Cheltenham war memorial links Canadian visitor with WW2 family history
Published on 4th November 2014
A shopping and sight-seeing trip to Cheltenham turned into a whole lot more for Canadian visitor, David Jackson, when he happened to walk through the Promenade and spot his grandfather’s name on the war memorial.
David was on a trip to the UK with his 10 year old son, Charlie, when they decided to explore the county as they knew there were family connections, particularly in Cheltenham. They took the train into the borough and walked via the Promenade into the centre, which was when David made the discovery. His grandfather, Reginald John Richard Jackson was born in Cheltenham in 1908 and served in the Air Transport Auxiliary.
David said: ‘’We always stop and look at war memorials as we both have an interest in military history. I served as a Canadian Artillery Officer and Charlie is currently in a pipe band the 78th Fraser Highlanders. I was very surprised to find my grandfather’s name on the memorial as I had no idea it was there although I knew of his background.’’
David has researched his grandfather’s file at the RAF Museum in Hendon. It is quite extensive and contains some interesting material. As his grandfather disappeared 20 years before he was born he has no memory of him and he is not talked about much by the family. Some of the items in the file did bring David much closer to him and gave David an idea of what he was like as a person.
David said: ‘’There is a list of personal items kept at his billet including 11 ½ pairs of socks, a bicycle and a Fiat Topolino Car. His estate included property in Eldon Road, Cheltenham where he lived, as well as rental properties in Brooklyn Road, Cheltenham and Howard Street, Gloucester. He owed the coal merchant 1 pound 19 shillings and sixpence and the Cheltenham Gas Co. 1 pound 18 shillings and four pence. There is a hand written letter from my grandfather to a friend offering to buy him a drink in the mess next time they met up as my grandfather had left some personal items in the gun bay of a Hurricane fighter that he had been flying and his friend retrieved them. There is a claim for a new overcoat as the one he had had become oil stained while flying an open cockpit Walrus aircraft and there was an accident report when he overshot a runway in a Defiant fighter which he was cleared of due to faulty pilots’ notes with respect to the landing speed.’'
During the 1930s David’s grandfather ran a transportation business in the Cheltenham area. He gained a Private Flying License in April 1939. From June 1941 to December 1941 he served as a sergeant with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He joined the Air Transport Auxiliary after being assigned to elementary flight training school in July 1942.
Sadly, David’s grandfather went missing on 23 May 1945, flying Hawker Tempest Mk V NV666, two weeks after VE Day. An extensive search was carried out but nothing was ever found.
David said: ‘’My father was always a great lover of conspiracy theories. He took my grandfather’s gold pocket watch to a psychic fair for a reading. Careful not to provide any clues that would give any information he handed the watch to a clairvoyant. She held it for a moment and then said, ‘he died in an aircraft accident but not when you think. It was several years after the war and the wing came off an aircraft he was flying.’ This just adds to the mystery.’’
Cheltenham Borough Council cabinet member for finance John Rawson said: “People in Cheltenham will be delighted that Mr Jackson has been able to find out more about his grandfather after discovering his name on the Cheltenham war memorial. The discovery he made reminds us that the world wars were not just huge impersonal conflicts, but were the story of countless thousands of individual men and women who played their part bravely and whose lives were either cut short or changed completely. It is these people whom we still have a duty to remember with admiration and respect.”
Photographs are available on request
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The war memorial in Cheltenham’s Long Gardens will once again be the centrepiece for the town’s service of remembrance and civic parade on Sunday 9 November. On Remembrance Day the mayor, Cllr Simon Wheeler, will honour the two minute silence at 11am. The service will begin at 10.55am.
On Remembrance Day (Tuesday 11 November) the council is again supporting The Royal British Legion in encouraging businesses, shops, offices and individuals to pause to remember at 11am. During a short service conducted by Rev Tim Mayfield, the mayor, Cllr Simon Wheeler, will observe a two minute silence at the war memorial.
Marking the centenary of the First World War, the war memorial is currently in phase 2 of a restoration project.
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