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Supermarine Spitfire, Figullar, Monaghan September 1942

On the morning of Sunday, September 20th 1942, the residents of townland of Figullar, in Co. Monaghan, Ireland, were presented with the spectacle of an aircraft crashing in a field while those of Crilly, in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, found its pilot parachuting to safety.

Figullar mapThe crash site, in the townland of Figullar was quickly attended by members of the Local Defence Forces (LDF) and the Gardai, the Irish Police Service.   It seems that despite the border between the two jurisdictions, communications were not curtailed and it was soon known that there was no casualty associated with the incident as the pilot had bailed out over Northern Ireland and landed near Crilly House, in Tyrone.  Upon landing he was brought to the nearest Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) station and from there arrangements were made for him to return to his unit.  The aircraft crash site, shown in the image at right from Bing maps, highlights the location of the crash in a field bordering on the townland of Ralaghan.  Crilly house is to be found off that image to the North.  The white line on the image shows the location of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland in this location

The first Irish Army party to arrive on the crash site south of the border in Figullar was one under the command of 2/Lt Vincent Kenny of the 11th Cyclist Squadron based at Cavan Barracks.  2/Lt Kenny submitted a report to the Irish Army’s Eastern Command two days later and this reads as follows:

I wish to state that at approx. 13:15 hrs on the 20/9/42 the command Duty Officer informed me by ‘phone that an aircraft had crashed at a place about three miles North East of Emyvale, Co. Monaghan.  I was detailed to take an armed party out to scene of crash.  I arrived at scene, with a party of one N.C.O. and six men at approx. 15:00 hrs,., and found a guard of L.D.F. men, and Civic Guards from Emyvale and Monaghan town in charge of the plane.  An L.D.F. Staff Officer name J J McGleoin from Monaghan was in charge of the Guard.
 
I took over charge and posted sentries around the ‘plane.  I found out from J J McGleoin, and a Detective Officer from Monaghan town, that there had been no interference with the wreck.

The ‘plane was a Spitfire, of British nationality, and had crashed at approx.. 11.20hrs on 20/9/42, in a field of Patrick McKenna, Figualliar (sic), Emyvale, Co. Monaghan.  The pilot, the only occupant, had bailed out from the plane at 4,000 feet, and had landed safely in Northern Ireland territory.  The scene of the crash is about three hundred and fifty yards inside our territory.  The plane just before crashing apparently fell to pieces, as parts of the wings and fuselage were found scattered about, at least three hundred yards from where the nose of the plane struck the ground.  When the ‘plane struck the ground, there was an explosion, and she went on fire.  One of the first men on the scene was J J McGleoin, L.D.F. Monaghan Staff, and he got some help and tried to extinguish fire, but was unable to do so, as a result of the crash and fire there were four “hand” cocks of hay, (approx. ten cwt. Of hay in each) belonging to J J McKenna, Figulliar, Emyvale, destroyed.

I then went into Emyvale Gardai Station and reported to the Command Duty Officer, and was informed by him that permission had been granted by the Dept. to two R.A.F. officers to search 'plane for a high explosive detonator. Their names, car Reg No.etc. etc. were given me. I was given instructions that those Officers were not to take anything away with them. I went back to the Plane, and at about 16.15 hrs. four R.A.F. officers and two R.U.C. Sergeants in uniform arrived in the field.  They as to examine plane but I refused, pointing out  that two of their technicians were due to arrive any minute,- when they heard that they departed immediately. At approx. 17.30 hours those two Officers arrived dressed in civilian attire and in possession of their credentials, they examined the ‘plane thoroughly and told me that the Detonator could not possibly escape exploding after crash and fire, and that there was no danger in handling it. They remained for about half an hour, and did not take anything with them on leaving.

The plane was only a twisted mass of wreckage with parts of wings and fuselage scattered about. I got those parts collected into a heap, and again got in touch with the Command Duty Officer, I explained the situation to him, and he informed me that if the L.D.F. would do guard on the plane for the night, we could withdraw.  District Officer(L.D.F.) McGleoin volunteered to have guard on the ‘plane. I collected the loose aluminium and tin (about Three Cwts.) and put it into truck and brought it back with armed party to Cavan Barracks.
I left L.D.F. Officer J.J. McGleoin in charge of the ‘plane.

I got in touch next morning with your office and acted on your further instructions.

Signed Vincent Kenny 2Lt
11th Cyclist Squadron


In the days after the crash, the wreckage of the aircraft was largely gathered and transported to Clones army barracks.  It languished there for a few weeks and the last mention of the wreckage in the Army report is a report on the weight of metal as it was likely to be sold for scrap.

Due to some unfortunate issues with RAF records, determining the pilot of Spitfire R6992 on September 20, 1942 is based on a little assumption.

The usual primary source to determine pilot names, the unit Operations Record Book (ORB) for 1402 Met. Flight, for the day of the crash refers to the pilot only as F/L Proctor.  Martin Gleeson of Limerick carried out a detailed review of the ORB only to find that during the entire period of his posting he is referred to largely as F/Lt Proctor. 
The ORB for 1402 Flt. (AIR 29/866) "mentions him almost daily from December 1941 to January 1943 (14 months !) but not once is he recorded as anything but "F/Lt. Proctor" !  In January 1943 he was posted to the A & AEE at Boscombe Down.  In their ORB (AIR 29/896) he is only mentioned twice".   Martin also reviewed the London Gazette and RAF Lists to compare other officers named Proctor against the promotions and awards listed in the ORB.  This review revealed the following events and time line:


- 4-Dec-1941 Pilot Officer Proctor posted in to the Flight.
- c.15-3-1942 P/O Proctor promoted to the rank of Flying Officer.
- - -London Gazette 35467, dated 24th February 1942, published the following promotion:
- - - - Plt. Offs. (prob.) confrnd. in appts. and to be Flg. Offs. : —
- - - - G. H. PROCTOR (60769). 15th Feb. 1942. (Seny. 14th Jan. 1942.)
- 1-5-1942 F/O Proctor promoted to the rank of Acting Flight Lieutenant.
- 20-1-1943 F/L Proctor posted to the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (AAEE).
- 7-6-1943 F/L Proctor Mentioned in Dispatches for his work on this Flight.

In the records for the A & AEE he is recorded in two postings.
- 23-1-1943 "F/Lt. G.A. (sic) Proctor posted to A & AEE from No. 1402 Flight (Flying duties with High Altitude Flight)."
- 23-7-1943 "F/Lt. G.H. Proctor posted to No. 12 (P) AFU."

This latter unit, 12 (P) AFU, or to give it its full title, 12 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit, was based at RAF Spittlegate near Grantham, and it would have likely seen Gordon flying twin engine aircraft like the Oxford in preparation for posting to an operational unit. 

Gordon's friend Margaret set the following cartoon sketch that was among his belongings sent to her after his death.  A copy of this was also provided by his nieces in 2018.
Proctor Cartoon

This mentions him being at Squires Gate and is titled, "The men who do the work".  Most of the caricatures cannot be identified as no surnames are given other than the possible "Egg Shell" Jennens.  The only RAF officer at that time with this surname was Lionel William Vaughan Jennens, a prewar RAF officer who had served from 1930 to 1937 before entering service with Imperial Airways.  As a reserve air force officer he returned to the Air Force upon the break out of war.  His family, in their records of L W V Jennens career, noted that he was the commanding officer of the School of General Reconnaissance prior to his posting to 7 Squadron where he was shot down in December 1941, spending the remainder of the war as a high ranking prisoner of war.  This suggested, prior to 2018 and the information provided by his neices, that Gordon Procter was even before his posting to 1402 Flight, an experienced pilot.  At least 12 aircrew with serial numbers starting with 7417xx had been lost in the 1939-1940 period of the war. 

Using this information, along with the search of the London Gazette and the Royal Air Force Lists, by Martin Gleeson and other members of the RAF Commands internet forum, it seemed most likely that F/Lt Proctor was F/Lt Gordon Hayter Proctor, serial number  60769.

The second primary source one might rely on is the Air Ministry Form 1180, aircraft loss card held publicly by the RAF Museum in Hendon, however that card is not among the cards held in their microfilm archive, this would have firmly recorded the pilots name by surname, initials and service number.

A further source of confirmation was tried with the Irvine Parachute Company, who awarded a lapel pin to airmen who wrote to confirm they had been saved by one of the companies parachutes, the person them becoming a member of the Caterpillar Club.  Unfortunately, the Club membership was based on the understanding that the company would never divulge information about recipients.  The modern day company however did appear to confirm that the name of the Gordon Hayter Proctor was on their membership lists for this date.  His family were able to provide am image of his caterpillar Club card.
G H Proctor Caterpillar
          CLub


Finally in 2018, Gordon's very generous three nieces were able to reveal his old flying log books from world war two.  In this for the date of 20th September 1942 he recorded his days flying.

It began with a attempt at a Met Climb in Spitfire R6992, but the flight had to be abandoned after a few minutes when he discovered the VHF radio was unserviceable.  This was clearly fixed because he took off again in R6992 and flew for 1 hour and 20 minutes.  In his log book he wrote:
INSTRUMENTS U/S; CLIMBED 36,000'. CLOUD 10/10
18,000 - 200'; BALED OUT 16,000', LANDED SAFELY
AIRCRAFT CRASHED AND COMPLETELY DESTROYED
IN EIRE.  COURT OF ENQUIRY BEING HELD.

ProctorGordon Hayter Proctor was born in Streatham, on the 7th December 1914.  His parents were Frank Bloomfield Proctor and Fanny Eliza Reed.  The couple had married in Clapham in 1903, and had two children, Stanley in 1904 and Vera in 1912, before Gordon was born.

Frank Bloomfield Proctor had served from 1916 to 1918 with the Royal Garrison Artillery and with that Regiments 137th Heavy Battery.

In the 1938 Electoral Register, Gordon can be found listed living with his parents at 94 Ellison Road, Streatham.  The following year, the parents had moved to 13 Sunmead Close, Fetcham.  Gordon was at that time living at 32 Bradford Drive with a family named Gale.  In the 1939 Register, he is listed living at home with his parents and having the occupation of Bank Clerk.  He is noted as being an RAF Reservist however.

His father Frank died in Mount Alvernia Nursing Home on 5th February 1958, with his address given as Lilyville, 13 Sunmead Close, Fetchem, Surrey.  Fanny Proctor passed away in Hoylake on 17 Apr 1963. 

Gordon's log book and service files reveal he had an eventful war, flying mainly in second line roles up until his posting to 45 Squadron.
His service history included:

19 E&RFTS, Gatwick                                                                9/Jul/38 to 3/Sep/39
15 FTS, Lossiemouth and Middle Wallop                                1/Jan/40 to 19/Jun/40
-- He was awarded his pilots badge following completion of training at 15 FTS, 10 Jun 1040

1 OTU, Silloth (Operational Training Unit)                               27/Jun/40 to 22/Feb/41
3 School of General Reconnaissance,  Squires Gate            22/Feb/41 to 4/Dec/41
Attached No. 1 BAC, Watchfield (Beam Approach Course)    6/Jul/41 to 18/Jul/41
1402 Met Flt, Aldergrove                                                            5/Dec/41 to 23/Jan/43

-- During his time with 1402 Flight he was the victim of a number of incidents with Gladiators, Spitfires and Blenheims, including forced landings and losses of instruments.  Notwithstanding thsi he finished up his time at 1402 Flight having flown at least 485 'Met Climbs" in the year.
It is thought that this photo shows him seated, X from the left in front row, with personnel from 1402 Flight.  The aircraft in the background would appear to be a Gloster Gladiator.

A&AEE, Boscombe Down                                                        23/Jan/43 to 23/Jul/43
-- His name was published in the London Gazette having been awarded a Mention in Despatches dated 23 Jun 1943.
 
No 12 (P) AFU, Grantham                                                        23/Jul/43   
1536 BAT, Grantham (Beam Approach Training Flight)            8/Sep/43 to13/Sep/43
60 OTU, High Ercall                                                                 28/Sep/43
Lyneham and 301 Ferry Training Unit, 14/Jan/1944.

-- During this early 1944 posting to RAF Lyneham, he delivered a number of Mosquito aircraft from the UK to North Africa and it is assumed this brought him to Cairo where he was pictured at the pyramids.  The names of the other airmen, another pilot and two navigators.  Gordon is the man standing in the middle of the group.
G H Proctor Cairo

 
HQ, Air Command South East Asia Command                        12/Mar/44       
308 Maintenance Unit and 21 Ferry Control                             18/Mar/44
45 Squadron                                                                             14/Aug/44


Gordon Proctors luck in 1942 did not last sadly. 
The operations record book for 45 Squadron at Ranchi in Burma on September 3, 1944 reads:
“Stand down was observed today. F/Lt G H Proctor posted to the Squadron, arrived with his navigator Sgt G Bargh.  The football team played an exciting match against a ‘hot’ Army team, the result after a hard tussle being a no score draw.”

The Squadron was at this time not on operations having transferred to the Mosquito twin engine fighter bomber.  Gordon's last recorded flight in his second log book is dated 22 September from Kumbhirgram in a Mosquito.

At 14:36 on the afternoon of 3rd Oct 1944, F/Lt Proctor departed from Kumbhirgram in Assam in Mosquito HP936 with his navigator, F/Sgt George William Bargh from Church Warsop, Nottinghamshire.  This was the first and only operational mission that their names are found on in 45 Squadron, the unit having only commenced operations on October 1st and the Proctor/Bargh crew were not involved in those first two days of attacks.  This mission was lead by F/O A N Houn and F/O H J S Cargill 406193 of the Royal Australian Air Force in Mosquito HP978.

The narrative for the missions reads as follows:

“Offensive recce MEKTILA and KANGDAUNG* A/Fs.  IRRAWADDY crossed at PP.2075 and course set for target.  Target not seen, cloud 10/10ths.  A/F most probably THABUTKON covered deck level 16.18 hours.  Definitealy (sic) no A/C in Northern dispersals, nothing believed in others.  No movement seen, Pens appeared overgrown.  Steam roller southern end, steam up.  Railway pin pointed YWAPALE LL.5237 (station name seen) course set for target area again but heavy rail (sic) encountered and nothing seen except possible 1 A7C Pen. 
As aircraft HP.936 had been airborne 30 minutes before the leader, course was set for base.  This A/C was last seen at position PP.8030 16.39 hours on Course 300˚, 50 feet, and is still missing.  No attacks were made, bombs and ammunition were brought back.

last flight of HP936

Kumbhirgram air field is the site of the modern day Silchar airport in Assam.  The target airfield of Kangduang may be a spelling error in the report and be referring to Kanguang, to the east of Meiktila town.  The route back to their airfield would have brought them back across the inhospitable peaks of the Arakan (or Rakhine) Mountains, and not forgetting the long trip back across the plains of Burma which at that time were still occupied by Japanese forces.

The names of both F/Lt Proctor and F/Sgt Bargh are today remembered on the Singapore Memorial.

In May 2017, a joint group from Queens University Belfast and Monaghan County Museum accompanied by researcher Jonny McNee carried out a licensed and approved dig on the site and in the process recovered some remains of the Spitfire, including a corroded cockpit door and a section of engine crankcase with attached pistons.  The days dig can be seen covered on the local Emyvale community website.  The recovered parts are due to be displayed at the County Museum from 2018 following their cleaning and conservation.

This exhibition will open in June 2018 and information about it can be found here on the Museum website.
Monaghan County Museum

Compiled by Dennis Burke, 2018, Dublin and Sligo. Information Sourced from the Irish Military Archives, Martin Gleeson,  ancestry.com, RAF Commands message forum, Jonny McNee and M Watson correspondence and the wonderful assistance of G H Proctors three neices.