Remains of Spitfire pilot are reinterred

Dig for human remains at the site of a Spitfire crash near Westruther
Dig for human remains at the site of a Spitfire crash near Westruther

A Glasgow cemetery was the setting for a reinterment service for the remains of a Spitfire pilot killed during a wartime crash in Berwickshire.

Malcolm Robertson was a 20-year-old sergeant pilot serving with the Royal New Zealand Air Force and attached to the Royal Air Force’s 65 Squadron based at Drem, in East Lothian, when he was killed after his single-engined fighter crashed near Westruther during a training sortie in January 1943.

Sgt Pilot Robertson service

Sgt Pilot Robertson service

His remains were buried in Glasgow’s Craigton Cemetery following the crash but last year’s excavation of the crash site, which recovered pieces of the Spitfire, also uncovered human bones and now these remains have been interred in Sgt Robertson’s grave.

The service was conducted by RAF Prestwick chaplain, Rev David Ness, with the RNZAF represented by Squadron Leader Susie Barns.

Sqn Ldr Burns said: “The rededication service was a poignant time to reflect on service and sacrifice. Sergeant Robertson has now been reburied with the honour and dignity befitting an RNZAF pilot,”

Kenny Walker, of the aircrash investigation group that excavated the site, also attended the service and represented Sgt Robertson’s family. He recited the family’s eulogy, speaking of the family’s visions of Sgt Robertson’s final flight.

“We visualise how it probably was for you when, in October 1942, you were posted to RAF 65 Squadron at nearby Drem. Constantly training, flying exercises, more operations, the cold of a Scottish winter and plying the skies in a Supermarine Spitfire,” Mr Walker told those present.

“We have thought about you as we think you might have been at 1540 hours on 16 January, 1943, when you powered Spitfire AR403 into cloudy skies for a one-hour practice flight. Our vision is that the challenge in completing your flight far overshadowed the sound of the mighty Rolls Royce Merlin [engine] and any fleeting moments of exhilaration before you plunged through the cloud layer.”

Also present was Iain Anderson of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, members of the Air Crash Investigation and Archaeology Group that excavated the wreck, and members of the Scottish Police.

Sgt Robertson had enlisted in 1940 shortly after his 18th birthday and trained at flying training schools in New Zealand before leaving for Britain. The salvaged parts of Sgt Robertson’s Spitfire were put on display at a museum in Haddington.