Brookwood Cemetery – The Turkish Air Cemetery

Who knew that there was a Turkish Second World War burial ground down here in leafy Surrey? 

Marked in mauve on the map, and just within the boundary of Brookwood Cemetery, as opposed to the military cemetery south of Pine Avenue,…

…this small enclosed plot contains the remains of fourteen Turkish pilots, the memorial stone at the entrance reading…

…’Turkish Air Martyrdom. In this cemetery, the Turkish pilots who gave their lives for their lofty goals rest. May their souls rest in peace’.  Or similar.

Behind, the men buried here are all Second World War casualties,…

…nine at the front – yes, I do know there are only eight in this shot – and five behind.

All are Turkish Air Force second lieutenants who died on active service, most killed in accidents while training in the U.K. with the Royal Air Force.  Eleven are inscribed with either ‘killed while flying’, such as the headstone on the far left here, or simply ‘killed flying’, such as the headstone on the far right,…

…both pictured here in close-up.  On the left, 22-year old Ömer Sümercan, flying from Cranfield North airfield near Sleaford in Lincolnshire, was killed, along with a British student-pilot, when their Airspeed Oxford trainer (below left) developed engine trouble and crashed on 21st September 1943.  On the right, Saim Parlak, aged 24, died when his Miles Master II trainer (below right) was destroyed after hitting wires on a low-flying exercise north of Belvoir Castle, also in Lincolnshire, on 17th July 1943.

The two centre headstones in the earlier shot are those of, left, Hakki Akarçay, aged 21, whose headstone says, ‘Shot down and killed by German aircraft while night flying 3/4 September 1943′, probably in a Miles Master, and although I can find no evidence to support this, such things did happen*.  On the right, Esat Şaşmaz may just have turned twenty when he was killed on 23rd August 1943, also in a Miles Master, quite possibly also flying from Cranfield North in Lincolnshire.  While we are at this end of the plot we’ll pay our respects to the men buried behind, all men killed in the final ten months of the war.

*coincidentally, perhaps, the night of 3rd September 1943 saw the third major raid by the R.A.F. on Berlin in two weeks, pre-cursors to the full-on Battle of Berlin air campaign that would commence in November.  If the Germans had developed the tactic of having planes hanging around British airfields awaiting the bombers’ return by this time, who’s to say that a training flight might not find itself in the wrong place at the wrong time?  All pure supposition, of course.

Mustafa Kemal Görez (left) & Fethi Nejat Ang (right), both aged 22, were killed in Miles Master crashes in the summer of 1944, Gomez on 4th August and Ang, whose plane stalled and crashed after overshooting the runway at Claythorpe Heath, near Grantham, Lincolnshire, on 24th September.

The next two burials are men killed later in 1944.

Emin Dönmez (left) & Hüdai Toros (right) were killed, both aged 21, both probably flying Spitfires, and again both in the Grantham/Sleaford area of Lincolnshire, on 25th October 1944 & 10th November 1944 respectively.  So far, all the headstones, including those above, have included the Turkish text ‘Düşerek şehit olmuştur’, literally, ‘He fell and became a martyr’,…

…and I suspect that the fifth and final headstone in the back row, which marks the grave of Abdullah Ay, once said the same.  No longer, though, as a close inspection reveals nearly as much Tippex (other brands are available) as inscription on this headstone, and I suspect I know why.  Abdullah Ang was killed in a traffic accident in Birmingham on 4th April 1945, and this headstone looks to me as if it once said, incorrectly, ‘killed while flying’, and its Turkish equivalent, just like the others in the row.  I suspect that his death being non-war related (according to Turkish rules) is also the reason I was unable to find a photograph of him.

Back in the front row – don’t you just love the English language – the two headstones closest to the camera…

…include, on the right, the second man buried here of whom I could not find a photograph, Second Lieutenant Ibrahim Oray, whose headstone, just like that of Abdullah Ay, has some of the Turkish text erased.  The English text remains as it was, however, simply ‘Died 25 March 1943’, because Ibrahim Oray was also a victim of a traffic accident, in his case in Exeter.  On the left, and pictured, Nizamettin Şengün, aged 23, died when his Master II spun and crashed into the ground near Cranwell, Lincolnshire, on 18/19th September 1942.

With Ibrahim Oray’s headstone once again in the foreground, the final three graves we have yet to visit…

…are those of, on the left, Reşit Nalbantoğlu, aged 22, who died in an Airspeed Oxford that crashed on 16/17th August 1942, in the centre, Ali Aksu, aged 21, killed in a collision between two Tiger Moths – one evidently crashing into an aqueduct – on 21st January 1943 near Brewood, Stafford, and right, Kemal Gülçeken, also aged 21, who died while piloting a Spitfire on 10th January 1944 somewhere in the Kettering area in Northamptonshire.

Tiger Moth (left), and trainee pilots learning all about the Spit’s undercarriage (right).

It is worth bearing in mind that the majority of these men were in the two-seater Master or the Airspeed Oxford (cut-away above), normally operated by a three-man crew, and one would presume their British instructors died alongside them.  Someone should find out.  Maybe somebody already has.

Report in The Times on Saturday, 21st July 1945 regarding Turkish Air Force training in Britain.  Two years earlier, in early 1943, Winston Churchill’s report to parliament on the Casablanca Conference included this description of his arrival in Turkey whilst returning to the U.K., ‘I descended upon a Turkish airfield at Adana, already well equipped with British Hurricane fighters manned by Turkish airmen.’  Trained in the U.K., perhaps?

There is one further grave in the plot, the inscription on this slab reading, ‘Under this stone is interred the body of Arif Bey, a young Turkish officer sent to England by Sultan Mahmoud the Second to receive military instruction. He died at this place on the 10th day of August 1836 aged twenty years. Let no man disturb the remains of the stranger!!’  That all went well, then, considering he died in Woolwich and was moved here, along with this tombstone, in 1962.  Nonetheless, he is still regarded as being the earliest recorded Muslim burial in Britain.

Brookwood Cemetery being as huge as it is, and this being just a tiny part of it, we need to explore further.  So, let me ask you a question.  How many holders of the V.C. are buried in Brookwood Cemetery, do you suppose?  There are none in the military cemetery, but maybe we’ll find one – or maybe two – in the civil cemetery?  Perhaps there are even more?  Next post.

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2 Responses to Brookwood Cemetery – The Turkish Air Cemetery

  1. Jim Allen, BEM says:

    There are 12 VC holders buried in the civil cemetery, with three further commemorated on memorials.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Jim, I am going to be a bit cheeky here, partly because I know you never read my replies to your comments. Lol! I will give you a ‘very close but not quite a cigar’ for the above comment. As you will see.

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