Sergeant William Frederick Neill (531666) served in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve during the Second World War. He flew in Bomber Command with RAF 57 Squadron. Born in 1918, he was the son of William Frederick Neil and Margaret Neill (née Marshall) of Belfast. William Frederick Senior was Lord Mayor of Belfast from 1946-1948.
William had an older brother John Marshall Neill born in December 1913 and an older sister Muriel Neill born on 7th June 1916. A younger sister, Margaret Joan Neill was born in January 1927 and died on 23rd April 1933 when William was 8 years old. At this time, the family lived at 2 The Links, Portrush Road, Portstewart, Co. Londonderry. William Frederick Neill later married Mary Elizabeth McCombe.
Crash of Lancaster W4822
Neill died on 3rd November 1943 aged 25 years old. He was a Flight Engineer on Avro Lancaster W4822 DX-P flying with R.A.F. 57 Squadron. The Mark I bomber came down over Hechtel, Belgium. It was one of 589 planes taking part in a raid having taken off at 1722hrs from R.A.F. East Kirkby, Lincolnshire, England bound for Dusseldorf, Germany.
The bombing of the target began between 1942hrs and 2011hrs causing damage to housing and industrial factories. Luftwaffe Fighters shot down 18 Allied planes. A further 13 returned to base with damage. Oberleutnant Werner Baake of 3/NJG1 shot down McKernin’s Lancaster. This was the German’s 20th victory over an Allied plane. As the Bomber went down, the crew battled with extinguishers to control the fire before the Captain issued the order to abandon the plane. Pilot Donald R. West heroically remained on board making sure the remaining crew reached safety.
Remembering the crew of Lancaster W4822
|Last Name||First Name(s)||Rank||Role||Information|
|Buggy||Norman F.||Pilot Officer||Navigator||R.A.F.V.R. 147138. Became prisoner of war no. 3348 at Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria.|
|Clements||Robert Sinclair||Flight Lieutenant||2nd Pilot||R.C.A.F. Survived and evaded capture.|
|Edmunds||John||Sergeant||Air Gunner||R.A.F.V.R. 1392733. Killed.|
|Elliott||James McPhail||Flying Officer||Air Bomber||R.A.F.V.R. Survived and evaded capture aged 22 years old.|
|Heaton||Francis Patrick||Sergeant||Air Gunner||R.A.F.V.R. 1699714. Killed aged 20 years old.|
|McKernin||Harry Francis||Sergeant||Wireless Operator||R.A.F.V.R. 1079134. Killed aged 23 years old. From Belfast, Co. Antrim.|
|Neill||William Frederick||Sergeant||Flight Engineer||R.A.F.V.R. 531666. Killed aged 25 years old. From Belfast, Co. Antrim.|
|West||Donald R.||1st Lieutenant||Pilot||U.S.A.A.F. Killed aged 25 years old. Posthumously awarded Distinguished Flying Cross.|
William Frederick Neill’s grave is in Section 7, Row D, Grave 1-4 of Heverlee War Cemetery, Leuven, Vlaams-Brabant, Belgium. Members of the Lancaster crew were first buried at Brusthem Airfield Cemetery. He lies next another crew member from Belfast, Harry Francis McKernin. Neill’s headstone bears the inscription:
A son of Belfast, Northern Ireland, who fought for freedom.
His name is on also the headstone of his mother, Margaret Neill – Lady Mayoress of Belfast’s grave in Section J, Grave 455 of Belfast City Cemetery, Belfast.