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15 October 2014
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65 Year Quest for Archive Footage of an RAF Aircraftman Missing presumed Dead

by Angela Gooch

Contributed by 
Angela Gooch
People in story: 
Harry Gillott Aircraftman 2nd Class RAF 149 Squadron
Location of story: 
Off the coast of Norway
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
A4011526
Contributed on: 
05 May 2005

Still from archive newsreel taken after the RAF crew returned with their Wellington from the Battle of Heligoland 18th December 1939

Harry Gillott
Aircraftman 2nd Class
RAF 149 Squadron
Born in 1916 in Sheffield Yorkshire UK, Harry Gillott was in the RAF. His rank was Aircraftman 2nd class 623761 149 squadron rear gunner in a Wellington bomber based at Mildenhall.
In April 1940 his mother and father, Harry and Lavinia, received the sad news that their son Harry's Wellington came down over the coast of Norway and that Harry was lost presumed dead.
Some weeks later, Harry's younger brother Leslie, who was aged thirteen at the time, was watching a matinee at Heeley Picture Palace in Sheffield. The film was a war film showing original news footage.
Suddenly, Leslie saw - flashed on the silver screen - a shot of his brother coming down the aircraft steps then posing with his comrades in front of the craft. Leslie ran back home to tell his Ma " Ma, our Harry i'n't dead-I've just see him ont' pictures". She immediately rushed to explain the plight to the manager of the cinema. The manager produced a still photograph from the cine film and gave it to the distraught mother. That still photo is included in the posting, Harry is the second right.
A similar shot from the film appeared in a newspaper and the caption read
'Here are some of the British pilots who took part in the great Aerial battle of Heligoland. Smiles and thumbs up show that they know they had by far the best of it. The official report of the Heligoland battle stated that ''The laurels go to the Wellington bombers, which resisted the most desperate, and, it may be said also, the most courageous and dashing efforts of the enemy's crack fighters to break them up.''
Quest for the Archive Newsreel
I am Harry’s niece, Leslie Gillott's daughter, and I have been trying to trace the film for some years without success....
Before Leslie's death in 2001, he had always maintained that the footage of his brother, Harry, was part of a war film. (remember he was just thirteen years old when he saw it!)
Despite viewing several war films over the years, including 'The Lion Has Wings' and One of Our Aircraft is Missing', no trace of Harry's footage could be found.
Then, on 19th April 2005 whilst browsing the internet, a strong contender for the missing film was found. 'Target for Tonight' was made in 1941 and directed by Harry Carr. The film was made with the crew of 149 squadron (no actors) performing their daily routines for the benefit of the camera. Harry was in 149 sqdn. This film looked like a highly likely candidate. A copy was ordered from a company in Chicago which specialized in war films.
On 23rd April 2005, the film was delivered. - It wasn't the one. Harry wasn't in it! (By no means was this the company's fault).
23 April 2005 — I launched an appeal for the missing footage on the internet.
The response was tremendous!
The Imperial War Museum advised that the still seemed to have been shot at an earlier date than the popular films, suggesting that it could be news footage.
A kind helper called Ian from the internet provided the following information.....
"........An extract from a book by W R Chorley's called 'Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War, Vol 1', states..
149 Sqn Wellington 1C P9246. Take off 11.53 Mildenhall to search for enemy shipping off Norway. Last seen flying towards Norwegian coast, its position being 5445N 0515E. All lost. Sgt Wakeling and AC2 Tootle are buried in Falnes Churchyard, Karmoy Island, Norway. the remainder ( Sgt H J Wheller, Sgt W C Parker, LAC R Coalter, AC2 H Gillott) are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.
A second 149 Wellington was last seen at 1610 about 5 miles from the other, being pursued by a Me 110......."
Another helper suggested searching Pathe News, an online database holding 3500 hours of searchable news footage.
Ian suggested....
The aircraft in the background is a Wellington.
The obvious reasoning for this is the geodetic fabric and window visible.
27th April 2005 -
From the clues various people had given, I typed keywords into the searchable database of Pathe News. Most of the results were immediately discounted because the dates didn't tally. Then I pursued a result that was undated....the description made my heartbeat quicken....
'Air crews disembark from their planes…. Group of pilots and crew giving the thumbs up sign'
.....my thoughts flashed to the newspaper clipping - Wellington -crew disembarks - gathers on tarmac - thumbs up sign....
I played the preview....perhaps I recognize the flight sergeant dressed in white flight gear, with a moustache....the camera panned to the right.... YES! HE'S THERE! IT'S HARRY! AND THE FILM ACTUALLY FREEZES ON HIM AT THE END!
I WAS ELATED! !- AFTER 65 YEARS THE FOOTAGE HAS BEEN FOUND!' Then sadness - those brave, smiling young men didn't realize that three months hence they would be killed!
This archive newsreel has brought it home to me exactly what sacrifices were made during the wars, both by the soldiers themselves and the suffering of their families.
Angela Gooch nee Gillott
Further info and photos at

www.gillottfamilyhistory.com

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