Beckett, Samuel Nicholl (No. 970018)

Beckett, Samuel Nicholl

Warrant Officer

No. 970018, 429 (RCAF) Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve

Killed in action on Sunday 11 April 1943 (aged 25)

Buried:

Rheinberg War Cemetery, Kamp Lintfort, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

(Collective Grave 8. K. 12-17)

Commemorated:

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Royal Belfast Academical Institution (RBAI)

Baronscourt Parish Church of Ireland Church, Co. Tyrone

Derrykeighan Parish Church of Ireland Graveyard, Dervock, Ballymoney

BIOGRAPHY

In some records, including the CWGC Debt of Honour, Samuel’s second forename is spelt Nicoll.

Samuel Nicholl Beckett was born on 2 September 1917 and he was a son of Samuel Nicholl Beckett and Elizabeth Beckett (nee Swanton) of 13 Thorndale Avenue, Belfast and, later, Greenways, 45 Edgecumbe Gardens, Belfast.  Samuel Nicholl Beckett Senior worked as an Insurance Manager with the Prudential Assurance Company Ltd., and he and Elizabeth Swanton were married on 9 December 1902 in University Road Methodist Church, Belfast.

For a time, the Beckett family lived in Lurgan and they had at least five children:

Eileen Anna (born 9 January 1905)

John (born 14 March 1906)

James (born 1 July 1908)

William (born 8 May 1912)

Samuel Nicholl (born 2 September 1917)

Samuel Nicholl Beckett was educated at Antrim Road Public Elementary School, Belfast and the Royal Belfast Academical Institution (RBAI) from 1928 until 1933.  He left school (aged 16) to join the British Tanker Company Ltd., part of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company Ltd., as an Apprentice Officer.  He joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve shortly after the outbreak of war and on 19 March 1942 he and Victoria Maud Carson of 39 Rugby Avenue, Bangor were married in Helen’s Bay Presbyterian Church.

A little over a year later Warrant Officer Samuel Nicholl Beckett (aged 25) was killed in action on 11 April 1943.  Initially he was reported missing in action and later it was officially confirmed that he must be presumed to have been killed.  He was one of a five-man crew aboard a Vickers Wellington Mark X aircraft (HE636) that took off at 11.21 pm from RAF East Moor in Yorkshire on a mission to bomb Frankfurt.  The aircraft crashed and, in addition to Warrant Officer Samuel Nicholl Beckett, the other four crew members who died that night were:

  • Warrant Officer Douglas William Jefferis (aged 23) from Taunton, Somerset
  • Flying Officer Leslie Sidney Knott (aged 27) from Houndslow, Middlesex
  • Flight Sergeant Alun Gwyn Lewis
  • Flight Sergeant Kleon Donald Franklin (aged 31) from Poole, Dorsetshire

All were buried in Rheinberg War Cemetery and Warrant Officer Samuel Nicholl Beckett is commemorated in RBAI.  On Sunday 2 September 2011 a commemorative church service was held in Baronscourt Parish Church of Ireland Church in County Tyrone to dedicate a plaque to the memory of the eighteen scouts from 74th Belfast (RBAI) Scout Group who lost their lives in the Second World War, many of whom had camped on the Baronscourt Estate in the years immediately prior to the outbreak of hostilities.  The plaque commemorated the 70th anniversary of the first building of a memorial cairn by RBAI scouts on the nearby hill known as Bessy Bell. In addition to Warrant Officer Samuel Nicholl Beckett the plaque bears the names of Captain Samuel David Corry, Sergeant Sydney Ireland and Bombardier Francis Eric Sheals.

Along with two of his brothers, Warrant Officer Samuel Nicholl Beckett (No. 970018) is commemorated on the Beckett family headstone in Derrykeighan Parish Church of Ireland Graveyard, Dervock, Ballymoney (his mother died on 7 April 1936 and his father died on 9 February 1949):

WILLIAM A. BECKETT M.N. DIED 20 APRIL 1940

SAMUEL N. BECKETT R.A.F. OFFICER KILLED 11 APRIL 1943

JOHN A. BECKETT G.C., R.A.F. DIED 12 APRIL 1947

His unselfish gallantry saved many lives, for which he was awarded the George Cross.

These three brothers died for King and Country.

Born in Lurgan, Co. Armagh, John Archibald Beckett was educated at St. Enoch’s Public Elementary School in Belfast. After leaving school he worked for a time as a fitter for Coombe Barbour Textiles, Belfast, before going on to work at the Harland & Wolff shipyard.

During the Second World War Sergeant John Archibald Beckett (No. 521319) served with the Royal Air Force and he was 41 when he died.  He was buried in Grave D.C.4., Khayat Beach War Cemetery, Israel and Palestine and there is an inscription on his CWGC headstone:

HIS UNSELFISH GALLANTRY

SAVED MANY COMRADES

Sergeant John Archibald Beckett (No. 521319) was posthumously awarded the George Cross and the citation read as follows:

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the GEORGE CROSS to 521319 Sergeant John Archibald Beckett, Royal Air Force, Royal Air Force Station, Ein Shemer, Air Headquarters, Levant.

On the night of 28th March 1947, during refuelling operations on a Lancaster aircraft of No. 38 Squadron, a violent fire broke out suddenly in the pumping compartment of the refuelling vehicle of which Sergeant Beckett was the driver. The flames enveloped Sergeant Beckett and set alight the front of the Lancaster’s fuselage. Another airman beat out the flames on Sergeant Beckett but not before the latter had sustained very severe burns on the hands and face. At this moment, there was grave danger that the main tank of the refuelling vehicle, containing over two thousand gallons of fuel, would explode, in which case it is practically certain that most, if not all, of the twenty or more aircraft in the park would have been destroyed. In spite of his serious injuries and the pain he was suffering, Sergeant Beckett got into the driver’s seat of the blazing vehicle and drove it a distance of about four hundred yards to a point outside the aircraft park, where it could do no further damage. After this he collapsed and was taken in the ambulance to the Station Sick Quarters dangerously ill. He died on 12th April 1947.

The fires in the Lancaster aircraft and in the vehicle were eventually brought under control and extinguished with no further damage to persons or property. There is no doubt that, by his prompt and gallant action, Sergeant Beckett saved a number of valuable aircraft from almost certain destruction and his comrades, who were working in the vicinity, from risk of serious injury.