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Back Then: Tragedy of a married life cut short by fatal air crash in WW2

Replica Spitfire named after plane built by Telegraph readers' contributions

By Eddie McIlwaine

The headstone on a lonely grave in St Joseph's churchyard at Ballycran, Co Down, bears the name of young Canadian pilot Walter McManus and, thereby, hangs a tale of love and dedication to duty in wartime.

Pilot Officer McManus, just 27, had been posted to the UK in May 1941 and onward to Ballyhalbert RAF camp just four days after his wedding to bride Kate back in Ontario.

But before his departure from Halifax, Walter sent a telegram to Kate, who wasn't allowed to accompany him, in which he told her: "I love you very tremendously and won't leave you again."

And Walter promised to return to his bride "with all possible haste".

But tragically this pilot never did return to the girl with whom married life turned out to be all too short. He was killed on January 7, 1942 when the Spitfire, called Down, he was flying from St Angelo in Fermanagh back to Ballyhalbert crashed three miles north of Lurgan.

What caused the accident was never discovered but minutes before the Spitfire hit the ground it was seen flying very low and looked to be in trouble.

So ended a poignant love story which is recalled today because the Ulster Aviation Society has just named a replica Spitfire Down. It is now in its showrooms at the Maze site and carries all the markings of the plane that crashed.

Ironically, Walter's last words to Kate in that telegram were: "Will write often - no news is good news."

His Spitfire was one of 17 built after readers of the Belfast Telegraph contributed £87,000 to the Spitfire Fund - a lot of money back in the 1940s.

Down was the only Spitfire that served in Northern Ireland. It was also flown at Ballyhalbert by Pilot Officer Cecil Austin, father of broadcaster Wendy. The other 16 flew in vital missions around Europe and helped to beat the Hun.

And the grave of Walter McManus, visited by Ulster Aviation members on anniversaries, says secretary Stephen Riley, is a reminder, along with the last resting places of other young RAF personnel who lost their lives during the war, of the sacrifices that were made to restore peace.

The Ballyhalbert camp, just up the road from the cemetery, is now abandoned but never forgotten for the part it played too.

But what about Kate, the bride? Did she ever manage to visit the grave of her husband? The Ulster Aviation Society would like to know.

How dream of Prime Minister's murder turned into a real life nightmare

With a General Election about to happen and a new parliament created, this is just the time to revive the story of the man who had a premonition about murder in the House of Commons. He was Cornish mine manager John Williams, who, one night in the winter of 1808, dreamt that he stood in the lobby at Westminster and witnessed a man, wearing a coat with brass buttons, gun down Prime Minister Spencer Percival, marking his white waistcoat with blood.

Williams went back to sleep - and had the same dream all over again although he decided not to tell the PM about it in case he became a laughing stock. But a week later, Percival had an identical dream and the next day a crazed gunman mistook the PM for someone else and shot him.

The gunman was wearing a coat with brass buttons and Percival's waistcoat was spattered with blood.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph