Page last updated at 17:24 GMT, Wednesday, 17 June 2009 18:24 UK

Graveside promise to Scots pilot

During a holiday to Northern France, Ayrshire man Robert Taylor came across the grave of an Edinburgh pilot who died during a wartime mission in February 1944. Catherine Lyst recounts his two-and-a-half-year quest to trace the young airman's relatives.


Archie Kirkwood
Flt Sgt Archibald Blyth Kirkwood died during a mission in Northern France

Flt Sgt Archibald Blyth Kirkwood's headstone read: "Treasured memories of Archie our beloved elder son and brother."

However, unlike other graves at the St Denise cemetery at Poix de Picardie, there was no photograph.

Concerned that 23-year-old Archie had been buried so far from his home, Robert Taylor later make a pledge to track down his relatives.

Robert and his wife Elizabeth, from Dalmellington, Ayrshire, also noted the next grave, that of Flying Officer James Arthur MacDonald, from Vancouver.

Returning to the cemetery a year later they noticed a framed photograph of Mr MacDonald had disappeared and learned the cemetery had been vandalised.

Robert managed to track down Flying Officer MacDonald's family to let them know what had happened. His next mission was to find Archie's relatives so he could put a photograph on the airman's grave.

Robert Taylor
This is a promise I made to myself and Archie that's going to come to fruition. It's just incredible
Robert Taylor

The Canadian family provided him with information about both men's deaths.

On the morning of 7 February, 1944, at Manston Airbase in Kent, four members of the Typhoon 198 Squadron took off, but only two returned.

Archie and Flying Officer MacDonald were both killed and were later buried next to each other in the cemetery.

"Their names and their lives are now consigned to history, and rightfully, they are buried side by side at the church of St Denise in Poix de Picardie, " Robert said.

"The family of Flying Officer MacDonald asked me to recognise the relationship of James and Archie's deaths and asked me to place a tribute on Archie's grave for them.

"My wife and I placed The Saltire on Archie's grave and took some photos for the MacDonald family."

History detective

Robert spent the last two and a half years trying to trace Archie's relatives and within three days of enlisting the help of history detective David Webster, of Ross Genealogy, he was in contact with Alistair Dick, a nephew Archie never met.

"It was quite moving speaking to him on the phone," Robert told the BBC Scotland news website. "And incredibly the family had been making arrangements to go and visit Archie's grave in September/October this year.

"The wonderful thing is that instead of me putting the photo on Archie's grave, they will be able to.

"This is a promise I made to myself and Archie that's going to come to fruition. It's just incredible."



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