WWII airman’s family’s emotional trip to grave

Paul O'Brien, Patricia McCluskey with Jannie van Beek Pol as they pay their respects at the place where Flight Sergeant Francis McCluskey was found 73 years ago
Paul O'Brien, Patricia McCluskey with Jannie van Beek Pol as they pay their respects at the place where Flight Sergeant Francis McCluskey was found 73 years ago

The Co Antrim family of a WWII airman last week made an emotional visit to his grave in the Netherlands for the 70th anniversary commemorations of the end of World War Two in Europe.

Flight Sergeant Francis Anthony McCluskey from Ballymoney was only 20 when, on a mission in October 1942, his plane was attacked by an enemy fighter over Utrecht and the crew were forced to bail.

Flight Sergeant Francis McCluskey who died when his parachute failed to open

Flight Sergeant Francis McCluskey who died when his parachute failed to open

But the north Antrim man’s parachute did not deploy and he was killed when he came down among trees in the Prattenburg Estate, beside the town of Rhenen.

Jannie van Beek-Pol was just 15-years-old when she found the body of the RAF airman, who was buried a few days later in the town by the German army, with full military honours.

Last year Flight Sergeant McCluskey’s name was added to the Ballymoney war memorial after inquiries were made by Dutch historian Toon Blokland. Both he and the Mayor of Rhenen, Hans van der Pas, travelled to Ballymoney for the ceremony.

And last week Rhenen council invited Flight Sergeant McCluskey’s cousin, Patricia McCluskey, his nephew Paul O’Brien, Ballymoney Museum manager Keith Beattie and councillor Michelle Knight-McQuillan, Mayor of Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council, to Rhenen where a public ceremony was held at the grave of Flight Sergeant McCluskey.

At the graveside Jannie van Beek-Pol was introduced to Flight Sergeant McCluskey’s cousin and nephew for the first time.

Mr Beattie said: “It was an extremely emotional moment and the day became even more poignant when Jannie brought the family members to the tree on the Prattenburg Estate where she found their relative 73 years ago.”

The family’s journey was filmed by the BBC.