Islandmagee author John Hewitt shines light on Ireland’s WW2 aviation heroes

Islandmagee author John Hewitt.  INLT 24-650-CON
Islandmagee author John Hewitt. INLT 24-650-CON

An Islandmagee author has penned a fascinating new book focusing on the unsung aviation heroes of World War Two.

John Hewitt has spent over half his life writing stories, meeting and interviewing RAF aircrew from both north and south of the border who served during the war.

The 70-year-old has now compiled his huge collection of incredible tales into a six-volume epic entitled ‘Ireland’s Aviator Heroes of World War Two.’

As John pointed out, the greats are written about all the time; but the men he researched and met were kind and unassuming, “ordinary” modest pilots and crew.

And he is determined that these men’s stories will not be forgotten.

Explained the origins of his amazing endeavour, John said: “In the late 1970s I met a pilot who served in the RAF and he told me about his career during the Second World War.

“I told him that unless his story was recorded it would be forgotten. I asked him would he mind if I wrote his story and he kindly agreed.

“Over this past 40 years I met hundreds of these brave men and wrote down their memoirs. It is important to shed light on the role these men played.”

This a passion going back many years for the local historian, who has been interested in aviation since he was a young boy, when he would cycle to Nutts Corner just to watch the planes or take a bus to Sydenham to watch them roll out of the hangers at Shorts.

Having spent 33 years as a British Airways aircraft engineer, John took early retirement to focus on his first book, which was self-published in 2004. The second volume is now available at Book Nook in Larne, Easons, Waterstones and online at Amazon.

Sadly, most of John’s aviator heroes have now passed away, but he said: “I met so many wonderful people over the years and became very close friends with some of them. I am proud to have been the one to record their stories.”

One of the men featured in Ireland’s Aviation Heroes of World War Two is Squadron Leader Noel Corry DFC AE.

The Whitehead man was one of 10 Ulster airmen who survived the Battle of Britain waged in the skies over England during 1940.

One of the most heartwarming tales in the book concerns Noel and a very special guitar, as John explained: “In September 1939, Noel and 30 other members of the RAF Volunteer Reserve met at York Street railway station in Belfast.

“One of them, Sergeant Sidney Ireland, was a keen guitarist, but had left his instrument at home.

“There was no way that they were going to board that train without Sydney’s guitar and a good farewell sing song on the train and Larne-Stranraer boat. So the men clubbed up to buy Sidney a guitar, and his closest friend Noel rushed over and purchased it from Matchetts in Wellington Place. They all signed the back of the guitar using a scout knife.

“Sadly, Sydney was killed when his Spitfire crashed during a dogfight practice in Titsley Park, England, in July 1940. Noel was given special leave to bring his friend’s body home safely to Belfast. Shortly after the funeral, Sydney’s mother gave Noel the guitar, and he kept it safe for the next six decades.

“Noel and I became close friends and one night in his house in 1998, he passed the guitar on to me to look after.

“We both agreed that it should be put on display in the Somme Museum in Newtownards.”