Extract from Presentation given by Group Captain Richard Mighall, Chairman of Trustees
Maurice Farrelly. The First Stone is dedicated to Senior Aircraftman Maurice Farrelly. Maurice’s military career began when he enlisted in the Royal Air Force as a driver. Later he joined the Territorial Army and at the same time became an instructor with the Wallsend Air Cadets Squadron. His civilian employment was with the North-Eastern Ambulance Service as a driver – a role he relished and for which he received recognition for his excellent service. In 2002, he joined 609 (West Riding) Squadron at Royal Air Force Leeming where he worked as a chef. The following year, he was mobilised and deployed to Kuwait and Iraq on Force Protection duties. He retired from the Force in 2005. At the beginning of the pandemic and throughout the first lockdown in 2020, he worked as an ambulance driver with minimal protective clothing just getting on with the job and helping others. In early February 2021, during the second lockdown, Maurice himself contracted Covid 19 and tragically passed away 2 weeks later. He was 63. Maurice was one of the unsung heroes of the National Health Service. He is sorely missed by his wife Mary and wider family.
Sir Michael Oswald. Our second Memorial Stone will be dedicated to Sir Michael Oswald. An old Etonian and Cambridge University graduate, Sir Michael did his National Service in the King’ Own Royal Regiment and served in theatre during the Korean war. A keen horseman and expert in stud management, he became responsible, initially, for the Queen’s horse breeding operation and subsequently for managing her very successful horse racing stables and activities. In 2001, he was appointed Honorary Air Commodore of 2620 (County of Norfolk) Squadron based at Royal Air Force Marham. An enthusiastic and extremely popular supporter of the Squadron, he accompanied its personnel on detachments to Cyprus and the United States, and he visited them when they were deployed on active service to Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. He left the Squadron in 2009 and, after a protracted illness, died aged 86 in 2021.
Mike Tinley. Next on the list is Group Captain Mike Tinley. Mike joined the Royal Air Force in 1950 and trained as a navigator. During his distinguished career, he flew on Shackletons, Neptunes and Nimrods. His last tour in the Royal Air Force was as Station Commander of Royal Air Force Turnhouse. He retired from the Force in 1983 when he joined the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. Because of his extensive maritime experience, he was appointed Commanding Officer of No 2 Maritime Headquarters Unit based at Royal Air Force Mountbatten. In 1988, he became the senior serving officer in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force when he was appointed as its Inspector. He served in the role for 6 years until his retirement in 1994. For his distinguished service, he was awarded the CBE. He died in 2017 aged 86.
Jon Wilkes. The 4th Memorial Stone will be dedicated to Senior Aircraftman Jonathan Wilkes. Jon was born in 1968. On leaving school, he joined the Royal Air Force as a police dog handler. He served in the Falkland Islands, and, when he left the Service, he enlisted in the Prison Service spending his spare time as an Army cadet instructor. He joined 605 (County of Warwick) Squadron at Royal Air Force Cosford in 2016 where he trained as a chef. The epitome of military discipline with selfless commitment, he was highly regarded by his Squadron colleagues. Sadly, he contracted a rare form of cancer from which he died in 2021 at the relatively young age of 52. He leaves behind his loving wife Lisa and their 3 children.
Kem Macdonald and Don Macdonald. The 5th Stone will be dedicated to Flight Lieutenant Ken Macdonald and the 6th to Pilot Officer Don Macdonald. They were brothers, both were Cambridge graduates and both were Spitfire pilots on 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron.
Ken, the older of the two, joined the Squadron in 1935. On 16th October 1939, shortly after the war broke out, Ken was in a group of 603 Squadron pilots based at Royal Office Turnhouse who, along with 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron pilots, engaged and brought down the first enemy aircraft to attack Britain. For this action, Air Chief Marshal Dowding, the Head of Fighter Command, wrote ‘Well done; first blood to the Auxiliaries’.
A year later, on 28th September 1940, now based at Royal Air Force Hornchurch, Ken was leading a Flight of 603 Squadron Spitfires when they were attacked by some 30 German fighter aircraft. Ken’s aircraft was hit and badly damaged, and, realising that it would crash on the Army barracks below, he managed to steer it clear of the buildings. He then climbed out onto the aircraft’s wing but jumped too late and too low for his parachute to deploy. He died aged 28.
Ken’s younger brother, Don, joined 603 Squadron in June 1940 just before the start of the Battle of Britain. Two months later, on the 28th August, he took off on his first ever operational sortie to intercept enemy aircraft over the Channel. Sadly, he was shot down in flames, and his body was never recovered. He was just 22.
With their deaths, the Squadron had lost two brothers, killed in action, within the space of one month. Even more poignantly, their mother had lost two sons. She said ‘They tell me I’m not built to be the mother of heroes; I fear they are right’. In December 1940, less than 4 months after the death of her sons, she died of a broken heart.
George Furniss. Our 7th and final Stone relates to Plt Off George Furniss. Born in 1924, George joined the Royal Air Force in 1943 aged 19. He trained as a pilot and served in the UK, Rhodesia and South Africa flying a variety of aircraft. Following demobilisation in 1946, he joined the Reserve Flying School in Doncaster and then, in 1951, 616 (South Yorkshire) Squadron based at Royal Air Force Finningley. 616 Squadron was the first Squadron in the UK to receive jet aircraft when it took delivery of the twin-engined Gloster Meteor. George loved this aircraft, and at weekends, when away from his civilian work as Steelworks manager in Sheffield, he flew it as often as he could.
On the afternoon of 27th August 1953, George took off in a Meteor to undertake a ’rat and terrier’ exercise. Shortly afterwards, the aircraft’s starboard engine caught fire at low level over Spalding in Lincolnshire. Aware that if it crashed in the town, there could be many casualties, and to his eternal credit, he successfully manoeuvred it away from the built-up areas to open farmland. Unfortunately, the aircraft was by now descending so rapidly that he was forced to eject at too low an altitude to ensure his own survival. George was killed instantly. By sacrificing his own life, he saved the lives of many others. He was just 29 years old
We are honoured that today, there are 2 members of 616 Squadron who served with George those 69 years ago.
If you look at George’s picture in the Programme, you will see him proudly cradling his two twin daughters, Sheila and Gill. They were less than 12 months old when he died. We are doubly honoured that they too should be with us today as we remember and pay tribute to a heroic airman, their father.