Belfast Telegraph

Medals won by Lurgan Spitfire ace Turkington or sale as family bids to win him more recognition

By Claire McNeilly

The family of a decorated RAF hero who died in a freak accident after shooting down 11 Luftwaffe planes is selling his medals in order to bring him the recognition they believe he deserves.

Squadron Leader Robert 'Paddy' Turkington from Lurgan was killed on July 29, 1945, when his Spitfire's engine cut out mid-flight, just days after he wrote to his mother promising that he'd be home safely.

The 26-year-old ace, who had won the Distinguished Flying Cross and Distinguished Service Order for gallantry, had been on standby duty in Italy when his fighter spiralled to the ground and crashed in a ball of flames.

But the telegram confirming his death was only unearthed a staggering 72 years later, when his medals - which are expected to fetch £22,000 at auction on December 5 - were put up for sale by his family.

His niece, physiotherapist Liz Forde (54), said the family hope the sale of his medals will help her extraordinary uncle get more recognition for his actions.

"The bravery he showed was outstanding," she told The Sun.

"I wish I could have met him, he was an extraordinary man.

"All we want as a family is to get more recognition for what Paddy achieved."

The collection includes the Distinguished Service Order, Distinguished Flying Cross, 1939-45 Star, Africa Star, North Africa 1942-43, Italy Star, Defence and War Medals 1939-45.

David Erskine-Hall, a specialist at London auctioneers Spink & Son, which is selling the medals, said the story behind the medals is all the more heart-rending because of the tragic nature of Turkington's death.

"The thing that stands out most about the collection is the huge tragedy of Paddy dying after the war in Europe was over in a flying accident," he said.

"He fought so courageously as a fighter pilot and was highly successful.

"The fact that he never quite made it home is deeply poignant.

"One can only imagine the sense of loss his mother would have felt opening that telegram expecting it to say when Paddy was coming home, only to find out he had died."

The Co Armagh man - described as one of the most popular men in the Royal Air Force - enlisted in 1940, two years before he took part in the disastrous raid on the German port town of Dieppe.

Records obtained from the Craigavon Historical Society (CHS) confirm that Turkington, who was born in India in 1920, was honoured locally in 1955 via the Dedication of a Memorial Window in Bannfoot Methodist Church.

He was the youngest of the three sons of John and Mary Amelia Turkington.

His father had been a civil engineer with South African and then Indian Railways before returning home to Crossways, Derrytrasna.

Turkington captained the 1st XV Rugby Team at Lurgan College and had an Ulster Schoolboys' Trial in 1938 before enlisting two years later on September 17, and his last 15 months, between early 1944 and the spring of 1945, were hailed as "sensational".

His squadron, formed as a Desert Air Force/Army Co-operation Unit, distinguished itself in North Africa and Italy, flying the famous single-engined Spitfires, sometimes modified as fighter-bombers.

Turkington expected to be demobbed shortly after VE Day on May 8, 1945, but he was retained in Italy on operational standby because the war with Japan was not yet over.

He wrote to his mother to say that he would be home in August and she redecorated his room to welcome him.

When the telegram came on August 2 she expected it to herald his homecoming, but instead it notified her of his death in a flying accident.

He received the Distinguished Flying Cross in January 1944, with the citation reading: "He quickly made his mark as a fine leader and during the whole of the North African and Sicilian campaigns showed the greatest skill and enthusiasm to engage the enemy.

"His consistent resourcefulness, skilful flying and untiring devotion to duty has set a magnificent example to the rest of the squadron, many months of which were spent under the most arduous conditions."

Following his death, Air Vice-Marshal RM Foster sent a tribute to Turkington's mother, praising his "magnificent record in the RAF".

"He was one of the most outstanding leaders in the Desert Air Force," he said. "Besides being a most courageous fighter pilot Paddy also had the knack of getting on extremely well with his unit, and whatever Squadron he was in, both as a Junior and latterly as a Commander, it was always a very happy concern as well as a very effective one.

"Those who know about decorations confirm that a concentration of awards of such quality, in such a short time, is indicative of the highest valour."

Belfast Telegraph

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