Years ago, I wrote a couple of blogs about a young Pennsylvanian who ran off to join the Royal Canadian Air Force before the U.S. entered World War II. Bob Riedy, a 1938 Allentown High School grad, became a pilot and was killed on a training flight in England.
Flight Sgt. Robert Harvey Riedy was co-piloting a Wellington medium bomber that crashed moments after taking off from a Royal Air Force base near Oxford. He and the pilot were killed on impact. The only other crewman, a gunner, survived with serious injuries.
This was Sgt. William John Donald Carter of the RAF Volunteer Reserve. His job was to man one of the Wellington’s .303 Browning machine guns.
I always wondered what became of Carter. Now, thanks to a reader in the U.K., I know more about him.
The accident happened at 1:25 p.m. March 18, 1942, at Mount Farm in Oxfordshire, a satellite base for No. 15 Operational Training Unit. Flight Sgt. C.G. Wiley of the RCAF was the captain/pilot of the twin-engine Wellington Mk. 1. During takeoff, the plane hit a stationary Hudson light bomber on the edge of the fire track, climbed 200 feet, stalled and crashed.
Carter would have been seated close to the wing root, the part of the wing nearest the fuselage. He was pulled from the wreckage and taken to Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, with serious but unspecified injuries. After that, the paper trail falls off. I tried in vain to find him or a relative, and in my blog three years ago, I said his fate was a mystery.
Enter Andrew Radgick, who lives in the town of Bracknell in Berkshire, England. He was trying to identify a Canadian airman killed in a plane crash there during the war. When he saw Riedy was listed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, he searched for him on Google and saw my blog about the Carter “mystery.” He took up my case on his own.
Using his U.K. subscription to Ancestry.com, Radgick found Carter. (That’ll teach me. I only have the U.S. subscription.) He was born December 11, 1921, in Southampton, making him 20 years old at the time of the Wellington crash. There were two possible marriages, one in 1943 and the other in 1956, and no children from either. He died in July 1997 in Southampton – a few years before I started looking for him.
Radgick sent me this information via my blog site, and when I got back to him, he offered to look for Carter’s siblings and see if there are any other relatives still alive. He wrote back saying he’d compiled Carter’s family tree. “Fortunately they continue to live in the Southampton area as the name Carter would otherwise be difficult to trace as it is so common.” There are two nephews, one born in 1945 and other in 1950.
With that, I searched Facebook and found two Carters who live in Southampton and seem to be the right ages. I sent Facebook messages to both, but it appears to be a dead-end. Weeks have passed, and neither has gotten back to me.
I knew that Carter survived the war, because the Commonwealth War Graves Commission doesn’t list him as a casualty. I still don’t know whether he got fit again and continued to fly with the RAF, or whether he was permanently grounded because of his injuries.
But thanks to Radgick, at least I know there was a postwar life for Carter, and he lived into his mid-70s.
This is the kind of reward we get when we start searching for the Fallen.