Published 12th June 2015, 18:07

    THE loneliness of the landscape seems fitting for a final resting place. The silence is eternally eerie, nature providing its own tribute to 15 lost souls.

    They had survived World War II and were heading home to the USA when their plane went down. Now their spirits are forever part of a wild corner of Scotland.

    It was 70 years ago this week - June 13, 1945 - when the B-24H Liberator took off from Prestwick. The conflict that had raged for six years had ended, it was time to go home. But the nine crew and six service personnel never made it back.

    Flying over the North-west Highlands in poor weather conditions, the plane hit the top of Slioch, the massive mountain which sits above Loch Maree, and suffered severe damage to the undercarriage. The pilots decided the only option was an emergency landing and made several efforts to find a suitable spot near Gairloch, but on the final attempt the plane crashed and disintegrated. The impact scattered the aircraft over a series of little lochs and grassy rises above Shieldaig on the Badachro road.

    It’s always a poignant moment when you come over that final rise on the short walk in and see parts of the wreckage sticking up out of the water, a shark's fin of twisted metal frozen in time and place for 70 years. Most of the debris has remained where it landed, and the site at Na Lochan Sgeireach - popularly known as The Fairy Lochs - is a designated war grave.

    A plaque has been fixed to the rock, one of the huge propellor blades standing as if to attention in the forefront, a sentry for the fallen. Teddy bears, prayer flags, good luck charms and other personal effects lie there also, placed there over the years by relatives.

    Dollar bills, lying there for so long through passages of sun, wind and rain, have dissolved, green and white now part of the rocks. And there's always the silence. Apart from the odd haunting bird call, there's a hush in this landscape. It's as if nature itself is paying tribute to the dead.

    Those who walk the hour or so in to see the site are also reverential. There's no raised voices, no laughter. Even after all this time there is still the respect for these young men who perished so tragically.

    A closer look at the plaque reveals the devastating toll - the nine crewmen were aged between 20 and 26, from eight different US states. Four of the six passengers were also in their 20s and one was 30. Some may have still been alive today had they made it home.

    It's also sobering to think that their parents, brothers, sisters are mostly long gone as well. Some will never have made it to this grave to say goodbye. Now it will be far distant relatives who wish to pay their respects, those drawn by the need to explore the myth of a would-be great-great grandfather or uncle who died long before life had really began, the missing picture in the family album.

    But the sanctity of the site is also a tribute to the people of this country, the strangers who take the time, whether through curiosity or the simple need to pay their respects, who have left it untouched, undesecrated all through the years.

    Forget the politics, it's heartening to realise that there's a common bond amongst us all that recognises the tragedy that spelled the end for these young men after the sacrifices they had made and the horrors they had witnessed.

    Our mountains are littered with aircraft wreckage; it's a tribute to our nation and our people that we continue to treat them with respect.