b. 14/03/1906 Lurgan, Ireland. d. 12/04/1947 Levant, Israel.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 28/03/1947 Levant, Israel.
John Archibald Beckett (1906-1947) was born on 14th March 1906 in Lurgan, County Armagh, Ireland, the son of Samuel Nicholl and Elizabeth Swanton Beckett. By 1911, the family had moved to Donnybrook in County Antrim where John had two siblings, Eileen and James Morrison. His father worked as an Assurance Company Superintendent. There were later two more children born into the family, William and Samuel. Sadly both William and Samuel would be killed in action in World War II. William died with the Merchant Navy in 1941 and Samuel, a Warrant Officer in the RAF, was killed on 11th April 1943.
John was educated at St Enoch’s Public Elementary School, Belfast, and gained his first employment as a fitter for Coombe Barbour (Textiles) and Harland & Wolff (Shipyard). He enlisted with the RAF in July 1935, and his first role was as a rigging mate, before becoming a rigger, then a fitter. It is believed that he was evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940, before he served for two years in Canada (1942-1944), and his next recorded posting was to the Middle East on 21st February 1946 based at Hetropolis. He served there as a member of the ground crew for the aircraft.
On 28th March 1947, at RAF Station Ein Shemer, Levant, during a a refuelling operation on a Lancaster bomber of 38 Squadron, a violent fire suddenly broke out in the pumping compartment of the refuelling vehicle of which Beckett was the driver. He was enveloped by flames, setting him alight. Another airman beat out the flames, but Beckett was badly burned on the hands and face. At this time there was a grave risk that the main tank of fuel, containing over 2,000 gallons, would explode, destroying all 20 of the aircraft in the park and killing many of the aircrew. In spite of his injuries and pain, he got into the driver's seat of the burning vehicle and drove it a distance of 400 yards to a point outside the aircraft park, where it could do no further damage. He was then taken immediately to station sick quarters but sadly died of his injuries on 12th April 1947.
John was buried with full military honours at Khayat Beach War Cemetery. He was recommended for a posthumous George Cross, and his citation was published in the London Gazette on 16th December 1947. His George Cross was presented to his parents at an investiture at Buckingham Palace. Tragically, John was their third child to die in service. John’s medals including his GC, Defence Medal 1939-45 and War Medal 1939-45 were sold at auction at Christie’s Auction House on 20th November 1985 to a private buyer.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: PRIVATELY HELD.
BURIAL PLACE: KHAYAT BEACH WAR CEMETERY, ISRAEL.
PLOT D, ROW C, GRAVE 4.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
National Memorial Arboretum