Sergeant Vernon James Pither (408512) served in the Royal Australian Air Force during the Second World War. Born in Shepparton, Victoria, Australia, he was the son of James Luke Pither and Rosanna Amelia Pither.
Vernon James Pither enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force on 26th January 1941 and departed for the United Kingdom on 18th September 1941. Before the outbreak of the Second World War, he was a member of the Methodist church where his brother was a preacher.
While based at RAF Limavady, Co. Londonderry, Pither became good friends with local drapers, the Acheson family. They were also Methodists and most Sunday evenings, he joined them to worship in the church hall. The Achesons recalled Vernon being a great singer of hymns. He planned to enter the ministry himself after the Second World War. Vernon died on 20th July 1942 aged 28 years old. He was co-pilot of Vickers Wellington Mark IC DV772. Captain of the plane was Pilot Officer Wilson Twentyman.
The pair were on a non-operational day training flight completing circuits, landings and low-level coastal flying. They took off from RAF Limavady, Co. Londonderry. At 1610hrs, the plane came down to the northeast of the Giant’s Causeway, Co. Antrim where it caught fire on impact.
The plane flew inland over the causeway towards Bushmills over houses on the Runkerry Road. Flying close to Runkerry House, the crew were in low cloud with visibility of 15-20 miles. They had no instructions to fly inland and the cause of the accident was likely an error of judgment. Both men died at the scene of the crash on high ground overlooking Portcoon. This is now part of the Ulster Way a few hundred yards away from the Causeway Hotel.
Remembering Vernon James Pither
Reverend Colin Sinclair and Glenda Rodgers from Bushmills were instrumental in establishing a memorial. Glenda got in touch with family of the two men in their native Australia and New Zealand. Money was independently raised by members of the Royal British Legion and the local community. The dedication of the granite memorial took place on Sunday 20th July 2008 at 1530hrs.
Sergeant Vernon James Pither’s grave is in Christ Church Church of Ireland, Drumachose, Co. Londonderry. His headstone bears the inscription:
His duty fearlessly and nobly done. Ever remembered.
He is one of many ANZAC servicemen buried in Northern Ireland. His name is on Panel 128 of the Australian War Memorial, Campbell, Australia. On Monday 20th July 2015, a ceremony took place to remember the sacrifice made by Wilson Twentyman and Vernon James Pither. A crowd gathered in torrential rain to honour the two men including members of local Royal British Legion branches. Relatives of both men have since visited the crash site and paid tribute at the Portcoon memorial.
In his hometown of Shepparton, Victoria, Australia, a memorial Eucalyptus tree stands on Memorial Drive and his name is on a war memorial of the gates of Shepparton High School.