The Liberty Gazette
May 23, 2017Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Tom Kenneth Whitfield was a British Royal Air Force test pilot in the Spitfire Mark IX. On November 9, 1942, Whitfield and his 611 Squadron engaged some Germans flying Folke Wulfs over France. During the battle he was separated from the rest of his squadron. While checking the map to find his way back to Biggin Hill his airplane was hit by enemy fire. It was too damaged to make it far, so he made a crash landing at the Hawkinge Airfield in Kent. Doctors removed shrapnel from his left side and in six weeks Whitfield was back in the air.
Mike: Flight Officer Reginald (Leo) Harris was also in the British Royal Air Force during WWII, serving with Whitfield in Flight 611 Squadron. On August 23, 1943 he was flying his Spitfire as usual on a mission when the airplane’s engine failed. He’d been flying low looking for submarines which gave him no time to bail out. Officer Harris perished in the Mediterranean. His best friend, fellow Flight Officer Tom Whitfield, grieved his loss, and decades later while vacationing in Malta, Whitfield and his wife visited the Royal Air Force memorial.
Harris had been one of over 2,000 men lost over the Mediterranean, and when Whitfield found Harris’ name on the memorial he wrote a poem dedicated to his memory.
In this week before Memorial Day, in memory of Leo Harris, Tom Whitfield, and the many men who sacrificed all for the security of a free world, we’d like to share Officer Whitfield’s poem, which was published by his son, Aidan Whitfield, here.
And Have No Known Grave
In February, nineteen eighty-eight
I stood outside Valetta City Gate
And screwing my eyes up-sun against the light
Beheld a gilded eagle, poised for flight,
Crowning a capital, pinions outspread,
Into the tramuntana turns its tyrant head.
PER ARDUA AD ASTRA, plain to see,
And underneath at 1943, In mute memorial to our glorious dead
One and a half columns I had read
Before, in shock, I saw a name I know
HARRIS R.H.W. F/O.
I shut my stinging eyes and there he stands, Helmet and goggles dangling from his hands,
A fighter pilot to his very roots, From ardent eyes to well-worn flying boots.
He smiles and nods his head as if to say, 'I missed you, Tommy, when you flew away'.
Crouched in our cockpits up to five miles high, We forged our friendship in a hostile sky,
Then parted at Gibraltar; I moved on
But felt, alas, the golden days had gone.
My name I scratch in sand upon the shore;
His name in bronze lives on for evermore.
By T K Whitfield
Linda: Next week, the day following Memorial Day, you’ll be treated to the lyrics of a special song that was written by Steve Goodchild for Tom Whitfield, commemorating his dedication to freedom, and to his best friend, reflecting on that day when Harris died and Whitfield flew on. We heard Steve and his band Horizon Ridge perform this song in Houston and we can’t wait to share it with you. You can find out more about Horizon Ridge and their music here.