The Canadian flying officer who died in Second World War aircraft crash on Yorkshire moors

The remarkable stories of men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the World Wars will be commemorated next week. Laura Reid reports.

FLYING OFFICER Edson Gilroy Armour had prepared a letter for his wife Winnie, should the day come that he lost his life in service during the Second World War.

“The part I have played, along with the thousands of others who are gone with me, has more than made up for the sacrifice of my life,” Armour, a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force had written.

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Referencing their son Ralph, he added: “This war was inevitable, and some had to go so that Ralph and all the thousands of children who are growing up with him can have a future – a real future – safe from oppression and wars and hatred such as the Continent has known.”

Tours at Harrogate’s Stonefall Cemetery. Photo: CWGC.

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Armour’s story will be told in Harrogate next week as part of The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) War Graves Week.

The initiative aims to encourage people to discover the World War heritage on their doorstep – learning about the stories of those commemorated by the commission and the skills, dedication and expertise of its staff and volunteers who work to keep their memory alive.

Free tours will be taking place at sites across the country between May 21 and 28, including in Harrogate, Scarborough, Pudsey and Rotherham.

It means people in Yorkshire can learn about the remarkable stories of the men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the First and Second World Wars and who are buried in their community.

The tour at Dean Road Cemetery, Scarborough will include tales of a Battle of Britain pilot and casualties who lost their lives in the Scarborough Blitz. At Stonefall Cemetery in Harrogate, the tale of Armour, who lost his life with the rest of his crew when their aircraft crashed in North Yorkshire, will be featured.

Armour was born in Ontario, Canada and the first part of his war was spent as an operations officer at an RCAF base in Nova Scotia, the largest sea and land plane base in eastern Canada.

He wanted to fly against the enemy in Europe and qualified as a navigator, arriving in the UK in March 1943.

Disaster struck during his first mission when his aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire, wrecking Armour’s oxygen supply and endangering his life.

A crewmate managed to hold together the severed ends of rubber oxygen tubing well enough to keep Armour alive, but he was not to be so lucky during a mission in March 1944.

Returning to RAF Croft in County Durham after laying sea mines, his aircraft crashed in heavy, low cloud covering the North York Moors.

In a pre-prepared letter he had written for his son Ralph when the youngster was to turn 14, Armour said: “Some of us had to go, Ralph, so that you and all the other children in your generation could live in peace and security for the whole of your natural lives.”

Frontline armed forces members, like Armour, will be commemorated during War Graves Week and the commission will also be celebrating the value that those who served during the World Wars brought to key sectors such as healthcare, logistics, infrastructure and communications.

The tours will be led by local CWGC volunteers and Elizabeth Smith, the commission’s public engagement coordinator.

“Behind every name on a war grave or memorial in our sites is a human story waiting to be discovered and War Graves Week is the perfect opportunity to do just that,” Elizabeth says.

“I’d encourage everyone to join one of the tours to reconnect with their local history to learn about the courageous ordinary people from our community who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.”

To book a tour, visit www.cwgc.org/tours