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Compelling stories behind names on war memorials.


MORE than 200 people have attended a series of meetings across the North East on how the centenary of the First World War can be marked.

And as research gathers pace, it is bringing home the message that, behind each of the seeminglyendless lists of names on the memorials from both world wars, is a compelling, personal story.

That has been illustrated with a newly-rededicated Second World War memorial board at Gosforth in Newcastle.

One of the 117 names on the board is that of Alan Leslie Ricalton, whose wartime service as an RAF fighter pilot has been researched by Northumberland historian Robert Dixon.

The board was originally dedicated in November 1949 and was on display in Gosforth Hall.

When that building was demolished to make way for Gosforth shopping centre, the memorial was transferred to Gosforth Civic Hall.

Now, after rededication at a ceremony attended by the Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Jackie Slesenger, its new home is in Gosforth library.

City council cabinet member for adult and cultural services Veronica Dunn, who is also the council's armed services champion, was at the event.

She said: "The memorial is part of the area's heritage and, as such, is very important, not least for future generations."

For Robert Dixon, the emergence of the board in a more prominent public location has provided another piece in the jigsaw of his researchers over the last decade.

Gosforth's Alan Ricalton is one of 47 North East pilots who took part in the Battle of Britain, who have been traced by Robert.

Fearing that they would be forgotten, he wrote a book on their exploits and fate, called A Gathering of Eagles.

Now the flow of new material has seen Robert rewrite the book, now available on Amazon under the new title of Men of the North: A Few of the Few.

Robert, who lives in Choppington, said: "Information was always turning up, written or more likely, photographs.

"When I first wrote the book, the only photograph of Alan Ricalton was about the size of a postage stamp. Since then members of his family have come forward with a range of photographs through most of his life.

"Logbooks still appear, and these always put a different light on things."

Robert's research has revealed that Alan Leslie Ricalton was the second son of William Ricalton, a colliery winding engineman, and his wife, Margaret Jane, who lived in Salters Road in Gosforth.

In 1939 in France he piloted the outdated Fairey Battle light bomber but, back in England, he converted to Spitfires.

In 1940 he was serving with 74 Squadron at Biggin Hill, 12 miles from central London.

He and his fellow pilots intercepted a group of around 60 Me 109 German fighters, shooting down three.

But Alan Ricalton's Spitfire was also downed. He died at the age of 26.

Remarkably, Robert has found another four pilots from the Gosforth area, who fought in the Battle of Britain.

Phillip Heppell came from a family which newspapers in the North East called the "Flying Heppells".

Phillip's father had been a fighter pilot in the First World War and became a prisoner after being shot down. He went on to help found Newcastle Aero Club.

His pilot daughter Rhoda ferried aircraft during the Second World War and Phillip - just 18 when hostilities broke out - became a Spitfire pilot.

He flew with the legendary ace Douglas Bader, destroying three Me 109s.

Next stop for Heppell was the defence of Malta. He had downed three enemy aircraft before being blown from the cockpit of his Spitfire by "friendly" anti-aircraft fire.

After a spell in hospital he flew bomb-carrying Spitfires in Italy and accounted for 11 locomotives.

He became a squadron leader and survived the war, ending up with a tally of 14 enemy planes destroyed or damaged for which he received the DFC.

Mathew Richard Atkinson, born in 1916 to Gosforth parents, was a Hurricane pilot and squadron leader. He later transferred to Bomber Command and was killed in action in 1942.

Robert Rutter served with 73 Squadron in France and during the Battle of Britain he was wounded and forced to bale out of his Hurricane.

But in 1944 he was back in France in command of a squadron of Typhoons. He was awarded the DFC and survived the war.

James Anderson Vick led 607 Squadron, based at Tangmere in West Sussex, which in their first clash with the Luftwaffe lost six Hurricanes.

Ending up as a wing commander, after the war he worked for Imperial Airways until his retirement.


TRIBUTE TO THE FEW Gosforth fighter pilots Alan Ricalton, Robert Rutter and Phillip Heppell

HONOURING THE FALLEN Joanne Alder of Gosforth library with the newly dedicated war memorial
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Nov 21, 2012
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