George BethuneThe Duke of Kent crash in 1942
Duration: 1827 seconds
Recorded: 10 March 2017
About this recording
On August 25th 1942, in thick fog, a Sunderland flying boat crashed and exploded on a remote hillside in south-east Caithness known as Eagle’s Rock. Fourteen men lost their lives, among them Air Commodore HRH the Duke of Kent, youngest brother of King George VI. The 39-year-old duke was the only member of the Royal Family to be killed on active service during World War Two. Sunderland W4026 was part of Coastal Command’s 228 Squadron, stationed at Oban, but the Kent flight had taken off from the Cromarty Firth on what was intended to be a welfare visit to RAF stations in Iceland.
George Bethune from Dunbeath is an authority on the crash and has a close personal interest in the subject: his late father, Will Bethune, a special constable, was one of the first to arrive at the scene. Over the years George has led many walks to the site in his role as adviser to Dunbeath Preservation Trust. On one of those walks, in 2005, an inscribed stone slab was unveiled in memory of the Duke of Kent on the spot where he died. It is close to the memorial cross honouring all the crew that was erected soon after the war.
Although not apparent in the immediate aftermath of the crash, there was one survivor: Flt Sgt Andrew Jack, from Grangemouth, who had been occupying the rear turret which broke away on impact. He turned up the following day, badly injured, having struggled across country to an isolated cottage.
A court of inquiry found that the accident occurred “because the aircraft was flown on a track other than that indicated in the flight plan given to the pilot, and at too low an altitude to clear the rising ground on the track”. It added that “the responsibility for this serious mistake in airmanship lies with the captain of the aircraft”.
According to most accounts, the captain was Flight Lieutenant Frank Goyen, an Australian. However, there have been suggestions of an eleventh-hour change of captain. George believes that Wing Commander Thomas Moseley may have been at the controls. Jack never talked openly about the crash but he was said to have felt that the inquiry findings were grossly unfair to Goyen.
In their book Double Standards (2001), Lynn Picknett, Clive Prince, Stephen Prior and Robert Brydon made a sensational claim that a 16th man had been on board the ill-fated Sunderland: Rudolf Hess, Germany’s Deputy Fuhrer. It was claimed that Hess joined the flight en route to neutral Sweden where he and the duke were to reveal a peace deal between Germany and Britain. George does not accept this as a credible theory.