70 years on family play a leading role in tribute to US pilot

TODAY, 70 years to the hour after US Pilot Rowland L Wolfe bailed out of his Spitfire after takeoff from Eglinton, his family members will gather at the crash site at Moneydarragh for ‘reflection’ at 12.30pm.

A member of the RAF’s 133 Eagle Squadron, Bud Wolfe’s job was to offer protection to a convoy of supply ships and today his two daughters, accompanied by other family members, and Galen Weston, the son of the Canadian businessman Garfield Weston who sponsored a fleet of Spitfires for use during the Battle of Britain, will pause to remember him with the Minister for that area, Canon Bill McNee, who will recite some RAF prayers. Canon McNee, formerly of Donemana, and Christ Church in Londonderry, is the father of Jonny McNee, the aviation enthusiast and historian who found the pilot’s Spitfire.

Later today, the family will visit Eglinton Airport, where a plaque Mr NcNee got designed will be unveiled to commemorate the Eagle Squadron and explain parts of the Spitfire are now on show at the airport in a display cabinet also containing pictures, documents and an explanation of the reason behind the dig in Moneydarragh.

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“The plane was one of eight Spitfires donated by Canadian businessman Garfield Weston, who was also British MP for Macklesfield and during the Battle of Britian 18 RAF planes were shot down and they lost all the pilots as well on the same day.

That moved Garfield Weston and he approached the Air Minister Lord Beaverbrook, also a Canadian, and he gave Beaverbrook a cheque for £100,000,” said Jonny.

Some of the American and Canadian visitors arrived on Monday and the remainder of the delegation touched down yesterday, Tuesday morning, and on Tuesday night, Pilot Officer Wolfe’s daughters and other family members made a poignant trip to the Tower Hotel, where they were able to view their father’s flight helmet which is in the process of being restored. The helmet was in a sad state when it was found buried in bogland at Moneydarragh in February by Claudy aviation historian, Jonny McNee.

“It is a very rare thing to find a flying helmet at airplane crash sites, with the bulbous earphones and the black oxygen mask, but we got it all, and we even had the pilot’s initials still on it, which is very significant for the family.

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“It has had to undergo a prolonged and extensive restoration to get it into a state where it can be displayed publicly, and that is still ongoing, at the National Museum in Belfast,” said Mr McNee.

The group’s trip will continue on Thursday with a pre-lunch visit to the Mayor’s Parlour in the Guildhall, where they will be able to share some of their thoughts with the Mayor and where they will be formally welcomed by the Mayor, Alderman Maurice Devenney, afterwards the group will make their way to the Workhouse Museum in the Waterside, where an exhibition will be officially opened by the family, the central feature of which will be their father’s spitfire.

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