An RAF pilot who died fighting in defence of his country during the Battle of Britain – one of the most momentous aerial campaigns of the Second World War – has been honoured almost 75 years later at a ceremony arranged by the Friends of St Helens Cemetery.
The grave of local RAF Pilot Officer Norman Sutton – which fell into disrepair over the years – has received careful renovation, arranged by amateur historian Adrian Cork, who has been undertaking research into the life and death of Battle of Britain pilots from across the borough.
Pilot Officer Sutton, of Parr, died aged 26 on 5 October 1940 during aerial operations over London serving the RAF Volunteer Reserve 72 Squadron, leaving behind his wife of 8 months, Joan.
The renovated headstone at St Helens Cemetery was unveiled at a special rededication ceremony by the former Spitfire pilot’s nephew Bill Gabbott, who helped to fund the renovation after being contacted by Adrian Cork, and Deputy Mayor of St Helens, Councillor David Banks accompanied by Deputy Mayoress Councillor Jeanette Banks.
The Deputy Mayor said: “The act of remembrance grows increasingly important as the years go by. Honouring Pilot Officer Sutton in this way helps to keep alive the memory of his sacrifice in Britain’s defence and that of others. The research conducted by Adrian Cork also ensures that a unique and personal insight to a time that few in our community now remember first-hand is preserved for future generations.”
Poppy wreaths were laid down during the poignant ceremony, at which Adrian Cork read from the last letter Norman Sutton sent to his family from his station at the RAF Biggin Hill Aerodrome, just a few days before his death. In the letter, Sutton described the scene: “Bombs dropping and AA fire all night long in the surrounding districts and we are in the air three or four times a day… Here we are on the thick of it all. Right in the Valley of Death so to speak.”
The letter also portrays Sutton as a man who would carry out his solemn duties with an air of frivolity, as he told his parents of an earlier plane crash: “I’m fit as ever and quite bright in spite of the fact that I crashed the other day. It was a hell of a crash too. The machine is an absolute wreck but little Norman only got a headache, a bruised bottom and a broken cigarette case which I carried in my hip pocket.”
Also in attendance were Reverend Canon David Eastwood of Parish Church, who gave a short service and representatives from Royal Air Force 611 Squadron, RAF Association (the military body’s welfare supporter for serving and ex-service RAF personnel), RAF Air Cadets, the Royal British Legion and members of the public.