The Down Ampney Association
As the organiser of the RAF Down Ampney Association, I received a phone call from a Lt. Rebeccah Lane, Air Despatch, Brize Norton. She wanted to take a group of officer cadets and others to Down Ampney, where Air Despatch flew from after ‘D’ Day. She said that she would send a car to take me to RAF Brize Norton from where they would leave for Down Ampney. We had lunch in the Officers Mess then left for Down Ampney. I started the tour at the back of All Saints Church where we have our Garden Of Remembrance.
The Garden was started some 30 years ago when a Mrs Gaydon phoned me to say that her husband Len Gaydon had just died and he was so proud to have been involved with Operation ‘Market Garden’. He had baled out from FZ626 which was set on fire by anti-aircraft guns, and in which my skipper, Flt. Lt. Len Wilson died. The second pilot and wireless operator also died in the crash. Two Air Despatchers managed to bale out safely; Dvrs Flitworth & Jenkinson. This left two Despatchers, one was Dvr Neath, who was seriously injured and taken to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Arnhem. The other, because he was unidentified, was buried with our aircrew, first in the garden in which the Dakota crashed, then in between our aircrew as an unknown airman. Dvr Neath died in the hospital, and he was eventually buried in the Airborne Cemetery, but not with the others.
A couple or so years passed, and I visited Arnhem with W.O. Bert Tipping who was shot down, and parachuted to safety at nearby Heteren. As we looked at this line of graves, we were very surprised to see one grave inscribed, ‘An Unknown Airman’, for we knew exactly who had died in FZ626 and we would have known everyone who was on board. I came to the conclusion that he must have been an Air Despatcher, L/Cpl James Grace. Eventually, I was able to trace Jenkinson and Flitworth living in a retirement home in Preston. They confirmed that the ‘Unknown’ grave was indeed that of James Grace.
Unfortunately, when I told the Air Despatch Commanding Officer George Vaughan, he told me not to take it any further as it may cause upset with the next of kin. So, I was disappointed that I could not take it any further, having lost my only brother who served with the Royal Engineers and whose grave is unknown. We would have love to know where he is buried.
About three years later, my wife drew my attention to a ‘Stop Press’ item in the Sunday Express, headed, ‘Unknown Air Despatcher identified in Arnhem’. I read that James Grace had been identified by an unofficial team of researchers who had spent years trying to identify the men lying in graves marked ‘Unknown’. The article appeared in a magazine called ‘Bella’, and I phoned Mrs Grace (now remarried and Mrs Marshall), and she told me how pleased she was to be informed where her husband was buried (this was in May). She was disappointed that whilst the Air Despatch unit had made arrangements to take her to Arnhem to see the grave, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission could not guarantee to have the gravestone corrected in time for her visit.
I phoned the CWGC to express my disgust, that from May to the visit in September, they could not have a new gravestone inscribed. I received a call from the CWGC to promise that the grave would be suitably marked in time for her visit, which indeed it was.
I am sorry that I went of at a tangent there. So, back to my original theme.
After the the visit to the Garden of Remembrance, which now has some forty of our ex-service members buried there, off to the village hall by the airfield. The hall had helped to finance the Nissen Hut living accommodation. Lt. Lane and her group expressed their satisfaction with what they termed an interesting and historical visit. to where their predecessors were. A week later, Lt. Lane phoned me again with an invitation to join them on a visit to Down Ampney where they were going to do some jobs. Unfortunately, I was unable to join them. To my great surprise, I had an e-mail from the Parish Council to tell me that this working party had completely re-laid our Garden of Remembrance with a gravel path and concrete liners. He had enclosed some photos of what the Air Despatch working party had achieved. I asked my informant, David Job if there had been any expenditure, and he advised that the materials had cost £1,000. As I had a fund earmarked for such an eventuality, I was able to transfer that amount to the Down Ampney Parish Council.
A truly wonderful example of the Army working on behalf of the RAF.