(William Storey Moore, 1941. Private Collection, with thanks.)
Some time ago, Britain at War Magazine published my article exploring the service details of two Battle of Britain pilots. (‘Battle of Britain Revealed. New Information on Australian Pilots’, Britain at War Magazine, Issue 75, July 2013.) I had been curious as to why two pilots long acknowledged as Australian were not honoured as such by the Australian War Memorial. After deeper research, I discovered that one of those pilots, Peter John Moore, was indeed Australian and the AWM duly acknowledged his connection on their commemorative roll. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P10031852 I also discovered that William Storey Moore was Irish.
The article included the scant details of William Storey Moore’s short life and death; I later put them up on my blog. Recently, a family member contacted me and shared what she knew about the Irish airman. Importantly, she revealed the true nature of Billy’s Australian connection which may have contributed to his attribution as one of the Australian ‘Few’. With her permission, I now share it with you.
William Storey Moore—or Billy as he was known to the family—was born in Dublin on 21 November 1916. His father was William Moore MA of 10 Frankford Park, Dundrum, Dublin. [Wikipedia tells me that it wasn't until Article 4 of the Irish constitution was adopted in 1937 by the government under Éamon de Valera that Éire was decreed asthe name of the state, or in the English language, Ireland.] His mother Ruby (née Bedford) had been born in Rockhampton, Queensland.
Ruby came to Ireland in about 1911 to visit relations. Her family wasn’t able to meet her when the boat docked so a cousin asked his friend William to greet her instead. Ruby and William married and soon started their family: Hugh Bedford (27 April 1915); Billy; Sidney (later Sydney) Alexander (24 January 1918); and Ruby Bedford (13 November 1918).
Billy was schooled in Dublin until 1932, possibly at The High School, which his brother Sidney attended. He continued his education in Australia between 1934 and 36 and spent some time on a property at Kellyville, northwest of Sydney, NSW (known as Bob’s Ranch). He also perhaps holidayed at Aspendale Beach, near Melbourne.
(Billy at Bob's Ranch. Private Collection, with thanks.)
Shortly after his return to the United Kingdom, he joined the RAF on a short service commission in June 1937. He began ab initio training on 24 May, was appointed acting pilot officer on 9 August 1937, and proceeded to 10 Flying Training School, Tern Hill on 21 August 1937. He was appointed Pilot Officer on 24 May 1938, service number 40007, and joined the FAA Pool at Gosport on 10 October. He was promoted to Flying Officer on 12 December 1939. Eire was officially neutral during the Second World War but Billy proudly wore his RAF wings. He had willingly sworn an oath to serve the English king and country. As a member of the Commonwealth, he also fought for his mother’s country, Australia.
(William Storey Moore, 1941. Private Collection, with thanks.)
Like other young men, Billy balanced love and family with service. At some point he met Celia Beck and they married on 4 July 1940, in St Peter’s Church, Over Wallop, Hampshire. Their son Liam (an Irish diminutive of William) was born on 9 November 1942.
(Billy and Celia, possibly on their wedding day. Private Collection, with thanks.)
When I discovered that Billy was not Australian, I reluctantly stopped researching his aerial career and focused on the young men featured in my Australian Eagles and Australia’s Few and the Battle of Britain. I thank my friend Geoff Simpson and his research for the most recent edition of Men of the Battle of Britain additional details of Billy’s service life.
Billy joined 236 Squadron at Martlesham Heath on 26 January 1940 (coincidentally given his Australian connection and heritage, Australia Day). There he flew Blenheims on anti-submarine patrols for Coastal Command (and, briefly, with Fighter Command). The squadron later moved to Mount Batten and, on 26 October, during the dying days of the Battle of Britain, he was appointed ‘C’ Flight Commander. On 19 November, Billy led his flight to RAF Aldergrove where it joined a flight from 235 Squadron to reform 272 Squadron. Billy was then appointed commander of 272 Squadron’s ‘A’ Flight. The squadron was originally equipped with Blenheims but later converted to Beaufighters. Billy flew his first sortie with the newly operational squadron on 23 November 1940. He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant on 3 December and then to Squadron Leader on 1 March 1942.
On 29 October 1943, Billy was posted to 143 Squadron, based at Portreath, Cornwall, flying Beaufighters. The squadron provided fighter support for anti-submarine aircraft operating over the Bay of Biscay. The 143 Squadron operations record book reveals that, at 9.50 a.m. on 24 December, six Beaufighters were detailed to carry out an interception over the Bay. They sighted two Heinkel He 177s. Squadron Leader Moore, who was flying Beaufighter ‘N’ JM160, engaged one of the Heinkels at 500 yards. It was his first combat since commencing his second tour. Billy closed, firing to 200 yards. Then, a vivid flash was seen in front of ‘N’, which broke in two and disintegrated. Billy and his navigator, Pilot Officer Philip Heslop Froment, were killed instantly. The squadron’s Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Edric Hartgill Hardy, later speculated in his combat report that ‘N’ was shot down because of its slow closing speed in the field of fire of the enemy’s rear cannon.
Wing Commander Edric Hardy’s sketch of Beaufighter ‘N’ JM160’s last moments. 143 Squadron Operations Record Book, National Archives UK, AIR 27/978
Billy and Froment are both honoured on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede and a brief outline of Billy’s life and service appears on http://www.bbm.org.uk/airmen/MooreWS.htm
Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede. (Personal collection.)
(Battle of Britain Monument. Personal collection.)
Billy’s death on Christmas Eve 1943, at the age of 27, was just one sadness which his family had to endure. Less than two years later, on 10 October 1945, his brother Hugh died. Then, on 31 May 1946, on the Isle of Wight, little Liam succumbed to peritonitis; he had been treated for gastroenteritis but had actually had a burst appendix. I can’t begin to imagine what Billy’s mother, Ruby, felt, losing two sons and a grandson in quick succession. Nor can I imagine Celia’s grief at the loss of her handsome husband of three years, and their cherished son, named after his father and grandfather. Celia later went to Australia, remarried a Mr McIntyre at some point, and lived in Brisbane. The Irish connection lost contact and knows nothing more of her.
So little is known about this young Irishman in the RAF who is numbered as one of ‘The Few’. But Billy lived well and served with courage. He is remembered within his extended family as a larger than life person who had been liked by everyone.
My concluding words of the Britain at War article where I revealed Billy’s Irish heritage were: ‘Now that William Storey Moore’s true nationality has been established, he can be honoured as an Irishman and commemorated as one of Ireland’s fallen. Hopefully, something more of his life and contribution—in particular his Battle of Britain service—will be discovered in his true homeland.’ Perhaps it has. I discovered today that there is a brief chapter about him in Ireland’s Aviator Heroes of WWII by John Mercer.
Vale Billy Moore, as we commemorate the 74th anniversary of his death.