Belfast Telegraph

My search for relatives of Australian pilot our family befriended in wartime Northern Ireland

The Australian pilot known as ‘Digger’
The Australian pilot known as ‘Digger’
Sue Croll
Sue Croll as a young girl in Greenisland
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

A woman is aiming to trace a mystery man from her childhood in wartime Northern Ireland.

Sue Croll (nee Macve) lived here for almost a decade during the Second World War.

She moved to Greenisland in 1937 with her father Bill, mother Pat and brother John when she was just two months old and they stayed in the Co Antrim town until 1946.

Her dad worked for the Northern Ireland Rail and Transport Board (NIRTB) and was involved in transporting the armed forces.

Sue described how their house became a hub of entertainment for troops from America, Canada and Australia.

But they didn't have a guest house, rather an open house for visitors - "purely a case of giving people a long way from home a taste of family life throughout the war".

When Sue was looking through old photographs recently, she found some containing a man known to her as 'Digger', an Australian who she believes was later shot down.

A visitor to their family home during the war, Sue recalled how herself and her older brother were "devoted to him".

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Hampshire-based Sue (82), who lost her former airline pilot husband Douglas (85) in January, said she wants to hand over a selection of photos to Digger's family.

"This chap was a firm favourite of ours; he married a Northern Irish girl and my father took the photo of them," she said.

"Sadly, I believe he was a pilot and he was shot down and our hearts were broken. I believe he was Australian. I remember him being a very gentle, kind chap who we loved. We thought he was a terrific guy.

"In this special year of remembrance, I would love to know his real name and possibly send on the pictures to any relatives."

Sue said she recalls her early life here, including her school days at Miss Roomes' Primary School in Greenisland and then Richmond Lodge School - now Victoria College - with great fondness.

"It was a wonderful time... there were no cars and we were so safe," she said.

"My mother used to deliver bread on a sleigh if it was snowy. It really was terrific.

"I came back to England speaking with a broad Northern Irish accent so they sent me to boarding school to get rid of it!"

Former BA cabin crew member Sue, who has two daughters, Victoria (58) and Charlotte (56) and five grandsons, said it would be "terribly poignant" to be able to give the photos to Digger's family this year.

"I have six photographs of him," she said. "I've always thought about him. I have other photos of the wedding group - his wife is such a pretty girl - and there might be some people who recognise the pictures."

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