Remembering a Young Australian on Anzac Day

Photo credit: Department of Defence, Library and Archives Canada: Two aircrew examining a target drogue at No. 10 Bombing and Gunnery School, RCAF, Mount Pleasant, P.E.I., 1944

Editor’s note: Here is an upcoming event that was inspired by the Clyde River Cemetery Stories Course. Richard Newson is one of our participants. We have over 70 course participants from across PEI, Canada, some in US and England. Richard’s initial research and connection to an Australian family came much earlier, but he decided to create a remembrance event this year. Story follows.

On this Anzac Day, April 25th, there will be a graveside remembrance of John Leighton (Jack) Buttsworth, a young member of the Royal Australian Airforce who died in an accident on February 16th, 1945, while training at Mt. Pleasant Airfield No. 10 Bombing and Gunnery School at 24 years of age.

A genealogical researcher and family relative of Jack in Australia, Judy Sanders, stumbled across a newspaper article on Jack’s death which appeared in an Australian newspaper in 1945. She saved the link to the story on Ancestry.com, attached to Jack’s name. Meanwhile in Prince Edward Island, Richard Newson had noticed Jack’s war grave and wondered who this young man’s family was, so far away from home. He connected with Judy through Ancestry.com and sent her a photo of Jack’s grave.

“Richard and I corresponded regularly after that. While I was looking into Jack’s life in Australia, Richard was researching his war time service in Canada,” said Judy.

Richard added, “I regularly visit the grave of John Leighton Buttsworth in Summerside People’s Cemetery and send photos to Judy after each visit. To mark the anniversary of Jack’s death one year, I bought a can of locally brewed beer and stood at his grave to share a drink with him.”

Jack grew up in rural Australia. He joined the Australian Light Horse and then transferred to the Australian Imperial Force. After training in numerous camps in New South Wales, he travelled to the Middle East, to participate in the campaign at El Alamein. Three major battles occurred around El Alamein between July and November 1942, which became the turning point of the war in North Africa. The Australian 9th Division played a key role in two of these battles, forging its reputation for defending Tobruk during 1941.

Jack then returned to Australia with the famous 9th Division and took part in troop marches. From there, he moved from the army to the Royal Australian Air Force. Jack then travelled to Canada to train at the Mt. Pleasant Airfield No. 10 Bombing and Gunnery School. He was accidently killed when he walked into the path of a plane’s propeller.

Jack was laid to rest in Summerside People’s Cemetery with full air force honours. He is also remembered on several public memorials in Australia including the historic Wilberforce Park war memorial that remembers those from the local area who served in the two world wars.

Richard says, “I continue to research Canadian newspapers and connect with history groups to try to learn more about John Leighton Buttsworth’s time in Canada. I’ve even shared with Judy the type of music Jack could have listened to while he was in Prince Edward Island.”

Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand which commemorates those who served in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations. This date was chosen as it marks the anniversary of the Gallipoli Campaign when WWI troops landed April 25, 1915 on the Gallipoli Peninsula (Turkey), where both Australia and New Zealand incurred mass casualties over eight months.

Anyone is welcome to attend the remembrance on Sunday, April 25th at 4:00 p.m. at Jack’s grave in Summerside People’s Cemetery. The best access is from Maple Grove Road and his grave is near vault. COVID protocols will be in place.

Note:

Originally, the aerodrome in Mt. Pleasant was a Relief Landing Field for No. 9 Service Flying Training School located nearby, but in 1943, it became a bombing and gunnery school with 44 buildings, including 5 hangars, and 1800 personnel. It was closed in 1945.