A few days ago I had reason to visit St Johns retail Park, as it was a nice day I decided to return into town via George Street and St John’s Square
I don’t know what urged me to wander through those ornate, gateposts, I can’t ever recall going that way ever before Then I noticed the sun was shining on a gravestone which seemed to look familiar it reminded me of my grandmothers who was laid to rest in Merridale in 1944.
Out of curiosity I began to read the inscription on the stone.
In Proud and Sacred memory of Flight Lieutenant (VR) John Edward Anthony, Dearly Beloved Eldest Son of Joseph and Catherine Hartill, Killed on Active Service May 23rd, 1945, aged 23 years.
Waiting in Gods Keeping.
Two things hit me straight away, first May 23rd was my Birthday and didn’t the War in Europe officially end 15 days earlier on May 8th. So were was this unfortunate pilot still on active service when he lost his life.
Now I had previously written a brief history of St Johns Church and knew a great deal about the church itself but nothing of the interments in the graveyard outside.
But one thing I did know was that the incumbent in the wartime years was Reverend Hartill , who resided at the former Vicarage of St John’s Church seen here in the mid 1960s.
So the name John Hartill, and the grave intrigued me more.
And I was to find the answer on on my own doorstep in Bridgnorth.
Where I was introduced to his younger brother Frank now retired living there. Who told me this touching story regarding his brother.
Born in Brierley Hill in 1921, the eldest son of the Rev & Mrs J. Hartill who moved to St Johns Church in 1931, was educated at Wolverhampton Grammar School. On leaving in July 1914. he commenced work at Boulton and Pauls until he was old enough to volunteer for the R.A.F.
After his basic training he was selected to be a member of the first group of R.A.F. potential pilots to be trained in the USA. and this was achieved by making all members part of the Royal Canadian Air Force enabling them to be admitted to the USA on a non-immigrant Visa.
The course was held at the Spartan School of Aeronautics, Tulsa, Oklahoma, where by all reports they were very well received by the locals.
Unfortunately near the end of the course while flying in a V formation with others his tail was clipped by a another forcing them both to bale out, breaking his leg on landing.
Having passed the course however he was recommended for a commission and was also delighted to become a member of the “Caterpillar Club” awarded to those who had saved their lives by using a parachute.
Back in the U.K. over the next three years, he flew over thirty different types of machines, including piloting a Boulton and Paul Defiant, but flew mainly Spitfires as seen here.
Later moving on to Mustangs to attack targets in France prior to and after D.Day
Latterly, the improved range of the Mustang enabled fighter coverage for the bombers raiding targets in Germany.
Two paragraphs in his log-book now in the possesion of his brother Frank tell of him piloting the Mustang escorting Halifax’s on raids over Osnabruch and Munster, and Lancasters on the thousand bomber raid on Cologne.
In May 1945 he was stationed at R.A.F. Bentwaters, Suffolk; from were he flew his last flight.
Whilst practising high-level interception dogfighting, the two planes collided and both crashed near Cantley .
Here is the report from the Express & Star of the fatal accident
Frank not surprisingly treats his brothers wartime records and belongings like the crown jewels in his charming cottage in Bridgnorth, he is a quiet modest man who although very proud of his brother doesn’t think him any more a hero than the thousands of other service men who made the ultimate sacrifice. in those troubled times.