The baffling mystery of who killed Wren Gertie Canning

IT’S the sort of “Who dunit” that would have pricked up the ears of t.v’s News Tricks UCOS cold case team.
Sadly, the murder of Wren Gertrude Canning is an all too real a crime which happened almost 70 years ago and has, so far as I know, absolutely no Caithness connection whatsoever.
But, you know, when I did my regular Wicker’s World column for the Groat, it never ceased to surprise me how readers came up with the information on the most obscure of my queries. And there is an added reason why they might just be able to help, this time around, which I’ll explain later.
The story which appeared in the Daily Mail, ,recently, outlined the last movements of Gertie Canning on the west coast of Scotland and the inexplicable mystery of why anyone would want to harm the quiet but popular 20-year old. Gertie had come over from her native Ireland and got a job in the Foxlydiate Hotel, in Worcester. Information is a bit sketchy but, it is known that she subsequently joined the Wrens. Miss Canning was stationed at Inverary which was a hive of military activity. It was revealed later that it was a training ground for wartime premier Winston Churchill’s Special Operations Executive force. So, the sound of gunfire wasn’t unusual in the surrounding area.
If anyone did hear the four fatal shots, then they didn’t have any reason to attach any importance to them. Miss Canning was seen strolling along the shores of Loch Fyne heading for Inverary to post a letter to her father in Lifford Donegal. By the time it had arrived, she had been reported missing and five days later, her body was discovered with four bullet wounds, near the Marriage Tree, a landmark which local legend said, possessed magic. Two roadmen had watched her walk along the track and, shortly afterwards, observed a man heading in the same direction.
The bullets that killed Miss Canning had been fired from a .38 calibre revolver, standard issue for military personnel in the area, who were drawn from Britain, Canada and the U.S. So the investigating officer Detective Chief Superintendent Robert Colquhoun, from Glasgow police, had a nightmare pool of 10,000 suspects and no discernible motive for the brutal murder of such a well-liked woman.
To make the detective’s job even harder, was the fact that, within days of discovery, a large number of his potential suspects had departed to take part in the disastrous invasion of the northern coast of France at Dieppe, which claimed more than 3000 Allied lives in August 1942. If a solider had been responsible, he might have been among them...then again, maybe not. DCS Colquhoun tested all the .38 guns, he could locate, in the area including those soldiers who survived the ill-fate Dieppe raid. None of them provided a match to the deadly bullets. Did the weapon belong to a soldier who didn’t return? To cut a long story short, the murder went into an unsolved file and has remained there, ever since.
Until...more recently, when Miss Canning’s nephew, Liam, was handed an old newspaper clipping that recorded his aunt’s murder, and felt compelled to find out more about it. The death was not spoken of in the Canning household in Ireland, where Liam and his brother Joe and Tommy were brought up.. They have visited Inverary and while they have not yet solved the mystery, they “know more than they did, before”. They believe that their aunt’s body was discovered by a mother and her two boys, thought to be named William and Donald who would have been aged around 10 and 12. They would now be in their eighties but might hold a clue to the murder that would result in tracing who was responsible and, at long last give a family closure.
Why do I think organauts might know someone who might know something? Well, for a start the web is global. Secondly, it is known there were 10,000 troops stationed there the survivors would have been dispersed back to their own homes in Britain, Canada and America, at the end of World War Two, and, maybe, just maybe, someone knows something of the terrible truth. Maybe, a soldier had nothing to do with the crime and it was someone else who had a .38 revolver. It’s a very much a long-shot (no pun intended) but, as I indicated earlier, but if it can provide, even a clue to this baffling murder, it’s well worth pursuing.
The Canning family intend to travel to Inverary next July, for the 70 anniversary of their aunt’s death. If the answers to the vital questions...who killed her and why, were known by then, then, their poignant journey would be even more worthwhile.