Islander honours Australian man killed on P.E.I. during WWII

·3 min read
This memorial now stands on the grounds of the old Mount Pleasant airport listing the names of those killed. It includes John Leighton
This memorial now stands on the grounds of the old Mount Pleasant airport listing the names of those killed. It includes John Leighton

Richard Newson was walking through the Summerside People's Cemetery one day when an odd headstone caught his eye.

Upon closer inspection, it was the grave marker of J.L. Buttsworth featuring the Australian coat of arms.

"There's got to be a story," Newson told Mainstreet host Matt Rainnie.

"How could a young Australian die in Summerside, so far from home, in wartime?"

Newson took his search to Ancestry, which was already a hobby of his.

It didn't take long before he was connected with a member of Buttsworth's family. She was also researching the 24-year-old Royal Australian Air Force member.

But she was stuck.

"They knew that he had died in Canada, but that's about all they knew. Of course, no one had ever visited. They didn't have a picture of a headstone or anything like that," Newson said.

Across the sea

He got in touch and offered to send her pictures of the gravestone.

Islander Richard Newson continues to visit Buttsworth's grave to mark anniversaries.
Islander Richard Newson continues to visit Buttsworth's grave to mark anniversaries.(Submitted by Richard Newson)

"We've become quite good internet friends since then and have written back and forth at least weekly," Newson said.

The two joined forces and were able to do some more investigating. They purchased some documents, including research from the Australian archive, his military service record and the accident investigation to try to determine how he died.

They learned that Buttsworth grew up in a small rural part of New South Wales in Australia, was a boy scout and eventually joined the army.

He trained in Australia and then travelled to the Middle East. He fought in many battles that served as a turning point in North Africa in 1942.

He then returned to Australia, where he moved from the army to the Royal Australian Air Force.

A tragic accident

This took him to Canada to train at the No. 10 Bombing and Gunnery School, which was located at a small airfield in Mount Pleasant, P.E.I., where he was on Feb. 16, 1945.

Reports at the time sent him to the grave 'unnamed' and that word always bothered me in the newspaper articles. — Richard Newson

"He was about to take off in a plane as crew. The pilot realized the parachutes in the plane were missing and ordered the third crew member to go back across the taxiway to the hangar and get them," Newson said.

"Buttsworth volunteered to go because his exit out of the plane was easier than the second guy. So he got out and then nobody knows what happened next, but there were several planes idling and one moving on the taxiway."

Newson and his research partner learned that the young man crossed the airstrip and was struck by the propeller of that moving plane, killing him instantly.

"It's been quite a journey … now we sort of feel like we know this guy," he said.

"We've given him more than a name and a stone."

Newson regularly visits the Summerside cemetery due to his other genealogical interests, but says he always feel drawn to this particular grave now 'to at least walk by and say g'day'.
Newson regularly visits the Summerside cemetery due to his other genealogical interests, but says he always feel drawn to this particular grave now 'to at least walk by and say g'day'. (Submitted by Richard Newson)

On Sunday, Newson held a small ceremony at the cemetery where the soldier is buried to mark Anzac Day, the national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand.

"We're hoping that in some sort of way, this does him justice. The [newspaper] reports at the time sent him to the grave 'unnamed' and that word always bothered me in the newspaper articles: 'He will go to the grave, unnamed'," he said.

The researchers aren't sure why that happened, but speculate it was perhaps due to a delay in notifying his family in Australia.

"He's going to have a name on Sunday for sure."

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