Armagh men in the Royal Air Force
According to one history of Northern Ireland in the Second World War, a south Armagh man was RAF’s first fatality. This was Edmund Sorley, a pilot who was lost on operations against German shipping at Brunsbüttel on 4 September 1939. However, there is no official record of an airman of that name being among the casualties of the raid and newspaper reports at the time did not list Edmund Sorley among those on the RAF’s first casualty list.
Sergeant William John Barriskill, from Ballyoran, Portadown, joined the RAF in 1940 and was sent for training as a pilot. However, he was rejected during training and later became an air gunner. On completion of his training he was posted to No. 104 Squadron at Hani West in Tunisia. He joined the squadron, which flew twin-engined Vickers Wellingtons, at the beginning of June 1943. With the war in North Africa over the squadron was carrying out raids on targets in Sicily and Italy. On 7 August he took off in his Wellington for a night raid on a target in Sicily. The aircraft was never seen again.
Wing Commander John Kenneth Brew was born in Portadown although his family later moved to Coleraine. He joined No. 502 (Ulster) Squadron in 1929 and later became a regular officer of the RAF. When war was declared in September 1939 he was commanding No. 3 Air Observers School (AOS) at RAF Aldergrove. He carried out staff duties for most of the war.
Warrant Officer Cecil Watson Albert Keys was born at Aughavilly, near Armagh city, and joined the RAF in 1942. He became a wireless operator and served with Nos 624 and 61 Squadrons. No. 624 Squadron was based at Blida in Algeria and was involved in ‘special duties’ – it dropped agents into enemy territory to work with resistance forces. It also dropped supplies to those forces. From Blida the squadron’s aircraft flew to Italy, southern France, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. On 5 September 1944 No. 624 Squadron was disbanded. After conversion training on Avro Lancaster heavy bombers, Cecil Keys was posted to No. 61 Squadron in March 1945. He flew on bomber operations for the rest of the war.
Squadron Leader Eric Watson was also from Aughavilly and joined the RAF in 1941. He trained as a pilot in Rhodesia and flew with No. 70 Squadron as a bomber pilot. With its Vickers Wellingtons the squadron carried out raids from its base on the Foggia plain in Italy. He transferred to No. 37 Squadron in 1944. This unit flew four-engined Consolidated Liberators and Eric Watson flew seventeen missions with them before moving on to No. 40 Squadron, also with Liberators, with which he ended the war.
Flying Officer William Andrew Power was born in that part of Newry rural district that lay in County Armagh. He joined the RAF in late-1939 and trained as a wireless operator/ air gunner. By the end of the war he had seen active service with Nos 40, 77 and 24 Squadrons. William Power joined No. 40 Squadron at Shallufa in Egypt in mid 1942 just as the Italo-German Panzer Armee Afrika under General Erwin Rommel was launching a major offensive. The squadron, which flew Vickers Wellington IIIs, was engaged throughout June in attacking German and Italian landing grounds and other positions.
They continued to operate against enemy supply lines during the first Battle of El Alamein in July. The tempo of operations was such that William Power had completed 39 missions by September and was posted back to the UK. After a spell as an instructor he joined No. 77 Squadron which was flying Handley-Page Halifax Mk IIs on operations against targets in Europe. He was shot down but escaped and, after his return to Britain, was posted to No. 24 Squadron which was engaged in communications duties, including VIP flights.
Squadron Leader Robert Williamson Turkington DSO DFC was a Lurgan man, although born in India, who joined the RAF in 1940. After flying training in America, he joined No. 43 (Fighter) Squadron in July 1942. The squadron was posted to the Allied Mediterranean Air Forces later that year and based at Maison Blanche in Algeria. Robert Turkington shot down his first enemy aircraft, a Junkers Ju88, in November and went on to destroy another ten with No. 43 Squadron.
There followed a spell of non-operational flying before he joined No. 72 Squadron at Lago in Italy flying Supermarine Spitfire VCs and IXs. He later flew with No. 241 Squadron and then, in June 1944, took command of No. 601 Squadron at Perugia, a post he held until February 1945 when he moved to HQ of the Desert Air Force, the title used for the British tactical air force in the Mediterranean. Robert Turkington took command of No. 241 Squadron in June but was killed when his Spitfire exploded just after take-off on 29 July. In the course of the war he had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and the Distinguished Flying Cross with Bar.