Cnr George Main & Bay Roads, Victor Harbor, South Australia
GILLESPIE, Albert George (Pilot Officer)
Albert George Gillespie was born on 7 June 1912 at Rose Park, South Australia, the sixth child of seven children of Daniel Laurence GILLESPIE and Agnes Amelia GILLESPIE (nee GEORGE). Albert’s father had served in World War One; he died in 1922, age 49.
His widow Agnes moved to Victor Harbor in 1923 and leased the Warringa Guest House, which she later purchased (Warringa is now the Anchorage Hotel). Albert was educated at Sacred Heart College and later undertook medical studies at Adelaide University and Melbourne’s Newman University.
Albert embarked aboard the liner RMS Strathaird from Brisbane on 28 August 1936, arriving in London on 2 October 1936. His mother had financed his trip to further his medical studies in England.
War clouds in Europe were looming as Nazi Germany rapidly expanded its armed forces. It was thought that Albert enjoyed the good life in London and was not diligent in his studies and in an effort to redeem himself to his mother, Albert withdrew from London University and enlisted in the Royal Air Force where he trained as a pilot. He graduated from flying school and was granted a commission as a pilot officer in August 1937.
At this time Britain was rapidly building up its defence forces in the face what appeared to be inevitable war with Germany. British forces regularly undertook training manoeuvres and in early August 1938, some 900 aircraft and 15,000 pilots and airmen, together with 17,000 Territorial Army troops, began the largest Home Defence war exercise held in that country.
On 6 August 1938, fog and low cloud with heavy rain proved an impediment to the aircraft participating. Flying Officer John Adam as pilot, Pilot Officer Albert Gillespie, as second pilot, together with aircrew Pilot Officer Edward White, Aircraftmen Charles Suthers and Patrick McGovern, all of 37 Squadron RAF, took off from RAF Feltwell late in the evening, in their Handley Page Harrow Mk I bomber. Just after midnight, the aircraft crashed into high ground at Great Barton, Suffolk. All five crewmembers were killed. Poor visibility on the night exercise was attributed as the cause of the crash.
Pilot Officer Gillespie was buried with full Royal Air Force honours in St Nicholas Church Communal Cemetery, Feltwell, Suffolk.
His mother and family were so well respected in Victor Harbor that the RSL and the community resolved to have Albert’s name commemorated on the Victor Harbor War Memorial, even though Albert had died prior to the commencement of World War Two.
Albert’s brother Keith, served in the Royal Australian Air Force during World War Two; he initially trained as an air gunner but suffered from a perforated right eardrum whilst in the United Kingdom attached to RAF Bomber Command. Permanently grounded, he returned to Australia and was re-mustered as a pharmacist and served in Australia, and in the campaign to retake Borneo from the Japanese. Keith was discharged in 1947 with the rank of Flying Officer.
Service file of Pilot Officer Albert George GILLESPIE purchased from the United Kingdom Air Ministry.
Collection of Laurence Kingston GILLESPIE, nephew of Albert George GILLESPIE.
Adelaide University Archives collection of photographs.
Victor Harbour Times, through Trove Newspapers online.
Compiled by the RSL Victor Harbor History Research Team, September 2020.