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Thursday, June 12

Honouring a War Hero


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Graham's war grave at Arbroath Western Cemetery

A few days ago Cath and I took the dogs for a walk through a cemetery in nearby Arbroath, a trip that took us past the simple memorial stones marking the war graves. It had been some time since I last passed that way and at that time the names on the grave stones didn't really mean much to me beyond the sacrifice they were prepared to make in the service of their country. This time was different.

The words HMS Peewit, the naval camp where some of the fallen had been based, were inscribed on the headstones and it has been the subject of a little project that I return to from time to time (I've written about it a couple of times - see links at the bottom of this post). This Fleet Air Arm base occupied farmland just a couple of miles from our home in Carnoustie and is remarkable in that three of the hangars that housed the naval aircraft during WWII are still standing, being used as farm buildings.

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An HMS Peewit hangar emerges from the mist during one of my earlier visits.

A few of the buildings once essential to the running of the base are also intact although in various states of disrepair. I feel the past in a particularly heavy fashion whenever I visit, in large part because of the wartime graffiti left behind by the naval staff which brings the whole complex down to a very personal level.

I've often wondered what happened to some of the young men who spent their time at the base learning to land their aircraft on a facsimile of a carrier deck painted onto the concrete of the runway. Well, now at least I know what happened to a few. Their bodies lie beneath the plain, white headstones in the graveyard.

S/Lt (A) James Graham Irvine
Thanks to the internet, I was able to find out the circumstances surrounding the untimely demise of a few of the men of the Fleet Air Arm. One story was especially poignant, not just for the fact that a 23-year-old pilot lost his life but also for the effect his death must have had on his family.

He was S/Lt (A) James Graham Irvine, or Graham to his family and friends. Commissioned as an officer in 1941, the Middlesex man was assigned to 810 Squadron in February, 1943, following in the footsteps of his father who was an aviator during the Great War.

Tragedy caught up with Graham on September 7, 1944, when he had been flying a training mission with 769 Squadron from HMS Peewit. The starboard wing of his Barracuda dropped during landing causing the aircraft to crash. The pilot was killed although it would appear his two crew members survived. We tend to think of pilots being killed in combat but there were many flyers who died on training missions whilst learning their craft.


This would be a horrible blow to any family but Graham's seemed to suffer a great deal from his death. When his mother and father died, they, in turn, had their ashes placed on his grave in the Arbroath cemetery hundreds of miles from their home. When Graham's sister died, her ashes too were placed there so she could be with her brother and when her husband died his ashes were added to the grave so that he might be with his wife.

A sad tale, indeed, but just one of so many from that terrible conflict. RIP Graham Irvine and family.


You might also like:

HMS Peewit: A New Project
Misty Day at the Fleet Air Base

2 comments :

Jan Moren said...

That hangar-and-camera shot tells me you just might want to experiment a bit with a modern negative colour film. If that's what your usual grey weather looks like, then an MF shot with Kodak Ektar should look wonderful. Your weather may be grey, but the colours are anything but.

Bruce Robbins said...

I don't know, Jan. I've never been a fan of colour neg film. It always seemed like too much hard work because I never printed and couldn't add to a pic the way I like to with black and white. You never know, though. :)