A Ceremony of Commemoration for the Fearnan Air Crash was held in the village on 6th May – almost exactly 76 years after the crash in which 3 members of the Moscow Special Assignment Air Group and a Czechoslovakian colleague died when their plane came down in the Cow Park on the edge of Fearnan.
Residents, both past and present, gathered at the village hall along with our guests – the Lord-Lieutenant of Perth and Kinross, the Consul General of Russia, the Provost of Perth and Kinross, representatives of the Russian families, and 3 generations of the Drahovzal family from the Czech Republic, who had travelled here especially for the ceremony. So, we formed quite a crowd as we made our way to the site of the ceremony, led by the Provost’s piper.
As we gathered round the newly-installed memorial stone, the Rev Anne Brennan welcomed everyone and a minute’s silence was held. It was punctuated, on this Spring morning, by birdsong and bleating lambs calling to their mothers – sounds which felt like an affirmation of life going forward.
The piper’s Lament signalled the end of the silence and as the notes softly faded to a close, Father Alexandr the Russian Orthodox Priest, blessed the stone and offered prayers. Wreaths and red roses were laid, not just by the official party but by many of those attending. Fearnan’s wreath was laid by Isobel Johnstone, who grew up in the village in the cottage now known as Arcady. Isobel was carried to the crash site as a baby by her mother, who ran from their cottage to see if there were any survivors.
The speeches that followed were all moving, but particularly those from the descendants of the men who had died in the crash. Anna Belorusova, who has written about the crash in her recently published book about the Moscow Special Assignment Air Group, read an address and poem written by Yuri, the grandson of flight engineer Aleksandr Alekseev:
This is a very special occasion for my family and for me.
I never met my grandfather, Aleksandr Alekseev. But his story has always been part of our family lore. My father Lev, a teenager during the war, could remember Aleksandr going to the most dangerous sorties behind enemy lines and always safely coming home. One day, however, he left on a top-secret mission, never to return.
Some months later sad news arrived. Then came a solemn funeral in Moscow with speeches by the High Command, a military band, and guns fired in memory of the fallen heroes Aleksandr Gruzdin, Aleksandr Alekseev and Vasily Drjamin. But their families were never told how the tragedy happened.
Much later my father attempted to find out what had happened in the UK, but the files were classified. Eight years ago, he died without having ever learned the truth and is buried now next to his father in Moscow’s Novodevitchie cemetery.
It was just three weeks ago that my family learned what had happened in May 1943 in Perthshire. Now our family feels reconnected with my grandfather, it is as though he has finally come home. I am deeply grateful to you for what you have done to commemorate those brave men and hope to visit Fearnan sometime soon to pay my own tribute and to say thank you to all.
Fearnan, you'll not forget that flight,
The struggling crew, the dreadful sight
Of their sad end, that springtime day.
And I not born… What was it for?
I need an answer from that war…
It cannot say, it cannot say, it cannot say.
Michal Nyvit, the great-grandson of Frantisek Drahovzal, spoke on behalf of his family. Speaking initially in English and then in Czech, he said:
I am the great grandson of Frantisek Antonin Drahovzal. Frantisek was employed as a chef by President Benes but in 1940, after Czechoslovakia was invaded, he left to come to England with the President. In 1943, he died here in this tragic crash. The circumstances of his death are still unexplained.
I would like to thank Anna Belorusova who has been researching how this crash came about. Thank you also to Joe Vochyan of Czech RAF for tracing our family in the Czech Republic, and to Fiona and Bradley who kept in touch with me during the planning of our visit. Thanks to them all we are here with you today.
This month, Europe is commemorating the 74th anniversary of World War II and the horrors that people had to endure in the course of the war. They are also remembering those who died fighting for our freedom and who should not be forgotten. Therefore, I thank all those who have organised this Act of Remembrance.
We, the descendants, also pay tribute to those who died in the war and thank them for enabling us to live in relative peace without pain and suffering.
The pictures below show the Consul General addressing the gathering; the Provost; Anna Belorusova; and Michal Nyvit.
The final part of the ceremony was the planting of a tree – a Golden Alder – as gesture of friendship and unity going forward. The tree was chosen because the name Fearnan means ‘the Place of the Alder’. All the participants in the ceremony helped to plant the tree, as well as Frantisek Drahovzal’s son (also Frantisek and now aged 85) and his grandson (standing behind his father in the picture), and Sue Dolan-Betney on behalf of Fearnan Village Association.
After the ceremony, a number of people walked up the hill to where the actual crash site was marked with both the Russian and Czech flags, while others made their way back to the village hall for tea.
The new story-board panels, a gift from the Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre can be seen in the picture. Doug and Hilary provided music, and John Duff joined them to sing The Loch Tay Boat Song.
Whilst in the hall, the Drahovzal family were able to meet and talk with Alex and Billy McEwen. Their father, John McEwen, witnessed the crash as the stricken plane passed overhead at Lawers View, with the pilot struggling to miss the village. John McEwen appeared as a witness at the subsequent Inquiry. The McEwen’s are seen below on the left with the Drahovzals.
The easy flow of conversation between our Scottish and Czech guests was made possible by Miranda, who lives in Aberfeldy, and acted as a very able interpreter.
She is seen below with Sue and Fiona.
Many, many thanks to everyone in the village who helped the event run smoothly, from planning and organising the event, to preparing the site, managing the traffic, looking after our visitors and preparing and serving the tea. And a particularly big thank you to all our visitors who joined us from all parts of Scotland.
Fearnan in the Media!
The TV station, Channel One Russia had a film crew at the Ceremony, and at Errol and Montrose. Here is their report – the pictures of Fearnan start at 0.30min and again at 3.14 min. https://www.1tv.ru/news/issue/2019-05-10/21:00#12