Pilot Officer Wilson Twentyman (413913) served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force during World War Two. Born in Pahiatua on 21st April 1916, he was the son of William Ogden Twentyman and Millicent Agnes Twentyman of Hukanui, New Zealand.
Twentyman attended Eketahuna District High School before studying accountancy at Hemingway’s Correspondence School. He played rugby, captaining the school 1st XV and was also a member of the 1st XI cricket team. After school, he continued to play rugby until applying to the Air Force.
He gained employment on 21st June 1940 with the Eketahuna County Council. On 6th July 1941, he enlisted in the Royal New Zealand Air Force and left for training at New Plymouth on 16th August 1941.
On 20th October 1941, he went to Canada to train under the Empire Training Scheme. He was part of No. 4 Service Flying Training School at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on 4th November 1941. There, on 27th February 1942 he received his flying badge and the commission of the rank of Pilot Officer.
The next stop was No. 1 Y Depot, Halifax, Nova Scotia on 12th March 1941. From there, he traveled to No. 3 Personnel Reception Centre at Bournemouth, United Kingdom, where he arrived on 29th March 1941. On 24th May 1941, he joined No. 15 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit at Kirmington, Lincolnshire before completing a course at No. 1512 Beam Approach Training Flight at Disforth.
On 7th July 1941, he arrived at No. 7 (Coastal) Operation Training Unit based in Limavady, Co. Londonderry.
Wilson Twentyman died on 20th July 1942 aged 26 years old. He was pilot of Vickers Wellington Mark IC DV772. He captained the plane alongside Flight Sergeant Vernon James Pither.
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 north east of the Giant’s Causeway in Co. Antrim where it caught fire on impact.
The New Zealander pilot 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 judgement. 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 Wilson Twentyman
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 New Zealand and Australia. 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.
Relatives of both men have since visited the crash site and paid tribute at the Portcoon memorial. Members of the Twentyman family included his nephew Paul Wilson Twentyman, son Ross, and friend Nathan. Jill Moss, a niece of Wilson Twentyman visited Northern Ireland in September 2015. Her trip took in Aghanloo Airfield, Drenagh House where the men were billeted, and The Alexander Arms where they socialised. She also laid a New Zealand poppy on her uncle’s grave.
Pilot Officer Wilson Twentyman’s grave is in Christ Church Church of Ireland, Drumachose, Co. Londonderry. He is one of many ANZAC servicemen buried in Northern Ireland. His name is on the Eketahuna War Memorial in his hometown in New Zealand.
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.