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Archive Report: Allied Forces

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601 Squadron Crest
20.03.1944 No. 601 Squadron Spitfire VIII JF879 Lt. Cornelius C. Geldard

Operation: Air test

Date: 30th March 1944

Unit: No. 601 Squadron

Type: Spitfire VIII

Serial: JF879

Base: Marcianise, Campania, Italy

Location: Avellino, Italy

Pilot: Lt. “Chips” Cornelius Cecil Geldard 207319V SAAF Age 32. Killed


Researched by Matteo Pierro and that chaps of the Association of Salerno - they would very much like to hear from other relatives who may have flown with Chips.


REASON FOR LOSS:

Thought to have crashed due to bad weather during an Air test.

Matteo Pierro researched this loss and describes the events that led to the identification of the pilot and aircraft discovered. Matteo would like to make contact with anyone who flew with "Chips" in order that information could be passed on to the relatives of the pilot.

"Anyone who drives along the State Road 18 that leads from Salerno Battipaglia can not help but notice the area of the Commonwealth war cemetery on the side of this important road. The cemetery is arranged in the traditional style and Salerno contains the graves of 1,846 British soldiers, Canadians, Indians, South Africans and New Zealanders who lost their lives in Salem or nearby during the Second World War.

Recently I was able to reconstruct the history of one of these chaps buried in the cemetery, Lieutenant Cecil Cornelius Geldard.

It all started by reading a passage from the book "Avellino Irpinia the tragedy of 1943-44" by Vincenzo Cannaviello, a local historian that after the war told the history of World War II in the province of Avellino.

The author wrote: "On May 13, 1944 some woodcutters discovered the shell of a Spitfire that had crashed in dense woods, perhaps at night, perhaps during a foggy day, with great force at the summit of the mountain.

The aircraft, which is assumed to be direct from Apulia to Naples, was still carrying the pilot, who must have been killed instantly by the tremendous impact, the nature of the landfill had prevented the plane catching fire. The information given by those lumberjacks - was passed to the authorities - Anglo-American soldiers had to rush and remove the remains of pilot.

As for the other four sites identified to date air crash near Salerno, I turned to find a response on the ground in what they read in books. So, along with Daniel Jewel and Matt Ragone we made a first visit in the area indicated by Cannaviello. Unfortunately, it was inconclusive because the location is very extensive and to find the point of impact without precise information became impossible.

L-R: Daniele Gioiello, Vittorio De Maio e Mario Dello Russo

The turning point came in the research with two local friends, Vittorio De Maio and Mario Dello Russo who sought memories of the disaster among the elderly in the area. Thanks to the information received we left for a further survey with the metal detector.

When they arrived there we went on the side that faces east, towards Puglia and after about an hour trekking zig-zag on the flanks of the mountain we started to have some success with the first traces of the aircraft in the form of fragments in aluminium of the fuselage.

Many seemingly insignificant objects can help to identify the type of aircraft. In this case we had the testimony of people who claimed it was a Spitfire and confirmation of this immediately came out of the ground in the form of shell casings from .303 and 20 mm which were the standard armament of this type of aircraft.

Further confirmation came from fragments of the structure bearing the serial number identification of the parties. All codes beginning with 300 or 329 prefix that it was an aviation component in English indicating that it was indeed a Spitfire.

But to be able to identify the specific aircraft you need to find the serial number which these photo's show, as I have told our friends in the Romagna Air Finders (an association that operates aircraft recovery in Emilia Romagna), there are at least 7 plates placed in the airframe .

Unfortunately, after the war the plane was dismantled and carried downstream to resell the material which mainly composed of aluminium.

Unmistakable traces of that operation we found on a further trip, which was also attended by Donato and Mario Serio, Tools found included: a chisel, two files and scales, objects apparently lost by those who dismantled the plane.

Undeterred we continued the search for fragments hoping something could be found to provide us with the right indication to identify the aircraft and its unfortunate pilot.

We have recovered plates of equipment, parts of the structure with the codes and a myriad of fragments of the fuselage and engine, but nothing that would serve to be able to determine with certainty which plane it was.

At one point Daniel Jewel has taken a dig in an area of these steep mountains where they discovered an infinite number of fragments - even at great depths. We therefore inferred to have found the exact place of impact.

During the digging the team found a piece of twisted metal, which we did not pay much attention to as we were dedicating the search for the serial number plates.

For a second time we examined this piece of sheet and that solveg the riddle. In fact, straightening and cleaning the initials appeared incomplete "8_9 JF. Jewel Daniel explains: "In fact this is what we might call the license plate of the plane that was painted on the outside of the fuselage near the engine.

Knowing what we did all we had to do is check the archives of the RAF to establish if among all the Spitfire with the plate between 809 and JF899 JF there was one that could be ours. JF879 aircraft was the aircraft, we learned that it had crashed during a test flight in Irpinia March 30, 1944.

From the archives we learned that the plane was under 601 Squadron of the North African Air Command. Thus, knowing the membership department and the exact day when it had fallen it was easy enough to identify its pilot. Louis Fortunato, president of Salerno 1943 with which we co-operate, took a comb through the records of soldiers who rest in the cemetery of Salerno War Cemetery assuming that the pilot had been buried there.

It was necessary to verify that the date of death and the department correspond to what we found. Arrived at the point G is satisfied in relation to the pilot of the SAAF C. C. Geldard, serial number 207319V, who served at the 601 Squadron RAF and had died on 30th March 1944. 

At this point a valuable help came from Roy Neighbour site manager Aero Part Identify Board who managed to track down a copy of the first magazine of FLIGHT 22 June 1944 in which Lieutenant Geldard was given as missing and then find a granddaughter of pilot, Rosalie Hoek, who was really happy to provide information on his father's brother.

He spent the years of his youth on the farm that his parents had called the "Water Ridenti" and when World War II broke out he enlisted with his brother Albert in the Air Force in South Africa. He was later assigned to 601 Squadron of the RAF who had already distinguished himself in the Battle of Britain, and later operated in North Africa and then moved to Italy after the landing at Salerno.

On the morning of March 30, 1944 the weather conditions were bad and no Allied aircraft flew missions apart from Geldard he took off from Marcianise to test the aircraft. We don't know why it crashed. We can only imagine that the bad weather conditions have caused engine failure caused the crash into the mountain.

Weeks passed before he discovered the tragic accident and the family, until then worried about the fate of their joint but with a minimum of hope as it had been reported missing, was informed of the death of their loved "Chips".

In February 1945 an officer of 601 Squadron, Captain Rogaly, went to the War Cemetery in Salerno, which was then still under construction and took a photo of the temporary grave of Lieutenant Geldard who then sent it along with a moving letter to his mother.

Years later the poor woman made the long trip from South Africa to Salerno to visit the grave of her son. Kindly sent me a photo by Rosalie withdraws behind the inscription of the British Empire Medal by King George VI conferred for the services performed by "Chips".

Reconstructing the history of this unfortunate and tragic consequences aviator of the war I was possible thanks to the invaluable and selfless assistance given by those who are passionate about its history. Without them, the writer could have done very little and they deserve my gratitude.

I hope that the collaboration will continue to be the same for the other researches we have underway in order to never forget this sad page in our recent history and its many protagonists who, as occurred to "Chips", lie forgotten in the many war cemeteries in our country."

Matteo Pierro

Marker and grave for Lt. Geldard - centre shows his mother visiting his grave.

Burial Details:

Lt. Cornelius Cecil Geldard. Salerno War Cemetery. Grave II.D.45. Son of Herbert and Martha H. Geldard, of Carolina, Transvaal, South Africa.

Researched by:  Matteo Pierro for Rosalie Hoek - Grandaughter of "Chips". With thanks to the Association of Salerno.

Acknowledgements: Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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