Dedication of Memorial and Service

In Remembrance of

Wing Commander R.J.C. Grant

DFC and Bar. DFM. RNZAF

 

 

 

On February 28th 1944 at 1245pm a Mustang fighter aircraft from 65 SQDN Royal Air
Force, Gravesend Kent crashed at Barringtons farm Orsett following engine
failure. The pilot, 29 year old New Zealander Wing Commander Reginald Gant
baled out of his stricken machine and as he was only at 500 feet his parachute
had no time to fully deploy and consequently he fell to his death in a nearby
field, this site now being part of Orsett fire stations drill yard.
 
In December 1983 the "Thameside Aviation Museum" led by Roger Pickett of Green
Watch Grays excavated the Mustangs crash site and recovered a quantity of
aircraft items which were left on site by the recovery team back in 1944. These
items were cleaned and placed on display in their museum at Coalhouse Fort East
Tilbury. The museum houses the remains of many second world war aircraft
excavated by the TAM.
 
We move on now to April 2003 when Roger was contacted by a chap from the local
history society who had been in turn contacted by a relative of W/Cmdr Grant
asking for more information on the incident. By the magic of E mail he was soon
in touch with New Zealand and found himself "speaking" to Mr Jack Rae who, after
the war had married Reg Grants sister Veronique. Jack himself was a Kiwi fighter
ace with 11 kills to his credit and was a very close friend of  Reg during the
early war years and indeed on many occasions flew on combat missions with him in
Spitfires. Reg Grant was also regarded as an "ace", having 8 confirmed kills.
 
Jack explained to Roger that Veronique now being 96 years of age still could not
come to terms with her personal loss, her other brother Ian was shot down and
killed in a Spitfire over France just a year before Reg was killed but  his body
has never been recovered and the remains still lay where they fell, now under a
supermarket car park near Calais ........
 
This situation got Roger thinking that perhaps a memorial to Reg may help to
ease the burden which Veronique had been carrying for all these years. He put
his plans to Jack who agreed that this may make Vera's final years a little
easier to bear. Much organising over many months came to fruition on February
28th, 60 years to the day when Reg lost his life, with a full memorial service
at Orsett fire station. W/Cmdr Grants niece, Dr Barbara Rae-Venter travelled
over from Carmel in California and accompanied by her son Christopher, carried
out the unveiling in front of approximately 100 people. The memorial plaque of
brass is situated in a small garden and gives details of the incident.
 
Numerous family friends and acquaintances were present at the ceremony as were
representatives of many local ex servicemen's associations. The service was taken
by Squadron Leader Andrew Jolly, (padre) from RAF Uxbridge and the New Zealand
Government was represented by Group Captain Stephen Moore from the Royal New
Zealand Air Force. A dozen wreaths were laid including one from the ECFRS, the
CFO paid this tribute and he also read out a short poem, "High Flight", this
being very apt for the occasion. After the service a reception was held in the
recreation room at the fire station.
 
A few short speeches were then made and Roger reminded all present to remember
the ultimate price paid by W/Cmdr Grant and many many like him who died
thousands of miles from home and in defence of the United Kingdom.
 
Footnote : In February Roger travelled to New Zealand with his wife Gill where
they met with Jack and Vera Rae. Roger presented Vera with an identical plaque
to the one at Orsett. Both Vera and Jack were overwhelmed with this gesture and
have since told Roger that the loss all those years ago is now easier to bear. A
plaque was also presented to the New Zealand fighter pilots museum at Wanaka
where it now accompanies a fine display dedicated to all Kiwi pilots. Sir Tim
Wallis accepted this plaque on behalf of the Thameside Aviation Museum.


 

Roger Pickett presents Jack & Vera with plaque New Zealand February 2004

 

Roger present a plaque to Sir Tim Wallis and Ian Brodie atthe  Royal New Zealand Fighter Pilots museum in Wanaka February 2004