War veteran’s airport memorial ban overturned

The Battle of Britain is commemorated each year, usually with a number of flypasts. Picture: PA
The Battle of Britain is commemorated each year, usually with a number of flypasts. Picture: PA
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A BATTLE of Britain veteran was celebrating last night after airport authorities overturned a ban preventing him from attending a memorial service to his brother killed in the Second World war – because he didn’t have a passport.

Charles Crowther, who will be 100 in October, joined the 609 (West Riding) Squadron of the Royal Air Force on the same day as his brother William who was killed in 1942 while returning from a bomber raid on Essen after he had been transferred from the fighter squadron to Bomber Command.

The 99 year-old pensioner, from Laurencekirk in Aberdeenshire, is the second oldest and only one of four surviving members of the original squadron who had been invited to a ceremony on the tarmac at Leeds Bradford International Airport in Yorkshire on 17 April. A memorial plaque is due to be re-dedicated to William and the other members of the squadron who made the ultimate sacrifice during the war at the ceremony.

Mr Crowther, who served with the Spitfire squadron’s ground crew throughout the Battle of Britain, was originally blocked from attending the airside service because he does not have suitable identification.

But last night, after local Liberal Democrat MP Sir Robert Smith contacted the Home Office to raise Mr Crowther’s plight, the airport authorities confirmed that the veteran airman will be allowed to attend the ceremony.

Mr Crowther’s delighted son Peter, 65, said: “I have had an email from Sir Robert’s office confirming that my Dad can attend the ceremony, provided we can provide a signed passport photo of my dad, a birth certificate and a utilities bill. I have got them all and they will be going by registered delivery.

“It’s fantastic news and my dad is absolutely delighted. I am just extremely grateful to everybody who has supported us.”

He added: “My dad is chuffed but he is a very old fashioned old man and doesn’t understand modern communications and what has been going on behind the scenes to get this done.”

Earlier Mr Crowther Sen, a former flight sergeant and retired hotelier, said: “I feel really frustrated about not being able to attend the ceremony. Surely they could have bent the rules and made an exception for me.”

Mr Crowther continued: “My older brother and I and joined the squadron on the same day and we had consecutive numbers in the air force.

“I have been attending the reunions for the past 50 years. I am just a bit confused about the whole matter.”

His son Peter had also condemned the bureaucratic red tape which was preventing his father from attending the poignant rededication service at the airport where 609 Squadron was originally formed.

He declared: “The only damage my dad could probably do to Leeds Bradford airport would be to scratch a door with his electric wheelchair.

“It’s crazy. I appreciate that airport security is obviously important but surely an exception should be made for a man in his 100th year.”

Mr Crowther continued: “Somebody higher up surely could have said he could attend the ceremony in the company of a security guard or a policeman. But they have got their rules and nobody was willing to stick their neck out.”

The rededication service is one of two ceremonies for 609 squadron taking place at the airport on 17 April.

A spokeswoman for Leeds Bradford International Airport confirmed the change of heart. She said: “As far as I’m aware the Mr Crowther’s local MP has been in discussions with ourselves and a decision has been made that will allow him to attend both memorial services.

“But he will be required to bring a birth certificate and a passport photo signed by a civil servant who has known him for at least three years.”

609 Squadron in the thick of Second World War action

609 Squadron was formed in February 1936 at RAF Yeadon as the ninth of the 21 flying squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. On 8 December 1938, the squadron was transferred to RAF Fighter Command and equipped with Supermarine Spitfire Mark 1 fighters in August 1939.

In May 1940, the squadron moved to RAF Northolt and a third of its pilots were lost in just three days while involved in missions during the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from the beaches at Dunkirk.

It was the first of the RAF’s Spitfire squadrons to be officially credited with the destruction of both 100 and 200 enemy aircraft during the Battle of Britain.