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An Ulster log: Astonishing courage of the Portrush Spitfire pilot who flew in

By Eddie McIlwaine

Published 30/01/2016

Hugh writes in detail in his book about this exceptional young man who died too soon and illustrates his story with the only photo, battered and faded, of Tony he could trace
Hugh writes in detail in his book about this exceptional young man who died too soon and illustrates his story with the only photo, battered and faded, of Tony he could trace

Wing Commander Tony Lovell, the RAF hero who was killed in a freak accident at the end of the Second World War in the summer of 1945, is remembered today in a new book entitled Portrush: the Port On The Promontory (Impact Printing, £17).

For Tony, who died a week after his 26th birthday and just two days before the Armistice was signed, was a native of the seaside resort and figures prominently in this tome by Hugh McGrattan, a former editor of the Coleraine Chronicle.

"Tony is forgotten except in his home town where people cherish his memory," says Hugh (77). "He was twice awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and also received the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) twice, as well as the American DFC. He was a courageous young man whose bravery should be remembered.

"He flew Spitfires in the Battle of Britain and afterwards commanded fighter squadrons in Egypt, Malta, Italy and Corsica during five years of almost continuous combat flying."

Hugh writes in detail in his book about this exceptional young man who died too soon and illustrates his story with the only photo, battered and faded, of Tony he could trace.

Lovell's DSO citation said that "his courage and tactical knowledge had been an inspiration to all who had flown with him and were of a quality seldom, if ever, equalled".

He became a chief flying instructor in 1944 and wound up at the School of Air Support in Wiltshire where he lost his life a year later. As he took off in his silver Spitfire a wing clipped an unseen henhouse causing the plane to cartwheel into telegraph wires and break up. He was found dead in the cockpit.

Tony's body was brought home to Portrush for burial in Ballywillan Cemetery in a ceremony in which the RAF Air Sea Rescue Unit joined in. He had more than 1,500 flying hours to his credit, most of them in Spitfires.

Portrush: the Port on the Promontory is dedicated by Hugh McGrattan to the memory of his nephew, David Dallas, who died in 2010 while still in his 40s.

Marilyn and an old man spurned by young love

An old bachelor who was a nodding acquaintance died recently — and his last request was that a well-thumbed Bible by his bedside should be placed alongside him in the coffin.

And when the undertaker picked up the holy book a single sheet of writing paper that had been tucked in at the flyleaf fell out.

Scrawled on it were the names of six women, including that of Marilyn Monroe, and an explanatory note revealing that five of them were women whose occasional company my acquaintance had enjoyed down many years without ever becoming too involved. The sixth was Monroe, the only celebrity on the list, and beside her name this  retired railway engineer had written in his spidery hand: “She was my favourite and I enjoyed  her films. She was a true example of womanhood.”

Marilyn died in 1962 aged 36, just about the time my research now reveals my acquaintance was having his heart broken as a young man by a woman who jilted him at the altar on the day of their nuptials. And he never recovered, decreeing instead never to fall in love again nor marry.

And he never did, being careful for the rest of his life to keep his innocent enjoyment of the fair sex at a long and safe distance.

Prayers of fans will be with football great Banks

I’m sorry to learn that former England goalkeeper Gordon Banks — who was involved in that famous and controversial incident with George Best in a match at Windsor Park in 1971 — is battling kidney cancer.

Best kicked the ball niftily out of Banks’ hands in the English goalmouth and tipped it into the net in a way only George could have achieved.

But the referee disallowed the goal, much to Gordon’s relief, while George just shook his head.

Much later Best, who had a great regard for the goalkeeper, told me he thought the ref’s decision was wrong, but he never made an issue of it. Nor did the great Banks, who carries the prayers of fans everywhere in his time of poor health.

A Sheffield lad, he made 628 appearances during a 15-year career in the Football League, and won 73 caps for his country. Regarded as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, the International Federation of Football History & Statistics named Banks the second best goalkeeper of the 20th century — after Lev Yashin.

Any sightings of The Invisible Boy?

After reading the book, The Invisible Man by HG Wells, and afterwards seeing the film, I had to sleep with the light on for weeks when I was young.

Then I discovered The Invisible Boy figured in a comic called, indeed, The Invisible Boy. This lad, who had drunk some dangerous liquid that made him disappear from view every now and then, didn't scare me at all for by the time I heard about him, I was well into my teens.

I mention him because Arnold Williamson, a book collector in Portadown, is having no luck finding a copy of the comic that seems to be as invisible as its main character after going out of circulation in the wartime '40s when paper was in short supply. Can anyone help?

No footie allowed on my Sundays

Tell me the first day of the week?

Well, I was brought up to believe that it is the Sabbath. It has always been a day of rest and the proper way to prepare for the next six working days.

When I was a lad I was punished and admonished for daring to kick a ball about on the summit of Carnmoney Hill on a Sunday afternoon after hours of Sunday School and church. I was told this wasn't God's way.

So what about a clergyman I know who can't wait for Sabbath morning service to finish so he can rush home to watch Premier League football on the telly? How times have changed.

Why Level 42 are still running...

After a 36 date sell-out UK and European tour in 2014, Level 42 could be forgiven for wanting to take things easy after 34 years out there with their music.

"But no way," bassist and front man Mark King says.

"Touring our Sirens EP has been about as much fun as I can remember having had on the road, and with the addition of the brass section, I think the band has matured musically. Re-invention is wonderful and that's on the level."

So it's no surprise that they will be back in Belfast in the autumn - at the Waterfront on October 1.

Once upon a time they sold out Wembley Arena for a total of 21 nights.

Belfast Telegraph

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