Airman's daughter visits grave 57 years after crash
Published 06/09/2007 | 07:59
The daughter of an airman who believed her father's body was lost after his plane crashed into a mountain was today planning a pilgrimage to Ulster to see his grave for the first time - 57 years after he died.
Angela Dawson was just eight months old when her dad, Martin Gilmartin (29), a veteran of World War II as a rear gunner, crashed into Croaghaun Mountain on Achill Island in June 1950 along with seven other members of the crew.
There were no survivors when the Halifax bomber, returning to RAF Aldergrove after a routine weather survey over the Atlantic, struck the 2,217ft mountain in thick fog.
For years Angela, whose father was based at RAF Aldergrove, believed his body had never been recovered.
"My mum Martha, from Neath in Wales, married dad, a Glaswegian on August 30, 1947, while he was based at Moreton-in-Marsh RAF base in Stafford, " Mrs Dawson said at her home in Doncaster.
"In those days women didn't go to funerals and she didn't talk much about the tragedy when I was growing up. I assumed that there was no grave to visit until in May this year I started researching my dad's roots with my older sister June.
"Then I discovered that in fact he had been laid to rest in a plot in the grounds of St Catherine's Parish Church at Aldergrove where there are headstones to nearly 50 young flyers, most of whom were killed in action or training out of the RAF base during the war."
Mrs Dawson is now coming to Aldergrove to see the last resting place of her father. She was just three weeks old when she first arrived at the base in 1949 with her mum after Air Gunner Gilmartin was posted there.
"I obviously have little knowledge of my dad," she said. "So I am anxious to find out all I can about him and visiting the grave is an important link with the past.
"I have my father's log book and I have learned from it that he served as a rear air gunner during the war after training in South Africa. I know too that he was trained as a meteorologist at Aldergrove after the war.
"I need closure on my family history and this trip to Aldergrove is vital," Mrs Dawson, wife of publican Malcolm with whom she has a 24-year-old son, Nicky, said.
"The research in which I have been involved has brought my dad so much closer to me."
Mrs Dawson has talked on the telephone with St Catherine's church warden Dorothy Molyneaux, who has actually located the grave of Gunner Gilmartin in the grounds of the picturesque little church.
"The graves of the young flyers in our cemetery are all tended carefully and regularly by the RAF," she explained.
Photographs of the grave and headstone have been sent to Mrs Dawson.
She is planning her poignant trip here later this month and officers at RAF Aldergrove are likely to meet her.
"Seeing the pictures only reinforced my desire to stand by the grave of my father and pay homage to him," she said.
Meteorological survey flights out of RAF Aldergrove were routine back in the 1950s to aid weather forecasters around the UK and there are still occasional flights out of the base today to check on depressions in the mid-Atlantic.
It was on the afternoon of Friday June 16, 1950 that the Halifax heading home hit the fog-shrouded slopes of Croaghaun on Achill off the Mayo coast.
A search party of Gardai, military, Red Cross and villagers from Keel climbed the bleak mountainside that night in search of survivors by the light of storm lanterns. Eventually as daylight broke the bodies were located and brought down the mountain by soldiers.
Among the dead were Signaller CJ Rogan (26), from Larne, and Warrant Officer Bernard McKenna (32), from Navan.