20 June 2024

Wartime soldier honoured by home town

By Rebecca Hannant

A fallen Second World War soldier from Withernsea has been commemorated in a service in the town.

Several months ago, Darren England visited St Nicholas Church, and he noticed that two wooden frames on the far side were missing plaques. After researching them he was informed that they had been stolen years ago.

One was dedicated to Flt Lt John Thomas Downs, who died in Italy in 1947, and the other was to the fallen of the First World War.

With help from the community, Darren was able to learn more about Flt Lt Downs.

His service number was 180111, and he was attached to the RAF’s missing research and enquiry service (MRES), which was set up in 1944 to trace 42,000 personnel who were listed as missing, believed killed. The demand was so great that the department was expanded in 1945.

The MRES was united in its desire to bring home those who had not returned and, despite the lack of special training and modern technology, the unit was able to locate two-thirds of the missing personnel. Those who were found were identified and reinterred in Commonwealth War Graves Commission plots in the UK and overseas.

Darren said: “Without the commitment shown by Flt Lt Downs and the dedicated team of the MRES, many families would not have known what happened to their loved ones nor the location of their final resting place. The MRES enabled families the dignity to finally grieve. The unit was disbanded in 1952.”

Flt Lt Downs was injured in a road accident on January 15, 1947, and pronounced dead on arrival at Milan Civil Hospital. He was buried at the Padua war cemetery in Italy alongside 523 casualties.

Darren sourced funding from the Withernsea and District Lions, the RAOB, and the Withernsea Armed Forces and Veterans Breakfast Club (WAFVBC) and several veterans to place new plaques at St Nicholas Church.

On Saturday, July 22, Rev Clive Hall led a small service followed by the unveiling of both plaques by mayor Lyn Healing. The Last Post was played by the bugler, and the standards of the RBL, WAFVBC, Scouts, Cubs, Beavers and Squirrels were lowered for a one-minute silence. The Reveille was then played, the standards raised, and the Exhortation was given by Darren.

Final thoughts and prayers followed before tea, coffee and cakes were provided and guests could look around the church.

Darren said: “It is most fitting that Flt Lt Downs is remembered here at St Nicholas Church, Withernsea, where he was an altar server for many years. He was the only son of Robert and Ellen Downs and husband to Joan Constance Downs.

“I would like to thank the Withernsea and District Lions, the Buffs, WAFVBC and several veterans who all supported in funding these plaques. I would also like to thank everybody who assisted in the service and attended. There are too many to thank individually.”