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RAF vets honoured for silver quest

Published 28/05/2015

Dickie Spencer and Bill Eames, right, with the Northern Ireland Aircrew Cup, one of the missing silver collection from the men's old RAF squadron (MoD/PA)
Dickie Spencer and Bill Eames, right, with the Northern Ireland Aircrew Cup, one of the missing silver collection from the men's old RAF squadron (MoD/PA)

Two Second World War veterans who embarked on a quest to retrieve their old RAF squadron's missing silver collection have been honoured for their efforts.

Bill Eames, 92, and Dickie Spencer, 90, tracked down around 50 valuable pieces of silverware that belonged to 502 Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force before its disbandment in 1957. The intrepid duo even found some of it at the home of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont.

Mr Eames was a bomber pilot who saw action on D-Day and was wounded at the Battle of Arnhem while Mr Spencer flew as a wireless operator during the war before going on to pilot meteor and vampire jets in the 1950s.

The silverware ended up being stored or displayed in a variety of locations across Northern Ireland after the reserve squadron, which was based at RAF Aldergrove in Co Antrim, ceased operations.

As well as Stormont, Mr Eames and Mr Spencer's hunt also turned up some of the silver at Belfast City Hall.

In the end they recovered every single item.

More than 50 years after disbandment, the reserve squadron was reformed in 2013 and the collection is back at its original home in Aldergrove.

The squadron has now presented the veterans with a cup in recognition of their sterling efforts.

Mr Spencer explained why such a large collection of silver had been built up.

"The squadron had amassed a certain amount of silver because every time a pilot or an officer left they presented the squadron with a bit of silver, it was a tradition," he said.

The Coventry-born former airman, who has lived in Northern Ireland since 1949, said the silver had been loaned out to go on display in various locations and some of it had also been brought to Clonaver army base in Co Down, as that's where former squadron members held reunion events.

"We got together and went round and saw these various people in various places and we got help from other people, at Stormont and so on, and we got it all back," he said.

"Clonaver was an interesting one because our reunion meals were served in the warrant officers mess. We went there and gave them a list of what they should have and they couldn't find any of it. So we went down and had a search with them and couldn't find anything and then they said 'well, come to the officers mess and we'll have a drink'.

"So we walked in the bar and there was all the squadron silver lined up at the back of the bar."

Mr Spencer and Mr Eames were presented with the cup last week by Lord Lieutenant of Co Antrim, Joan Christie, at an event at Aldergrove to mark the 90th anniversary of the squadron's formation.

The squadron is now the oldest reserve squadron in the RAF.

Current commanding officer Wing Commander James Armstrong paid tribute to the two veterans.

"These two gentlemen spent a great deal of effort re-gathering squadron property and its silverware which had been scattered around Northern Ireland when it was disbanded in 1957," he said.

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