GILLESPIE, Albert George (Pilot Officer)

Informal portrait of Pilot Officer Albert George GILLESPIE; it was most likely taken at No 37 RAF Squadron’s base at Feltwell, United Kingdom in 1938. Albert had written on the back “just before leaving Wittering”. From the collection of Laurence GILLESPIE, a nephew of Albert.

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.

Note written by Albert after he embarked aboard the Strathaird from Brisbane.
This Commission, or Royal Warrant, is for the rank of Pilot Officer in the Royal Air Force and was issued to Albert George GILLESPIE by King George VI, following his successful completion of pilot training in 1937.
This Royal Warrant was presented to the RSL Victor Harbor Sub-branch in May 2011, by Mr Laurence GILLESPIE, a nephew of Pilot Officer Albert GILLESPIE. Laurence served in the Australian Army during World War Two as SX29595 Sergeant L.K. GILLESPIE.
This aircraft is believed to be the Handley Page Harrow Mk I bomber that Albert was the co-pilot of; it appears that snow has fallen and is aside the runway.
This aircraft is believed to be the Handley that Albert was the co-pilot of.
Albert shown in uniform outside the officer’s mess at RAF Feltwell.
The second officer is believed to be Flying Officer John ADAM, pilot of the Handley Page Harrow aircraft.
This letter is from the collection of Laurence GILLESPIE.
Letter from the Air Ministry in London to Miss Jean GILLESPIE, sister of Albert, which preceded her visit to the United Kingdom to visit Albert’s grave at Feltwell.
The entrance to Feltwell Church and cemetery grounds; the following photographs were taken by Ian and Janet MILNES on their visit to Feltwell on 21 September 2011, to visit the grave of Pilot Officer A.G. GILLESPIE.
Albert’s grave is located in the pre-Second World War section of the Cemetery.
Albert’s grave is amongst the graves of other airmen who died pre-war in flying accidents.
Victor Harbor RSL member Janet MILNES is shown alongside Albert’s grave.
Grave of the pilot, Flying Officer John ADAM. The tablet has fallen from its mounting and not been re-instated. Below, the grave plot for Flying Officer John ADAM. Albert’s grave (war graves style headstone) can be seen on second on the right.
Grave of Aircraftman G.C.M. SUTHERS who is buried alongside Albert (below, right).
This is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission section of the Feltwell Cemetery, it adjoins the communal cemetery section.
There was a flyover by two RAF jets whilst we visited the Cemetery, a very fitting salute to all the airmen buried there.
Article from the Victor Harbour Times, edition of 12 August 1938. The editor and proprietor was Peter MILNES, grandfather of Ian MILNES.
Mrs Agnes GILLESPIE at Warringa Guest House; the date of the photograph is unknown. From the collection of her grandson, Laurence GILLESPIE.
From the Adelaide University Archives collection: 
Inter Varsity Baseball – 1931 – 1931
Back row: G K Hughes, A G Gillespie, B A Mellowship, N T Todd, W K Taylor.
Middle row: R A A Pellew, L J Pellew, J M Dwyer (Captain), W L Reid, A H Smith.
Front: R J O’Connor, J Ray. Played in Melbourne, won by Adelaide.
From the Adelaide University Archives collection: 
Adelaide University Intervarsity Football Team – 1931 – 1931
Copied in 1988 from original in possession of D F Burnard. Photographer: The Sears Studio, St Kilda.
Back row: F E Welch (res), G D Dawson, A H Magarey, G T Colebatch. 
Middle row: W L Hann, R H Elix, A Gillespie, A M Bills, J A Maitland, D F Burnard, C K James, J F Funder.
Front row: W H Baudinet, G A Dicker, H L Abbott (Vice-Capt), C B Sangster (Capt), I H Seppelt, D L Richards, J M Jens.
From the Adelaide University Archives collection: 
Adelaide University Football Team – 1932 – 1932
Copied in 1988 from originals in possession of D F Burnard. Photographer: D Darian Smith, Adelaide. Premiers, SA Amateur Football League (Undefeated). Winners Intervarsity Match, Adelaide 12 goals 10 behinds, Melbourne 10 goals 12 behinds.
Back row: J P Habib, J W Sangster, J A Maitland, G D Dawson, C K James, R H Elix.
Middle row: C C Daly (Coach), W L Hann, W C J White, A J Clarkson, H M Thompson, G A Dicker, K A Macdonald (Hon Secretary).
Front row: A W Gillespie (should read A G Gillespie), J M Jens, H L Abbott (Vice-Captain), R L S Muecke (Captain), W H Baudinet, D F Burnard. In Front: R F Brown, J F Funder.


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.