War heroes memorialised with RAF stamps
Bermuda’s wartime air heroes will be honoured tomorrow with a special stamp series issued to mark the 100th birthday of the Royal Air Force.
The four stamps from the Bermuda Post Office highlight Rowe Spurling, who fought in the First World War, and Geoffrey Osborn, Hugh Watlington and Alan “Smokey” Wingood, who served in the Second World War.
Major Ben Beasley, Second in Command of the Royal Bermuda Regiment and a former RAF officer, said Bermuda made significant contributions to the war efforts in the air.
He said: “It’s great to see the Bermuda Post Office honour our airman veterans, especially as this year marks not only the 100th birthday of the RAF, but also the end of the First World War, when airpower became a significant force for the first time.
“It is a fitting tribute to their service and sacrifice.”
Horst Augustinovic, who sits on the stamp design advisory committee, said authorities in Britain had sent some designs to commemorate the anniversary, but none had a Bermuda theme.
He added that the committee decided to come up with designs that reflected the island’s contribution to the RAF.
Mr Augustinovic said: “They submitted some proposals, but they were all British planes. There was really no specific Bermuda connection.
“I thought with Bermuda having produced a number of pilots who flew in both world wars, we could Bermudianise it.”
He said he had met three of the pilots highlighted on the stamps while the fourth, First World War pilot Mr Spurling, had had a fascinating career.
Mr Augustinovic added: “It was not just by the story of how he became an ace by absolute chance — he was lost, he tried to land in a German airfield and they didn’t see him because of the sun and he managed to shoot down five planes and become an instant ace.
“He was also an intriguing fellow in the Second World War. He was ferrying flying boats from Catalina to England, but he got involved as a contraband officer and he often made hilarious comments in his reports.”
Mr Augustinovic said he knew Mr Osborn, who was a top pilot and fellow stamp collector honoured for risking his life to pull injured crew members from a crashed bomber.
He added that Mr Watlington and Mr Wingood both made a name for themselves outside of combat.
Mr Augustinovic said he had spoken to relatives of the late pilots, who were excited to see their wartime heroics immortalised.
He said: “I think stamps are a good way to recognise their contributions because they are permanent.
“They will for ever be in catalogues and collections worldwide.”
Major Beasley also highlighted the contributions of RAF Flying Officer Grant Ede, the first Bermudian to die in the Second World War, and Airman Philip Lamb, who continued to serve even after he was injured in an air raid.
He said: “The harrowing experiences that those who served in the RAF will never been known to most, yet we live in a free world because of what they gave, along with their sailor and soldier counterparts.
“Little remains in Bermuda of our contrition to the war in the skies save for some graves in the West End, a dilapidated building on Darrell’s Island, and the RAF ensign that flies at the Cenotaph.”
Major Beasley added: “I am extremely proud to be a Royal Bermuda Regiment officer and a former RAF officer, and I hope that in some small way my duties can honour the important role my country and my countrymen played in the darkest of times.”
The RAF was formed in 1918 by a merger of the British Army’s Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service.
About 20 Bermudians flew in the First World War, and another 80 were trained at the Bermuda Flying School during the Second World War. Many of the island-trained pilots joined the RAF, while others flew spotter aircraft for the Royal Artillery or signed up with the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Four Bermudian veterans will be featured on the Royal Air Force anniversary stamps.
Lieutenant Rowe Spurling served during the First World War as a member of the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps and later was credited with six aerial victories as a pilot with both the Royal Flying Corps and its successor, the Royal Air Force.
He fought in France as a rifleman and was wounded twice before he became a pilot.
Mr Spurling won the Distinguished Flying Cross in August 1918 after he and his observer took on 30 German fighters after they were separated from their squadron while on patrol.
The pilot shot down three planes and his observer accounted for two more.
Mr Spurling returned to the RAF in the Second World War and reached the rank of Squadron Leader.
Flight Lieutenant Geoffrey Osborn joined the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps in 1938 and learnt to fly at the Bermuda Flying School on Darrell’s Island.
He later made supply drops to support resistance efforts in France, Belgium and Czechoslovakia as an RAF pilot.
Mr Osborn was awarded the George Cross — Britain’s second-highest award for gallantry — after his bomber crashed just after take-off in March 1943.
The crash killed two of the crew and trapped four others in the aircraft, which burst into flames, but Mr Osborn dragged the survivors to safety, suffering serious burns to his arms and face.
Flight Lieutenant Hugh Watlington joined the Bermuda Volunteer Engineers when the Second World War began and signed up with the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940.
He later transferred to the Royal Air Force’s 217 squadron, which was tasked with attacks on German convoys in 1942.
Mr Watlington also won the Distinguished Flying Cross after a mission off Malta, when his bomber was struck by anti-aircraft fire as his squadron attacked German fuel tankers.
He returned to Bermuda after the war where he set up Bermuda Air Tours in 1949 to offer sightseeing flights.
Mr Watlington copiloted one of the last of the Second World War era flying boats from Bermuda to England in 1981.
Flight Lieutenant Alan “Smokey” Wingood, joined the Royal Air Force in 1940 after flight training at the Bermuda Flying School. He became a Pilot Officer and flew 30 bomber missions over occupied Europe.
Mr Wingood also won the Distinguished Flying Cross after he continued a bombing run over the German city of Hamburg, despite having lost all communications.
He later became involved in marine exploration and is credited with helping to identify the site of the 1609 wreck of the Sea Venture, which led to the permanent settlement of Bermuda, through the recovery of artefacts in 1958.