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War pilot mystery is finally solved

Tribune article helps historian uncover the story of Canonbury airman who was shot down in Germany

11 December, 2020 — By Helen Chapman

Sgt Winkle died in Germany

A GERMAN historian has tracked down letters and photos of a pilot from Islington who was killed during the Second World War.

The chain of discoveries were patched together by Christoph Heyes, a brewer-turned-amateur historian, who was determined to find the stories of airmen who died near his home town in 1942. The Tribune featured his search for information back in September.

Love letters and photos that Sergeant Peter Fitzpatrick Vane Winkle sent to his sweetheart during the war have now been recovered.

Mr Winkle, who grew up in Canonbury, died among five members of a Wellington bomber crew shot out of the sky in Willich. He had been a member of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserves.

‘I shall always love you’: note sent by Sgt Winkle

Mr Heyes has been in contact with Yvonne Young, a woman living in Surrey who says her mother Patsy kept a photo of Sgt Winkle. She said: “He wasn’t the only chap because my mum was also seeing my dad at that time. It was funny for me because my mum never really spoke about the war because she was of that generation that didn’t.”

Patsy died 10 years ago, at the age of 92.

“I think that maybe in the wartime people were very sensitive and emotional ­– I think there were probably a lot of things said and written,” said Ms Young.

“For Peter it was probably lovely for him to have a sweetheart to think about. I honestly don’t know whether my mum was keen on him or whether they sent these things because of emotional attachments and someone to have at home.”

Photograph taken at the site of the crash in Willich, Germany, in April 1942

She added: “It wasn’t really until I looked on the back [of the photo] and I realised there were little messages on there and the fact that my mum has kept the big picture of him and the one in her wallet I thought there obviously was a bit more in it.”

Patsy Young had kept a scrapbook and a photograph album where Ms Young found photos of Sgt Winkle shortly after her mother’s death.

One of his messages reads: “Just another one of me so that you will never forget that I love you and that I shall always love you.”

Ms Young said: “I looked up the details about Peter the pilot only a month after the article in your paper. I just Googled his name. I just thought, I wonder if there’s anything on the internet?”

Christoph Heyes

She added: “To me that was the magic minute. I thought how lovely that he [Mr Heyes] is trying to bring our countries together and forget the fact that we were fighting each other and he wanted to give faces to the British pilots.”

Now in touch with Mr Heyes, she said: “I said to Christoph my mum would have been so touched to see the grave because I don’t know if she ever knew where he was buried. It would have been lovely for her to have known that.”

Patsy had kept in touch with Sgt Winkle’s father and that she had once told Ms Young about going for a meal with his family in Oxted, Surrey, and was disappointed when she was served tripe.

Mr Heyes had set about tracking down the graves of the five men, which were moved from the town to a larger cemetery in Reichswald Forest after the war. The Tribune printed his appeal for information and posted the story on our website where Ms Young learned about his research.

Mr Heyes has also found Andrew Downie from Kinross and Ken Barker from Dagenham. He is now looking for information on Thomas Strang from Grangemouth and Jean Jacques Hall from the Netherlands.

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