Bomber Command historians appeal for help to find family of Second World War airman
Researchers at the International Bomber Command Centre approached the Gazette for help in tracing local relatives of air crews involved in the Battle of Heligoland Bight during the Second World War.
And they were quickly given a lead – thanks to South Tyneside historian Dorothy Ramser.
She was able to point them in the direction of the grandson of South Shields’ heroic RAF pilot, Sgt Thomas Purdy, who took part in the battle.
Now the IBCC has called for further assistance in tracing the family of another local flyer, Isaac Davison Leighton.
He was born in 1920 in Tynemouth, the son of Robert Leighton and Elizabeth Jane Leighton.
Historians at the centre’s Cranwell Hill base are hoping his relatives may still live in the area, and will get in touch to help with their Heligoland 39 Project.
Cathie Hewitt of the IBCC said: “Isaac’s is a strange story.
“I was contacted by a family who were the custodians of a photo album (pictured here), given to them by an elderly neighbour who has since passed away.
“They brought the album to the IBCC for scanning, and have signed it over in the hope we can reunite it with the rightful owners.
“Inside the album it gives Isaac’s name with a photograph, but the photo underneath has an arrow pointing to an airman saying ‘half-brother KIA 18/12/1939’, so the album belonged to another airman in the family.”
Perhaps you know of the family? If so, you could help the IBCC with its work.
The centre, opened on January 30 this year, has been created to provide a world-class facility to serve as a point for recognition, remembrance and reconciliation for Bomber Command.
Cathie added: “Currently, no single national or international facility exists for individuals, organisations or academics to access the consolidated history of the command.
“It is therefore of significant national importance that this is addressed and that the history and heritage of Bomber Command is gathered and conserved for future generations.
“The centre is situated on one of Lincoln’s two hills, providing direct views across the valley to the historic Lincoln Cathedral.
“The Cathedral, renowned for being the tallest building in the world until a fire destroyed its 80m spire (which was on the central tower in 1548), provided a landmark for crews both leaving and returning from missions – and, for those who failed to return, the cathedral was often their last image of home.
“Out of the million men and women who served and supported Bomber Command during the war, more than 125,000 served as air crew, and less than 70,000 returned – an attrition rate of 44.4%.
“Only 30% of those that flew got to the end of the war without being killed, injured or taken prisoner of war.
“They were supported by thousands of men and women who served in ground crew along with the Air Transport Auxiliary, the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and many others.
“Their stories are told through the exhibitions in the centre and their sacrifices are marked at the memorial.”
Families can contact the Heligoland39 Project at 1 Castelhythe, Ely, Cambridgeshire, CB7 4BU, telephone (01353) 665665 and www.heligoland39.org or International Bomber Command Centre, Canwick Hill, Lincoln, LN4 2RF, telephone (01522) 514755 and www.internationalbcc.co.uk Please get in touch with your wartime memories.