Lockerbie – A Day That Changed Britain

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What’s the chance of a plane falling out of the sky and falling onto a town? Pretty slim. It’s a big world and a lot of empty space, and empty ocean.

Lockerbie is a small town with a population of about 4,000, in the south west of Scotland, about 25km, (16miles) from the border with England.

Although it is tucked away, Scotland’s largest lamb market is held there.

What else does it have that makes it stand out?

After the Second World War the Hallmuir Prisoner of War Camp just a couple of kilometres (one and a half miles) from the town housed Ukrainian soldiers from the Galician Division of the Waffen SS.

That’s a bit weird isn’t it. A small town in rural Scotland, with nothing memorable about it except it’s Scotland’s largest lamb market and it’s next door to a prison camp that housed SS prisoners in World War II.

Oh yes, and it is under a flight path.

In 1988, Pan Am flight 103 blew apart as it flew over the town. A bomb on the plane blew a hole in the side of the fuselage and the decompression blew the entire nose off the plane as well.

Wreckage landed over a huge area – over 2,200 square kilometres (845 square miles).

All 243 passengers and 16 crew died.

And eleven people in Lockerbie died.

Because the plane had only taken off half an hour before, it was full of fuel. A pilot in another plane reported a huge fire on the ground.

So those eleven people died from being hit with the remains of the plane when it fell on the town, or from being burned to death from jet fuel.

Why Lockerbie?

The plane set off on time, and was on course. Some reports said the bombers made a mistake and had intended to time the explosion to happen when the plane was over the Atlantic.

That would have been to their advantage because it would have lessened the chance of investigators recovering clues from the wreckage.

As it was, the bombing was linked to Libyan operatives on the orders of General Gaddafi.

Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi was tried and convicted. Another accused was acquitted.

Now fast forward to December 2020, when a man named Abu Agila Mohammad Masud was charged in the US with building the bomb. He was in Libya when he was charged, so the charge was largely symbolic, until now.

Masud was abducted in December of 2022 by one of the Governments in Libya. There are two Governments because the country is split and arguing about who is in charge.

So now the Scottish authorities have announced that Masud is in US custody.

Who Were The Eleven In Lockerbie Who Died?

I tried to find the names of the people from Lockerbie who were killed, but I didn’t come up with anything. And then my mind wandered and I wondered whether any of the dead had a Ukranian-sounding name.

The chapel that the prisoners built at Hallmuir Prisoner of War Camp is still used today. There are Ukrainian services on the first Sunday of every alternate month. It seems likely that there must be some Ukrainians who stayed on at the town.

If a Ukrainian man was 25 at the end of the war, then in 1988 he would be 68 years old. So it is entirely possible that one or more of the Ukrainian prisoners of war was hit by a piece of fuselage or burned to death from the jet fuel that burned on the ground.

The 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Galician) was formed in 1943 with Ukrainian volunteers from Galicia, and then later also with some Slovaks. They fought on the Eastern Front, and in civilian ‘reprisals’.

So I am imagining the bizarre life story of a Ukrainian man who joined the German Waffen SS and saw action on the Eastern Front. He also took part in actions against civilians that were war crimes.

He fought at the Battle of Brody, when his Division was annihilated with eighty percent of his fellow soldiers killed in the battle.

He retreated westward and was taken prisoner and transported to Scotland at the end of the war. After his denazification and release, he married a Scottish woman and took up sheep farming, selling his lambs in the lamb market.

Then in 1988, a plane flying over the town was blown up and he was killed when a piece of fuselage hit him as he sat watching TV at home in Lockerbie.

It could have happened, it could have.

The Chapel

The Canmore National Record of the Historic Environment lists the Lockerbie, Hallmuir Prisoner Of War Camp, Ukrainian Chapel And War Memorial. It describes

a single storey prefabricated hut with pitched roof converted by Ukrainian Prisoner’s of War during 1942. Painted corrugated iron walls with an asbestos roof and timber frame set on a concrete base. Interior painted and wallpapered with iconography at one end and wooden pews.

Something is wrong somewhere, because the Galician Division wasn’t formed until 1943.

Still more curious, the Heritage and History web site describes

The Hallmuir Prisoner of War Camp was built in 1942 to accommodate 450 German and Italian prisoners of war. After the end of World War II, the Italians and Germans were repatriated and by 1947 the camp stood empty.
Later in that year, it became home to over 400 Ukrainian conscripts. One of the huts which had once been used by the Italians as a place of worship, was transformed by the displaced Ukrainian men, into a colourful chapel, to allow them to continue to celebrate their Greek Catholic faith.

The Plane

Investigators painstakingly put together the broken Pan Am plane that exploded, and the plane is still locked away in a huge hanger – retained as evidence that might still be called upon.

Pan Am

Pan American was heavily criticised for its poor security that allowed the bomb onto the plane.

Then the first Gulf War in 1990-1991 reduced air traffic globally. That made the airline unviable, and Pan American Airways filed for bankruptcy protection in 1991 and ceased operations in December of that year.

Pan Am was started in 1927 by two United States Army Air Corps officers who were concerned about the influence of the German-owned Colombian air carrier SCADTA in Central America.

The Second World War forced the end of the German ownership, and SCADTA ceased operations after Pearl Harbour.

The Colombian government merged the airline’s assets into its national airline SACO, that became the airline Avianca, with more than 125 routes worldwide.