What was normal is no more. Life may not return to the norm we knew for months or years.
Covid-19 cancellations of planned events includes V.E. Day 75, rightly so.
There will be no dancing in the lock down empty streets on 7 May this year. The planned Victory in Europe VE75 celebrations are on hold. There will be valiant ‘virtual’ celebrations to honour those who didn’t survive and those who did but are no longer with us.
Just as the Second World War came to an end, the Covid-19 pandemic will also eventually end. Much is being sacrificed by so many during this health crisis. Sadly, far too many are making the ultimate sacrifice. It can only be hoped that each life lost will be named and remembered in some way.
Similarly over the years, efforts have been made for all deceased WW2 service personnel to be officially commemorated somewhere. Yet it still remains that some had their war time role incorrectly classified. This may be the case with four men who lost their lives in a so-called ‘friendly fire’ accident off the Devon coast.
In January 2020, the National Archives (NA) opened up previously classified documents locked away for over 75 years.
One such record reveals that the four men died on 15 February 1942 in an air crash off Plymouth, while serving with the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA).
A year after the incident the deceased were identified in The Times newspaper report of the official inquiry as being with British Overseas Airways Corporation (B.O.A.C) That may explain why the men were not listed in E.C. Cheesman’s official history of the ATA , ‘Brief Glory.’
The mistake is not surprising because when the ATA was formed, it was attached to BOAC. In researching some of the women pilots who are remembered on this Solent Aviatrix website, I have seen war time correspondence between ATA and BOAC in which the latter is asking ATA, ‘is the deceased pilot with ATA or BOAC?’
So even BOAC Administration Section were not sure. Although both organisations had striven to be well-oiled machines, that aim was not always achieved in the confusion and chaos of war time. In fairness to both organisations, that was possibly the case with First Officer Richard John Williamson, Second Officer Hubert France Parker, Captain John Alexander Stuart Hunter and Flight Engineer Horace Reginald Spicer.
The tragedy happened when their aircraft was returning to Bournemouth Airport (RAF Hurn) from RAF Cairo, having flown from Hurn to Egypt three weeks before. The Liberator was shot down by a Spitfire off the Eddystone Lighthouse. G-AGDR (AM 918) was mistaken for an incoming enemy aircraft. On board were five other men who also died that day.
The NA record identified the other five as Lieutenant Vine (US Army), Colonel Griffiths (US Army), Brigadier Norris (US Army), Captain Robert Humphrey Page (BOAC) and Harold E. Bell (BOAC).
The Times reported some contradictions to this. The newspaper stated that C.L.M.Vine as serving with RNR (UK) and Brigadier Frederick Morris (not Norris) serving with RAOC (UK).
Which is correct, the National Archives record or The Times air correspondent? Given this confusion, are the four ATA men actually BOAC as previously believed?
An indicator to the correct facts may be that the NA has also opened up this year another two records kept closed for 75 years, records which identify two more pilots as serving with ATA. They also were omitted from ‘Brief Glory’ or ‘Forgotten Pilots,’ just like Williamson, Parker, Hunter and Spicer were not listed.
Why does any of this matter all these years later? It may matter to their descendants.
They may like to know that their ancestor served in the Second World War with the Air Transport Auxiliary, an organisation which has gained increasing admiration and respect with the passage of time.
We will remember them on ‘virtual’ VE Day 75.
Stay Safe. Stay at home for Britain.