Cruit Island is about as far west as you can go on the Donegal coast, a number of small rocky outcrops lie between Cruit and Kincasslagh which you can walk out to, whenever the tide falls, and on one such island, known locally as Coffin Island, stands a weathered cairn bearing an equally weathered plaque with the name Edmund Brian Doherty, a member of the RAF, not seen since 1940. Who was Edmund Brian Doherty and why does he have such a memorial on an outcrop of an island on the Wild Atlantic Way in the west of Donegal? It was time for a bit of detective work!
The investigation quickly took a strange turn, Edmund wasn’t from Donegal but his father James Doherty, son of Daniel Doherty, was. James joined the British Civil Service in 1912 and went out to Kenya as a customs officer for HM Government. It was during his time in East Africa that Edmund Brian Doherty was born on the 20thFebruary 1918, James’ third child with Genesta Doherty (nee Bincheno), a schoolteacher from the Isle of Wight. Such was James’ long and distinguished career as a customs officer that he was awarded an MBE in the 1933 birthday honours.
The first record we can find of Edmund travelling from East Africa to London is on the Guildford Castle, with his mother and older sister Maureen on 24thJune 1920. We next see him travelling on the Mantola with his mother, sister and father in July 1922. It can only be presumed that the family travelled to Donegal to visit Edmund’s grandparents in Kincasslagh, as during the blessing of the cairn on Coffin Island the Reverend Hugh Bonar, Edmund’s cousin, made reference to the fact that Edmund enjoyed playing there as a boy.
Little is known about Edmund’s upbringing but in 1938 he joined the RAF as a member of 149 Squadron stationed at RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk, as an air gunner in the crew of a Wellington bomber. During the Nazi invasion of Norway, the RAF were providing support to their Norwegian allies by attacking the convoys from Germany that were supporting the invasion. On 12th April 1940 at 11:53 local time, the allied forces launched, what was at that time, their biggest bombing attack of the war consisting of 83Wellington bombers. Aboard Wellington P2966 was air gunner Edmund Doherty.
The RAF engaged the invading Nazi forces around 16:10hrs and after 15 minutes of engagement at 16:25 hours, with their Wellington just 20ft above the waves, the pilot, Sergeant Frederick Woodcock headed for the Norwegian Coast in an attempt to evade a pursuing ME.110 German Aircraft. It would be the last official sighting of Wellington P2966.
German newspapers would claim that the aircraft had been shot down and thus crashed into the sea. The body of Sergeant Edmund Goad was washed ashore and he is buried in Trondheim Cemetery, Norway. Corporal Jack Harry Langridge, Sergeant Frederick Albert Woodcock, Sergeant Roy Fox Vickery and Aircraftman James Henry were lost to the sea. After a period of several weeks Edmund was also declared as being missing presumed drowned.
Once you know the story of Edmund Brian Doherty, and that his remains rest somewhere in the depths of the North Sea off the coast of Norway the inscription on the bottom of the cairn becomes all the more poignant.
“May this cairn be a blessing to all who pass and a beacon to guide them safely back to their homes and dear ones”