Showing posts with label Melissa McConkey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Melissa McConkey. Show all posts

Friday, May 3, 2024

Raymond memorial honors British pilots lost over Sebago Lake in 1944

By Ed Pierce

It’s recognition that’s long overdue and something that’s now firmly etched into the annals of Lakes Region history. On Friday, May 17, some 80 years later, Veterans Park in Raymond will be the site of a special dedication ceremony paying tribute to two long-lost British aviators who died in a collision over Sebago Lake.

A formal ceremony in Raymond dedicating a memorial to
two British pilots killed while in flight training over
Sebago Lake in 1944 will be held Friday, May 17 at
Veterans Park in Raymond. The event will include
representatives of the British military and of King
Charles III of Great Britain. COURTESY PHOTO  
Just before noon on Tuesday, May 16, 1944, a squadron of British Navy D4V Corsairs took off from Brunswick on a low-level formation training flight to give pilots experience flying at low altitude over a body of water. Among the group of pilots that day were British Royal Navy Sub-Lieutenant Vaughn Reginald Gill, 19, flying aircraft JT-132, and Sub-Lieutenant Raymond Laurence Knott, also 19, piloting aircraft JT-160. Both men were from Lee-on-Solent in Hampshire, England and were assigned to 732nd Squadron based at nearby Brunswick Naval Air Station.

As the formation passed over Sebago Lake near Raymond, Gill’s Corsair JT-132 suddenly banked sharply and struck the lake, sending a large plume of water flying into the air striking Knott’s aircraft, causing it to also crash into the lake. Within a matter of seconds, both aircraft quickly sank below the waters of the lake and disappeared. A military search and crash investigation was immediately launched using amphibian planes and U.S. Marines, and a U.S. Navy diving bell was deployed into Sebago Lake, but no aircraft debris was found except for a Corsair D4V radio antenna and a piece of an aircraft headrest.

Both pilots were subsequently declared dead and missing in action by the Royal Navy. Years passed and in the 1990s, the Corsairs were discovered and photographed in Sebago Lake more than 300 feet below the surface. During a court case in 2003 seeking to recover the aircraft, a judge determined that the aircraft and remains are not to be disturbed as they are considered war graves.

Through the decades since, thoughts of placing a memorial nearby for the pilots arose, but in recent years, that effort intensified.

Raymond resident David McIntire helped to spearhead the project through to completion.

“As a member of Raymond’s Veterans Committee, I think I became the likely candidate to work toward a solution for a memorial,” McIntire said. “I worked closely with the British representative from the British Commonwealth and Remembrance Project – USA, since day one, when he called the town in July 2023 interested in something as a remembrance for the pilots.”

McIntire says that he had heard the story about the pilots’ crash into the lake, but he didn’t realize that the pilots were British.

“At that point, I worked to come up with a suitable memorial for the two British pilots Gill and Knott,” he said.

According to McIntire, he said he feels the most significant aspect of the memorial for future generations of Raymond residents will be the work put in by town volunteers to help determine a design of an appropriate memorial to recognize the pilots and their loss and entombment in Sebago Lake.

“I believe Raymond has the only Veterans Park right on the shores of Sebago Lake where they died,” he said. “This has taken 80 years to place a lasting memorial, but I think the cemetery style monument is very appropriate, recognizing the sacrifice of the pilots during World War II.”

From a personal standpoint, McIntire said that he’s proud to be part of the initiative starting with an idea to somehow recognize Pilots Gill and Knott, and seeing it through to having an actual monument placed at Veterans Park to honor their loss.

“Unless people are aware of the crash in 1944, I think they would be surprised to read the inscription on the monument for the British pilots,” he said. “Because their remains were never recovered their location was classified as a War Grave, much like the sailors lost during the Pearl Harbor attack.”

Melissa McConkey, Raymond Town Administrator and Communications Director, said a dedication ceremony for the memorial will be held at 11:30 a.m. Friday, May 17 at Veteran's Park in Raymond and the public is welcome to attend the event.

The granite memorial was purchased from Collette Monuments in Lewiston and was designed by David McIntire and Collette Monuments and approved by the British and Commonwealth Remembrance Project and the British Consul General. Funding for the memorial was paid for by the British and Commonwealth Remembrance Project.

In an email with the U.S. Navy, McIntire said James Normington of the British and Commonwealth Remembrance Project has been the liaison for planning this event. He said descendants of Sub Lt Gill have been traced and a few of his family members will be at the ceremony. Normington indicated there will be 12 to 15 people flying over from England for the ceremony, including the British Consul General in his official capacity as the representative for King Charles III, members of the Royal Navy, The British & Commonwealth Remembrance, and The British Officers Club.

The British and Commonwealth Remembrance Project is a British organization situated in New England, that recognizes the service and sacrifice made by British and Commonwealth service personnel in times of war. Its volunteers help look after more than 200 War Grave sites throughout the New England area from World War I and World War II.

McIntire said Normington explained to him that there was a meeting between the British Consul General to New England and Maine Gov. Janet Mills and the subject of the World War II crash of the two airplanes into Sebago Lake came up.

“I think because Raymond Veterans Park is right off Route 302 and on Sebago Lake, we became a likely candidate for a memorial,” McIntire said. “I didn’t realize until I started researching the event of all the aviation support the United States provided the British during World War lI. As you know, NAS Brunswick hosted and trained many British pilots in US aircraft used in the war effort.” <