Belfast Telegraph

Telegraph helps find Ulster family of RAF hero who perished in Belgium

By Rebecca Black

A war hero from Northern Ireland, who was shot down over Belgium by the Luftwaffe 70 years ago, is now set to have a street named after him after his family were finally traced – thanks to the Belfast Telegraph.

RAF Flight Engineer Charles Philip Kelly (20), known as Philip, died on April 25, 1944, while taking part in a bombing raid on a key German transportation system.

It was on the flight home that 115 Squadron was attacked by German Messerschmitts over the city of Mechelen close to Antwerp in the Flanders region as they headed for their base at Witchford in Cambridgeshire.

All seven crew were killed. It was their eighth mission.

A group of Belgians were so touched by the east Belfast man's story of sacrifice that they are creating a memorial to him – and even naming a street after him.

Unfortunately, they had not been able to find the Cregagh man's family – until now.

Sgt Kelly's last surviving relatives have been tracked down at last after an appeal in the Belfast Telegraph.

All that was available was a grainy picture of his face and some details about his death.

However, it was enough to catch the attention of his family.

They have now released a poignant photograph of the young airman, which will be used in his memorial, and also the fateful telegram which informed his family that he was missing in action.

Sgt Kelly is survived by two cousins, one who remains living in Belfast, Laurence McCluskey, and a second, Michael McCluskey, who currently lives in Australia.

The young airman's brother, Tom Kelly, emigrated to Canada. From there, he wrote to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to find out exactly where Philip had been buried.

When Tom died, all records about his brother, including a photograph, the telegram reporting he was missing and a subsequent letter confirming he was killed in action, passed to Michael.

Laurence's wife Dorothy contacted the Belfast Telegraph believing that Sgt Kelly belonged to her husband's family.

A genealogy enthusiast, she said the family, particularly Sgt Kelly's mother, had been left devastated by his death.

"His mum would have been very, very proud as she took his death very badly," she said.

"She would have been so pleased that he is being remembered if she was still alive."

Belfast man Ken Switzer also helped the Belgians to try and find the Kelly family, even knocking doors on the street where he grew up.

He also raised Sgt Kelly's memory with Castlereagh Council earlier this year.

As a result the council agreed to send a wreath to the memorial service in Belgium and to add his name to the war memorial at Thiepval Avenue in Cregagh – just yards from where the young airman grew up.

Factfile

The site in Belgium where RAF Sergeant Flight Engineer Charles Philip Kelly lost his life along with six others when his Lancaster Bomber was shot down, is currently being redeveloped. However, the men who died there will not be forgotten. Streets and buildings in the development are set to be named after crew members. The remains of the Lancaster have been excavated and will be used to erect a monument for the crew.

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