The medals of Flight Sergeant Francis McCluskey have been donated to Ballymoney Museum by the WWII airman’s family and will be placed on permanent display later this month.
The Flight Sergeant’s elderly cousins presented the precious medals to the people of the Borough during a private ceremony in Ballymoney Town Hall which was hosted by Mayor Michelle Knight-McQuillan.
Flight Sergeant Francis Anthony McCluskey was only 20 years old when he took off on a mission to Osnabrück on 6 October 1942 in a Halifax bomber. He had joined the RAF after leaving Ballymoney four years earlier and was now an experienced air gunner with many missions over Germany. At midnight, the Halifax plane was attacked by an enemy fighter over Utrecht, Holland and the crew were forced to bail out. Flight Sergeant McCluskey’s parachute did not deploy and he was killed when he came down among trees in the Prattenburg Estate, beside the town of Rhenen.
The lifeless body of Flight Sergeant McCluskey was found early the next morning by a young Dutch girl, Jannie van Beek Pol, as she cycled through the forest with her father. Jannie lifted a small cap which she found near the airman’s body, in the hope that she could eventually return it to his family. Flight Sergeant McCluskey was buried a few days later in Rhenen by the German army, with full military honours.
In 2014, links were established between Rhenen and Ballymoney and the cap which Jannie found was brought home from Holland and presented to the McCluskey family. The family kindly donated it to Ballymoney Museum. A few months later, two members of Francis’ family, Patricia McCluskey and Paul O’Brien, were joined by the Mayor of Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council and museum staff on a visit to Rhenen as guests of the Dutch people. During their stay in Rhenen, a special public ceremony was held at the grave of Flight Sergeant McCluskey. It was here at the graveside that Jannie van Beek Pol was introduced to Paul and Patricia for the first time. Sadly, within weeks of this visit, Jannie passed away.
Keith Beattie, Museum Manager said: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank the family of Flight Sergeant McCluskey for this generous donation. The medals will be a key exhibit in our permanent gallery and Francis’ poignant story will serve to remind future generation of the sacrifices made by so many of our local men and women during WWII.”
The medals of Flight Sergeant McCluskey will be on public display for the first time, beside the cap, as part of the forthcoming WWII exhibition “Fate of our Nations” which runs at Ballymoney Museum from Saturday 15 August - Saturday 31 October. Coinciding with the opening of the exhibition, the Ulster Aviation Society will be bringing their Spitfire to Ballymoney on 15 & 16 August as part of a weekend of commemoration for the Battle of Britain led by Ballymoney First Presbyterian Church.
For more details contact Ballymoney Museum, Townhead Street, Ballymoney, Tel: 028 2766 0230, opening hours Monday-Thursday & Saturday 9am-5pm and Friday 9am-4.30pm, admission free.