Aviation historian’s plea for help to uncover the story of Ramsgate’s Flight Sergeant Ronald Radford

Rare photo of Halifax FS-S in flight courtesy of Terry Maker via Gabor Nagy

An aviation historian from Hungary is hoping Thanet people can help with his research  on a young Ramsgate man who died when his squadron plane was shot down in 1944.

Since 1997 Gabor Nagy has been researching an incident which took place on the night of  July 3-4 in 1944 when a Handley Page Halifax was shot down and crashed at the small Hungarian village of Mezőcsokonya.

The plane belonged to Royal Air Force 148 with Squadron serial number JP286 and code letters FS-S.

The plane was part of a secret mission. All eight crewmembers lost their lives.

They were:

Squadron Leader Surry Philip Victor Bird – PILOT – age 24

Flight Sergeant Peter Lake – NAVIGATOR – age 21

Pilot Officer Harold Pearson – FLIGHT ENGINEER – age 22

Flight Sergeant Arthur Archer Lee – WIRELESS OPERATOR / AIR GUNNER – age 35

Warrant Officer 1. Donald David Charles Stewart – BOMB AIMER – age 21

Flying Officer Kenneth Peter Mc Leod Cran – AIR GUNNER – age 35

Flight Sergeant Radford Ronald – AIR GUNNER – age 20

Warrant Officer 1. Tilmont Marcel – AIR GUNNER – age 24

Gabor has interviewed witnesses, recorded their memories and researched the background to the incident. He has written the full story for the Annual Book 2020 of the Rippl Ronai Museum Kaposvár, Hungary, and steps are being taken to construct a memorial at the crash site.

He now wants to write the tale in English but also wants to find out about more of the crew. One of those crew members was Flt/Sgt. Ronald Radford from Ramsgate and Gabor hopes locals might help him find out more and possibly discover photos.

So far he knows that  Flt/Sgt. Ronald Radford, laid to rest at Budapest War Cemetery, was the son of Albert Edward and Dora Ellen Radford of Newington, Ramsgate. Ronald was born in 1924 and was just 20 when he died.

After an appeal on the We Love Ramsgate facebook group, members posted to say  he lived in Ramsgate in 1939 according to the census and his parents’ last address was in Margate. His dad died in 1962 and his mum in 1967.

In 1939 he was living at 1 Leopold Road, Ramsgate, with his mother and father. He was listed as an errand boy, aged 15. He had four older sisters, who survived into the 1980s and 1990s.

These were:

Violet Ivy May Radford born 1909, married Walter J Davies in Thanet in 1929. Violet died in 1984 in Thanet.

Phylis L. Radford born 1915 Horsham, marries Horace W Newman in 1933 Thanet

Gwendoline Radford born 1919 Canterbury, marries Sydney G. Pointer 1937 Thanet

Cecelia Annie Radford born 1912 Horsham, marries Guy L. C. Collings 1931 Thanet, Guy dies 1942 Surrey. Next she marries James A Hope 1945 Northampton

Albert Radford born 1921 Thanet dies 1923 Thanet

Gabor said: “In the last 23 years I revealed the full story of that fateful night. I found and interviewed many eyewitnesses, I recorded their memories, I researched the background story.

“I and a friend of mine found the crash site, excavated hundreds of wreckage parts which “told” us the last seconds of the plane.

“ I was in contact with the wireless operator Arthur Archer Lee’s brother in 2010. Since then, I lost the contact. I am in contact the pilot, Surry Philip Victor Bird’s daughter, Penelope. I and my wife (when we lived in England) visited her in London in May 2017, and she visited the crash site in October 2019.

Major Surry Philip Victor Bird in 1935. (Source: Penelope Bird Barnard)

“Six British, one Canadian and one French airman lost their lives on that night. Myself and my friend  Hubert Warsmann, who lives in Hungary, had an idea about a memorial to the airmen to be erected in the small village.

“Hubert made contact with the three embassies and the French Ambassador was interested in it. They organised a conference in the French Institute in Budapest in October 2019.

“I delivered a long presentation about my research of the JP286. The idea of the memorial was accepted and it is on the right path. Of course, the mayor of the small village supports it.

Penelope and Gabor looking at her father’s belongings

“I am going to write the story and publish it in a British Aviation Magazine. Sadly, I have information about only four crewmembers: SPV Bird, A.A. Lee, D.D.C. Stewart and Peter Lake.

“I would like to get information and photos of the other airmen. I would like to make contact with their relative, because I would like to share with them the story of that and it would be great if they could attend the inaugurate ceremony of the memorial.

“And of course, I would like to see a photo of the other crewmembers. It is very important to me: as a man and as an aviation historian.”

Second row in the middle, Squadron Leader Bird. (Source: Penelope Bird Barnard).

Anyone with information can email Gabor at [email protected]  or  [email protected]

Some details of the incident can be found in an account written by Terry Maker at http://aircrewremembered.com/bird-surray.html

2 Comments

  1. The RAF Manston History Museum just may have information to help. I do not know for sure but talking to them may be beneficial to both sides. Worth a try.

  2. My Name is Ricky Smith, I am Secretary to the Margate Local History Museum. Although this seems to centred around Ramsgate, we may have something in our archives.
    When I am able to next go into the Museum I will do a search to see if we have anything relevant.
    Regards.

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