08 February 2017

Council thanks CWGC for help in finding relatives of WW2 RAAF airmen

A recent appeal to find surviving relatives of two Australian World War Two airmen who died in England has produced images of both men.

One of the black and white photos shows RAAF airman Sergeant Gilbert McAlister getting to grips with the English winter as he is seen holding a pile of snowballs.

The other shows RAAF airman Sergeant Ronald Sankey (third from left) relaxing in the sunshine in Herefordshire with a group of fellow RAAF recruits during the war.

Both Australians served at RAF Lichfield in Staffordshire and are buried in Commonwealth War Graves Commission graves at St Stephen’s churchyard, in the nearby village of Fradley.

The two men are among a group of five servicemen and one civilian, whose names are being considered for new streets on an estate in Staffordshire.

A lady from North Yorkshire, Carole Holmes, who was writing an article about the work of the CWGC in relation to churchyards, spotted the story on the Commission’s website and immediately got in touch with family in Australia.

“I have got a second cousin in New South Wales and we are both very interested in family history so I sent her the details,” she said.

“She has managed to contact a relative of Gilbert McAlister and this lady has, I believe, contacted the local authority who want to name the road after him.”

This search also produced the photograph of Sgt McAlister with the snowballs. According to Australian War Memorial records, Sgt McAlister died on July 9, 1942, from “illness”. His headstone at Fradley bears the inscription “He gave his life for his country – Australia”.


Meanwhile, after being contacted by the CWGC, a journalist in Melbourne, Victoria, where Sgt Sankey was from, has found a relative still living in the city. Ed Gardiner, reporter with the Preston Leader in Melbourne, said: “After some research, we believe we've found a surviving relative of Sergeant Ronald Sankey.

“He is Sgt Sankey's great nephew and he lives in Victoria. He is currently doing a ring around to find out whether there are any surviving relatives who knew Ronald personally.”

It was another search of the Australian War Memorial database that revealed the photo of Sgt Sankey with a group of RAAF recruits, taken in June 1942 in Hereford in western England. Sgt Sankey died in an air crash – a training accident – at the Lichfield base on December 3, 1942. His headstone at Fradley reads “Until we meet again. Dearly loved, sadly missed, Mother.”

The council seeking consent to use the men’s names, Lichfield District Council, has thanked the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for its part in helping to track down surviving relatives.

Cllr Chris Spruce, Cabinet Member for Finance and Democracy at Lichfield District Council, said the naming honour would be a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives during the war.

“We are really grateful to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for promoting our search for the families of the Australian servicemen, Sergeant Gilbert McAlister and Sergeant Ronald Sankey, who served at RAF Lichfield in World War Two. We have managed to contact the relatives of both men, and are in discussions with them to gain permission to name the two roads in our district after them.”

“Naming local roads after fallen servicemen is a way to remember and pay tribute to them, and we are really pleased to be able to commemorate two more of the men who are buried in Commonwealth war graves in St Stephen’s Churchyard in Fradley.”