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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.
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504 squadron crest
07.01.1942 No. 504 Squadron Spitfire IIa P7823 P/O Walter B. McManus

Operation: Ferry - non operational

Date: 07th January 1942 (Wednesday)

Unit: RAF No. 504 Squadron

Type: Spitfire IIa

Serial: P7823 ('Down')

Base: R.A.F. Ballyhalbert, Northern Ireland

Location: Derrymacash, Lurgan, Northern Ireland

Pilot: P/O. Walter Bartholomew McManus J/5469 R.C.A.F. Age 27. Killed


P/O Walter Bartholemew Benedict McManus
Courtesy Dermot Nolan via Ulster Aviation Society

From the investigation after the accident it was learned that Spitfire IIA P7823 had arrived at RAF St. Angelo on detachment from RAF Ballyhalbert on 22 December 1941. During its time at St. Angelo it accumulated 2.45 hours of local flying.
Due to be returned to Ballyhalbert, it took off from St. Angelo on 1 January 1942 (pilot unknown) but returned shortly after take off owing to deteriorating weather conditions.
Upon landing it was noticed that the port flaps were damaged as the pilot had brushed the trees during his approach to land. The ground crew reported the damage and wanted to replace the flap. As no replacement was available, permission to straighten the flap was received from the Station Engineering Officer who supervised the repair and ensured that it was fully operational and flush with the wing when in the ‘up’ position. Also, during further inspection of the aircraft, it was noted that a small crack was present in the rear port exhaust manifold. Evidence was given that this defect was quite commonly seen on this type and, being closed and not of any significant size, experience had shown that it was of no detriment in flight.

On 7 January 1942 P/O McManus was detailed to fly to St. Angelo to pick up the Spitfire and fly it back to Ballyhalbert. He was informed by his Flight Commander of the repairs made to the flaps and instructed not to deploy them under any circumstances during the flight or upon his approach to landing and use the longest runway.

The Flight Controller at St. Angelo verified that the weather conditions were clear between St. Angelo and Ballyhalbert and gave P/O McManus permission to take off. Airborne at 13:30 hours McManus called St. Angelo flight control who told him they were receiving him loud and clear. At 13:36 hours the St. Angelo Flight Controller asked him for his height to which he replied 3000 feet. Upon getting a fix on the aircraft St. Angelo ground control got good plots on him, the last at 13:44 at an altitude of 4000 feet. Asking for and receiving permission from St. Angelo, P/O McManus changed radio frequencies and called ground control at Ballyhalbert at 13:45 who told him they were receiving him loud and clear and asked him if he was receiving them. He called two more times, the last at 13:47 hours, and was given the same reply which then made it obvious to ground control that he was not receiving them.

At 1:50 p.m. Constable Victor Ringland of the Royal Ulster Constabulary received a call from a Mrs. Ffords of Raughlan, Lurgan, stating that an aeroplane had crashed close by in a field belonging to Thomas Parks.

Witnesses gave somewhat varying accounts of what they saw but the most reliable appeared to be that of Henry Lavery who described the Spitfire as going into a spin and diving into the ground at a steep angle.

The Court of Inquiry concluded that: “as far as can be ascertained, the aircraft hit the ground in an “over the vertical” dive and having passed over a hedge with trees 20 feet high, only 12 feet from the point of impact.”

The engine and cockpit were completely buried in the ground and burnt out with other parts of the aircraft scattered over a wide area. Both port and starboard flaps were found in the wreckage but such was the condition of the wreckage no determination of any structural failure in the air could be made.

In conclusion under General Remarks it was stated:

“The pilot was relatively experienced on this type of aircraft and was normally very careful, his flying generally reflecting this trait in his character. The accident is all the more difficult to understand.”

P/O Walter B. McManus

Born November 7, 1914 in St. Thomas, Ontario, Walter McManus attended Holy Angels Separate School for his primary years graduating to St. Josephs High School in 1926 where he completed the General Matriculation Course in 1930. After a further year of high school at the St. Thomas Collegiate Institute, he enrolled at the University of Western Ontario in 1931 attaining an Honours Economics and Political Science degree in 1935. Walter then went on to study law at Osgoode Hall Law School gaining admission to the Bar in 1939.

Walter practiced law working for the firm of A.M.LeBel K.C. in London, Ontario for 17 months before enlisting in August 1940. He originally applied for a non-flying commission but after making a very favourable impression in the Special Reserve, RCAF headquarters requested that he apply for air crew for which he was highly recommended.

As was customary, he was posted to No.1 Manning Depot, Toronto with the rank of Aircraftsman 2 (AC2) on 2 September 1940 until the beginning of October when he was posted to No.1 Initial Training School, Toronto for the remainder of the year. Passing his examinations with a 94% average and placing 2 nd in his class of 75, he was selected for air crew training with the rank of Leading Aircraftsman (LAC), and posted to No.9 Elementary Flying Training School at St. Catherines, Ontario on 3 January 1941.

At St. Catherines he made excellent progress showing above average ability as a pilot flying Fleet Finch aircraft and compled the course on 21 February 1941 with his Commanding Officers remarks:

” Ability – above average. Conduct – good. This airman has worked hard and made an excellent showing on both flying and ground subjects. He is a keen steady type and is considered excellent officer material.”

Walter was next posted to No.6 Service Flying Training School at Dunnville, Ontario on 6 March 1941 where again he was an outstanding pupil finishing 2 nd. out of a class of 47 and awarded his Pilots Flying Badge on 16 May 1941 with the rank of Pilot Officer.

Eight days after graduating, Walter married his fiance, Miss Kathleen Clare Hunt of Hamilton, Ontario on 24 May 1941.

The young couple would not have much time together as Walter was posted to No.1 Manning Depot, Halifax, Nova Scotia from where he embarked for the UK on 15 June 1941 to join RAF 504 Squadron. That August, 504 Squadron were moved to RAF Station Ballyhalbert, County Down, Northern Ireland.

Non-flying replica of Spitfire P7823 'Down' finished in the markings of Walter's aircraft owned by The Ulster Aviation Society
Stephen Riley photograph

Stephen Riley, Press Officer for the Ulster Aviation society writes:
"A dedication event/unveiling of the aircraft was held in 2015. Since then, we have taken the aircraft to various community events, airshows, etc. around Northern Ireland—on more than 30 occasions in all. It has proved to be a very popular attraction and is accompanied by a graphic sign with the history of the original aircraft and its last pilot."

The actual aircraft P/O McManus was flying was one of the 17 purchased by the 'Belfast Telegraph Spitfire Fund'.

Left and above Ballycranbeg (Mount St. Joseph) R.C. Churchyard. Grave photo available at a higher resolution if required.

Burial Details:

P/O. Walter Bartholomew McManus. Ballycranbeg (Mount St. Joseph) R.C. Churchyard. Grave 31. Son of Harold Joseph and Rose Ellen McManus; husband of Kathleen Clare McManus, of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. (Barrister, Solicitor)

Acknowledgments: With many thanks indeed to Joseph Clint for the original information and grave photograph. Joseph lives in the Parish of Ballycran.

Further detailed information and photographs of P/O McManus courtesy of Stephen Riley and the Ulster Aviation Society. When in N.Ireland be sure to make arrangements to visit their hanger and see their aircraft collection. Click on the link above for more information.

Source citation: Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Canada; Service Files of the Second World War - War Dead, 1939-1947; Series: RG 24; Volume: 28155

CHB 07.07.2017 Court of Inquiry and Service Record information together with photo's of P/O McManus and replica Spitfire added to original article.

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