Back in April 1943, in the depths of the Second World War, an American B-17 crash landed in the seaside town of Clonakilty, County Cork, southern Ireland.
Local Irish residents were astonished to find that one of the crew members who had landed in their midst wasn’t actually an American or, in fact, a human being at all.
Rather, he was a small monkey called Tojo who’d been taken from his home in Morocco and placed aboard an American war plane which went by the name of “T’ain’t a Bird”.
After leaving Morocco the crew had started their flight towards England, but the Boeing B-17 unfortunately ran out of fuel when an incorrect radio report had them soaring off in the wrong direction.
The 10 crewmen and their primate companion suddenly found themselves crashing to earth over the Emerald Isle instead of landing safely in dear old Blighty.
When the “American Flying Fortress”, as it was nicknamed, starting circling the skies above Clonakilty, local residents stood and watched in wonder.
Not only had they rarely seen an aircraft of such huge dimensions, but they were also worried about the likelihood of it crashing into one of their church spires as it strafed the town. Luckily, the plane turned towards the sea and crash landed in a nearby marsh.
The confused and extremely worried airmen thought they must have landed in Norway, which was occupied by the Germans at the time.
When they saw local Irish folk descending upon them, they allegedly prepared themselves to resist capture by swallowing cyanide capsules. Fortunately, this desperate measure was not required. The local residents assured the crew they were among friends. Once their identities as American allies had been confirmed, the locals began welcoming them with open arms.
Quoted in BBC News, local businessman, Thomas Tupper, who grew up knowing the story of Tojo and the American airmen explains that, although the crew was taken into police custody, “The custody consisted of them being in the local hotel O’Donovan’s Hotel where a party ensued for three days”. During that time, Tojo became quite a celebrity as most locals had never seen a monkey in person.
During their unscheduled stopover, the American B-17 airmen were pleased to share their 36 bottles of rum with the friendly rescuers – and Tojo the monkey. Several days later the men were taken initially to Cork, then up to Northern Ireland where they were handed over to the RAF.
However, one of their number was missing. Tojo had taken a great liking to Rum and, whether it was that or the unfamiliar diet or the moist, cold Irish climate, Tojo was beset with an attack of pneumonia and sadly died. Despite the best efforts of local doctors, pharmacists, and vets, nothing could be done to save the poor little monkey.
Thomas Tupper recalls it as a local tragedy. Tojo was laid out in the hotel, and locals lined up to pay their respects.
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Despite his short time on the island, Tojo made a lasting impression on the town, and he was laid to rest with full military honours. And more recently, a statue in his honour was unveiled at Clonakilty in April 2013 – 70 years after the unusual visitor first made his unscheduled landing.