a photo: Bernard ‘Barney’ Reuben MCGUIGAN, who is buried in the Canadian War Cemetery in GroesbeekAt 16 years of age when he lost his life, he is the youngest soldier in the cemetery.

Barney Reuben was born on May 14, 1928, the son of Thomas McGuigan and Sarah ‘Sadie’ Bisson, and baptized on June 17, 1928 at St. Paul’s Church in Sturgeon. Unfortunately his mother died in 1936 and he was brought up by his grandparents, Bernard McGuigan and Rose McGee.

On July 9, 1943 he enlisted in Charlottetown and claimed to be 18 years old, not his actual 15 years of age.  He went on to say that he “…attended rural school in PEI, completing grade 7 at age 16 in 1941, but left school because no teacher was available in the district…” He stated that he was a fisherman at the time of enlistment.  His grandmother Rose is listed as his foster-mother on his enlistment documents.

Under military rules, no one under 19 was to be sent overseas.  As a supposed 18 year old, Barney was sent for training, first to a training camp in Aldershot, Nova Scotia.  In January 1944, he was sent for infantry training in Vernon, BC.  In November 1944, he was sent overseas, arriving in the United Kingdom on November 28, 1944.

On January 8, 1945 he left the United Kingdom for continental Europe, as part of reinforcement troops.  On February 12, 1945 he joined the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment.  Then, on February 26, 1945 he lost his life in Germany, just over the Dutch border, during Operation Blockbuster, the last part of Operation Veritable. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Blockbuster)  He was only 16, not 19, years old.

He was initially buried in the Bedburg Military Cemetery, and then later reburied in the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek.

Screenshot_2020-08-06 Google Maps Bedburg Germany

Black X marks the location of Bedburg, Germany, where Barney McGuigan lost his life.  (Map courtesy of Google maps.)

After Barney’s death, his father wrote to the Canadian Military, asking why his son had been sent overseas when he was underage.  At the time of enlistment Barney was 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighed 133 pounds.  The military replied to his father, explaining that since Barney had said he was born in May 29, 1925, he was sent overseas based on that information.  Until his father wrote, unfortunately after Barney’s death, no correction to acknowledge his actual date of birth had been made.

In October 2019 we visited the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek and Pieter laid down flags at graves of Islanders, including Barney McGuigan.  (See On The War Memorial Trail…..Our 2019 Visit To The Canadian War Cemetery In Groesbeek)

CIMG3336 Oct 5 2019 Groesbeek Barney McGuigan cropped

Grave of Barney McGuigan in the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

With no luck finding a photo, Pieter was recently interviewed by Angela Walker for CBC Radio’s Mainstreet PEI about his quest…  Link to interview:


Following the interview, he was contacted by Regina Faithfull, Barney’s cousin.  She had a photo of her father, in which Barney could be seen behind a door in the background.

Photo of McGuigans from Jeanie Faithfull

Also listening to the CBC broadcast was Charlotte MacAuley, reporter for the ‘Eastern Graphic’ newspaper.  As Barney was from the area the newspaper covered, she was interested in doing a story.  Perhaps that might generate a photo in which Barney could be seen more clearly?

CIMG4292 Jul 22 2020 Charlotte & Pieter at Eastern Graphic

Pieter with Charlotte MacAuley at the Eastern Graphic office in Montague.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Pieter agreed to an interview, which you can read here: (EAG-A12-080520.K War researcher looking to connect with family of Barney McGuigan).

Pieter by Charlotte MacAuley

Pieter with a copy of the telegram sent to Barney McGuigan’s family, advising of his death. (Photo credit: Charlotte MacAuley)

So…. the search for a photo continues…will Pieter be able to fulfill his quest? If anyone has more information or a photo for Barney Reuben McGuigan, please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca or comment on the blog.

Thank you to Angela Walker of CBC PEI Radio and Charlotte MacAuley of the ‘Eastern Graphic‘ for helping to publicize this search. Thank you also to Regina Faithfull for submitting a photo of the McGuigan family, Jane Scott for the link to the radio interview, and to Father Art O’Shea, diocese archivist at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlottetown, for confirmation of the date of birth and baptism for Barney McGuigan.

© Daria Valkenburg