Middle East

British Personnel In UAE Remember WW2 RAF Airman

Sergeant William Donnelly is the only British serviceman to die during World War Two that is buried in the UAE.

UK military personnel deployed to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have gathered to commemorate a Second World War RAF airman who is buried in the country.

Sergeant William Donnelly was the navigator of a Wellington Bomber that crashed during a flight to India on 14 February 1943. 

He is the only British serviceman to die during World War Two that is buried in the UAE.

Sgt Donnelly's original grave was lost when it was washed away during a flood.

But in 2010, a new memorial was constructed and unveiled by his niece at a special ceremony.

Since then, British personnel serving in the UAE travel annually to work with the local authority to maintain the memorial and hold a ceremony of remembrance for Sgt Donnelly.

This year, despite COVID-19, a small group of personnel was able to visit the memorial by the Hajar Mountains to pay their respects.

Led by Wing Commander Mark Brammer, the group included the British Naval and Air Attachés from the British Embassy in UAE, historian Peter Hellyer, HH The Ruler of Fujairah Liaison, and other RAF personnel.   

Wing Commander Brammer said after travelling to the memorial they laid a wreath where Sergeant Donnelly "had passed" and "closed with the familiar words 'We will remember them'".

The original grave of Sergeant Donnelly was washed away in a flood, with a new memorial constructed in 2010 (Picture: RAF).

He said: "During the long journey home, I heard the youngest member of our team remark: 'I now understand exactly what this means'. I couldn't agree more."

The Wellington Mk 1C bomber, number HX 748, was being flown to India by the Aircraft Delivery Unit of Number 4 Ferry Control Unit, Middle East Command, at the time of the crash.

After a stop at the then-RAF Sharjah Airbase in the UAE, the crew took off for the next leg of their journey to India.

Approximately 30 minutes after takeoff, while over the Gulf of Oman, pilot Sergeant G Chadwick, noticed a loss of oil pressure on the reduction gear casing of the port engine.

This, coupled with a visibility of only two miles, prompted Sgt Chadwick to turn back to Sharjah for repair.

But seven miles into the return journey one of the engine propellers broke off, forcing the pilot to make a crash landing among the date palm groves of Sayh Dhadnah.

Sgt Donnelly died as a result of the crash and was buried near the crash site, on a then remote coastal plain north of Fujairah, by the remainder of the crew who survived.

Cover image: British personnel at the memorial of Sergeant William Donnelly (Picture: RAF).