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News > Announcements > Obituaries > ROBERT BEATTIE CONNELL (36-38)


11 May 2021

Robert Beattie Connell (36-38) died in an air crash on July 12, 1951, aged 30 or 31, as the OP Society learned in 2021. He was a Flt Lt RAF who had been awarded the DFC in 1946 for actions against the Japanese air force in Burma in 1945.

At the Nautical College, Connell became a Cadet Leader and was in Form V when he left. In 1938 he was vice-captain of the Hockey 1st X1 playing at inside-forward. The Log described him as “a very good vice-captain who continued as Captain of the side later in the term. Energetic in organising practices and practiced very hard himself throughout the term. His speed helps him considerably in penetrating a defence for which he has often been yards too fast, but his dribbling has not reached a very high standard—many times hitting the ball too far in front of him with only the goalkeeper to beat. Shoots extremely hard and accurately.”

The following term he won his Colours in the cricket 1st X1 averaging 33.75 with the bat despite having “little pretension to style” and being known for his “brilliant fielding.”    


In both team photos Connell appears with Richard Shuttleworth, another future RAF pilot, who was killed in action in 1941.

Leaving the sea in 1940, Connell, like a number of other OPs, joined the RAFVR in 1941 and eventually was posted to 17 Squadron, a fighter squadron flying Hawker Hurricanes and, later, the Supermarine Spitfire. Early in 1942 the squadron was deployed to the Far East to reinforce British forces resisting the Japanese offensive in the Arkan peninsula in Burma. Following the Allied retreat to India, what was left of the squadron re-formed in India and, in 1943, moved to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Connell flew defensive patrols during the retreat to India, took part in the siege of Imphal and supported Orde Wingate’s Chindit expedition.

In late-1944, as Allied forces pushed south back into Burma from India, 17 Squadron played a leading role in taking on the Japanese air force. Connell is recorded as having shot down two Japanese aircraft – the first on February 18, 1945 around the central town of Myinmu and the second on April 29, 1945 near the city of Toungoo in southern Burma as well as putting out of action two trains and other transports during the advance on Rangoon. In November 1946 he was awarded the DFC. The Citation for his DFC stated: “This officer has shown outstanding keenness and has set an exceptionally high standard of flying and navigation in the face of arduous conditions.”

After the war, Connell remained in the RAF, serving with 17 Squadron until it was disbanded in March 1951, being promoted to Flt Lt in 1948. On July 12, 1951 he was test flying Hawker Sea Fury TF897 from Farnborough airfield to RAF Tangmere, near Chichester, “investigating trim changes with different speed and power settings” according to information provided by the Aviation Safety Network. The aircraft in question had twice struck the ground in “hard” landings but been repaired. On this occasion it sustained engine failure and stalled on its approach to RAF Tangmere and disintegrated on impact with the ground, killing Connell.

It is not known when or where Connell was buried and, until 2021 when a search was undertaken for the oldest living OP, his death “killed in a flying accident” had not been recorded by the College.

[Editors’ Note: For 70 years Robert Connell was on the ‘Lost’ OP List. In 2021, as part of an effort to discover the oldest living OP, his death in 1951 was discovered. With thanks to Wing Cdr Rob Sargent (61-65) and Col Mike Nicholson (57-61) for their help compiling this obituary] 

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