Geoff Button made the pilgrimage to pay his and the families’ respects to Geoffrey Avern and Philip Crossan
Eighteen months ago, we reported on the ceremony at the British Cemetery in Huelva to honour two allied airmen who were killed when their Beaufighter crashed near Gibraleón on April 19, 1942. The Australian pilot Sergeant Geoffrey Avern and English navigator Sergeant Philip Crossan were flying the plane from Cornwall to Gibraltar.
The British Cemetery, adjoining the Catholic Cemetery where ‘The Man Who Never Was’ (WW2 Operation Mincemeat) is buried, is overgrown and had sadly been neglected until a group of Tavira residents set to work to enable the ceremony to take place on the April 19 last year, marking the 80th anniversary of the crash. High-ranking military personnel from the Australian and British embassies attended the event.
Organiser Chris Wright said: “Geoffrey was born in Gunnedah (New South Wales), so I got in touch with the local historical society which resulted in the Gunnedah Times featuring the story on their front page.”
Subsequently, a member of Geoffrey Avern’s family made contact and said that Geoffrey’s mother’s dying wish was that someone from the family visited the grave. Now, 81 years after that fateful day, Geoff Button made the pilgrimage to pay his and the families’ respects to Geoffrey Avern and Philip Crossan, thus closing a chapter in the family’s history.
Geoff Button was full of praise for the group who last year organised the special ceremony which has resulted in the local authority, together with the Bishop of Madrid, drawing up plans for the renovation of the site.
Gladys Méndez Naylor, daughter of Dona Isabel Naylor de Méndez who for many years tended the graves and was awarded an MBE by HM Queen Elizabeth II, has been instrumental in co-ordinating the local interest and recently had a meeting on site with the archaeologist and architect responsible for the work.
There are over a hundred graves in the British Cemetery, many of them relating to former workers at the Minas de Riotinto, north of Huelva.
Three of the graves are of the wife and two young children of Dr William Mackay from Caithness in Scotland, who was in charge of the welfare of the miners and their families. In addition, William tended to the local poor for free on Thursdays.
William Mackay was named an adopted son of the city of Huelva in 1923, and the street he lived in was named after him. On receiving this honour, he said: “The greatest sadness of my life I have suffered in Huelva, and here I have enjoyed the greatest happiness, too.”
As one Australian family can finally honour a lost son, they can further reflect that his final resting place will be a fitting tribute where he and many others can rest in peace.