Rathlin’s first flight

A Westland Wallace

Used with permission from: Belfast International Airport – Aviation at Aldergrove since 1918, 
by Guy Warner

The Met Flight also distinguished itself in 1938, when torrential rain and persistent gale force winds resulted in the inhabitants of Rathlin Island being cut off for three weeks from re-supply by boat from Ballycastle. The islanders radioed for help. A Met Flight Gauntlet K5283, flown by Denys Gillam responded to the government’s plea for assistance.

A Gloster Gauntlet

He flew a reconnaissance of the most likely landing field, which was only 250 yards long. While he was in the air SD Bell & Co. of Ann Street, Belfast, had prepared a consignment of flour, oatmeal, butter, tea, sugar, lard, paraffin oil, candles, matches, cigarettes and newspapers, which was conveyed by express van to Aldergrove. This was then loaded into a Westland Wallace K5073 and Denys Gillam took off again.

In the meantime a message had been wired to the local priests: ‘An attempt will be made to land food from an aeroplane at about 2.30 pm this afternoon. Please light a fire to make smoke for the guidance of the aeroplane.’

The Belfast Telegraph described the first landing by an aircraft on Rathlin as follows: ‘To make the landing the plane had to descend very low and hurdle over the roof of a house. The field selected for landing was the best available but it was small and exceptionally bumpy and definitely hazardous for a medium sized bomber.’ The feat was repeated the next day in another Wallace K5074.

Denys Gillam was later awarded the Air Force Cross for his work with the Met. Flight and for his airmanship and bravery in undertaking the relief flights. Subsequently, he served with great distinction throughout the war, becoming a Group Captain and adding a DSO and two bars, as well as the DFC and bar to his medal tally. SD Bell did not miss their opportunity either, as an advert appeared in the newspapers headed ‘Rathlin Island – supplied at a moment’s notice – we can supply your requirements with the same dispatch and satisfaction.’

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CAN YOU HELP?

Do you have any memories of aviation on Rathlin? If so, please send a note to Guy Warner at this address: gwarner06@aol.com