Coigach Folk

COIGACH'S SACRIFICE IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR


Page 12

ROYAL AIR FORCE DEATH


Pilot Officer Charles Harkness, Air Gunner, 75 Squadron Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, Service No. 121958.  Died 29th July 1942 aged 28.

The connection with Coigach is that Charles’ mother Murdina (Ina) – née Mackenzie - was born in Polbain in 1873. Her parents were married in 1859 at Assynt.

Murdina’s siblings were Kenneth (1865-1907), Henrietta (1876-1942) and Annabel (1868-1951). In 1881 the family was living at Nigg, Farm of Ankerville with Donald employed as a farm labourer. Ten years later Murdina was aged 17, a general servant at Old Dornie Farmhouse, working for Donald and Mary Macleod.

Murdina married Charles Harkness in 1901, chief steward on MacBrayne’s steamers. The marriage certificate states that Charles Harkness age 26, ship’s steward married Murdina McKenzie age 25 at Bridge Street Station Hotel, Glasgow on 20th March 1901. They were both living at 103 Smith Street, Glasgow. Charles’s father was John, a railway guard, and mother Jane was deceased. Murdina’s parents were Donald, crofter (deceased) and Anne. Witnesses were Bella Harkness and Robert Finlay. In 1914/15 Charles served on the ship Chieftain.

Charles (junior) was born on 9th July 1914 at 167 Langside Road, Glasgow, the family home. He had older siblings, Donald and Jane (Jean). According to Iain Mackenzie Fidlin, Roddie Shaw (who died in 1945) was a best pal of Charles’s, along with Donnie Campbell.

Father Charles died on 17th March 1923 aged 48, with daughter Jane present. He had been ill with pneumonia for 10 days. Murdina then moved a few doors to No. 221 Langside Road and remained there until at least 1939.

Son Charles enlisted as a volunteer with the Royal Air Force.

His final movements are:

28/07/1942 – Attack Against Targets at Hamburg

Seventeen aircrafts were detailed to carry out an attack on the above target. Bomb load of 4000lbs, 30lb and 4lb incendiaries was dropped in target area and bursts were seen in dock area. Anti-aircraft fire was very accurate and there were many accurate searchlight cones in parts but clear over target. Six aircraft failed to return to base, including Charles’s Wellington MK.III X.3558 AA-Z. 

The crew on Charles’s aircraft were:

Sgt. Alexander George Sutherland, RNZAF NZ405340 – Pilot.
W/O George Ernest Shones, RAFVR 564432 – Observer.
Sgt. Adrian Oscar Tabor, RNZAF NZ411104 – Wireless Operator.

P/O Charles Harkness, RAFVR 121958 – Front Gunner.
Sgt. Ian Gordon Stewart, RNZAF NZ404623 – Rear Gunner

The Wellington was probably hit by anti-aircraft fire over or near the target city and crashed near Cuxhaven, northern Germany. All the crew perished. They were buried in the Central Cemetery Brackeswalde, but later reinterred at Becklingen War Cemetery. Charles is buried in Grave 27.A.14 .

A beloved son and brother,
Until the day break,
And the shadows flee away

His mother Murdina died in 1951 aged 75.

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