RAF gunner to be included on new Bexleyheath war memorial plaques replacing stolen bronze ones

PUBLISHED: 12:45 11 November 2010 | UPDATED: 14:04 11 November 2010

Brother Douglas Rutherford-Browne with picture of Antony.

Brother Douglas Rutherford-Browne with picture of Antony.


The last surviving siblings of a Royal Air Force gunner are celebrating a bittersweet victory after the theft of war memorial plaques has resulted in him being remembered 66 years after his Lancaster bomber plane fell into the North Sea, killing all seven on board.

Jean Curtis and her mother Audrey Elsie Ireson, on her wedding day on August 19, 2007.

Sergeant Antony Rutherford-Browne, formerly of Brampton Road, Bexleyheath, volunteered for the Royal Air Force as soon as World War Two broke when he was just 17-years-old and told his family he knew he would not make it home alive.

At 12.55am on January 28, 1944, the wireless operator and tail gunner sent an SOS message, which was picked up at RAF Binbrooke in Lincolnshire before the plane went off the radar on return to its base in Witchford, Cambridgeshire, from a bombing mission in Berlin.

His name, which was mysteriously omitted from the memorial in Oaklands Road, Bexleyheath, is to be included on the new stone plaques which will replace the bronze ones that were stolen in two separate incidents over the past month.

In a twist of fate, the family only discovered his name was missing from the memorial on the very same day that council workers were ordering the new plaques.

Memorial after second theft

His 90-year-old sister Audrey Elsie Ireson, who lives in Dumfries, Scotland, is not fit enough to make the trip down to her place of birth, to see her brother’s name finally included on the memorial but her brother Douglas Rutherford- Browne, 82, from Croydon, will.

He told the Times: “He was great and a very nice person. He was fearless in many respects. He was very athletic and won a few sporting medals, including some when he joined the RAF. He told our father that he never expected to make it out alive. My father reacted quietly. He didn’t say much at all. He was just trying to take it all in. We never knew why his name was omitted. I am thrilled to bits that it will now be included. The sad part is that his name is only being included after those plaques were stolen.”

His sister Mrs Ireson, who was 19 when the war broke out, said: “I am amazed that people can stoop so low as to steal war memorial plaques. I am absolutely thrilled his name will be included as we felt he had been neglected.

“In 1944, we got a letter saying he was missing and then another one from the Ministry of Defence saying that he must be presumed dead. We were all very upset. He was a lovely young man and we all loved him very much. He did come home on leave some times for a few hours at a time. He didn’t talk about the war a lot.

Antony Rutherford-Browne's parents Percy John and Ethel Rutherford -Browne taken in 1926

“He was a very good looking blond young man and full of life and very kind.”

The five siblings were all very close and Mrs Ireson used to walk to Upton College opposite Danson Park, in Bexleyheath, twice her day with Antony. The college was later destroyed by an enemy bomb in early 1940s.

Mrs Ireson said: “My sister and I once asked him why he didn’t save some of his money so he could spend it after the war. But he said ‘why should I save money? I won’t be here?’ It was very sad.

“My father never found out what happened to his son and he died in 1967.

Sergeant Antony Rutherford-Browne

“I just wish my father was here and to hear what happened to him. He will never know. When Antony died, my father was a broken man. I feel very bitter about them not telling us what happened to him because the research proves they did know.

“The plane must have been damaged. The SOS signal was very weak. It must have gone down in the North Sea.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said they only deal with serving personnel but the family can apply to the historic records office in Glasgow for information if they are able to prove their kinship.

The new granite plaques are due to be erected early next week.

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