David Crossley Tattersfield’s family had moved away from West Yorkshire. His grandfather Crossley Tattersfield was born in Ravensthorpe in 1864, married a York girl, and moved to Knaresborough between 1881 and 1891, where he ran the Union Inn.
One of his sons, Edwin Crossley (Teddy) Tattersfield, married Olive May Willetts from Birmingham, where their only child David Crossley was born on 28 May 1926. Teddy had fought in World War 1, and is listed in the table in Section 3 above.
On 21 April 1947 David was awarded a Certificate as a Cadet Pilot, taken on a DH82A at 15 E.F.T.S.
David joined the RAF about the end of World War 2, and was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in February 1948. A few months later he was sent to the Middle East, at a time of hostilities between Egypt and the Israelis. The declaration of the new state of Israel was to be signed soon afterwards, on 14 May 1948.
On the morning of 7 Jan 1949, an RAF tactical reconnaissance was being flown near the Egyptian/Palestinian border, with orders not to cross from Egyptian into Palestinian air space. Close to the border town of Rafiah one of the aircraft, a Spitfire, was hit by ground fire, and the pilot baled out. While the other three pilots in the formation were preoccupied in watching to see where their comrade would land, they were attacked by Israeli fighters, also Spitfires, and all three were shot down. Two pilots baled out, and one was killed. Of the three pilots who baled out, one was picked up by Bedouin in Egypt, and returned to base. The other two were captured by the Israelis.
The same afternoon the RAF mounted another tactical reconnaissance. The aircraft were attacked by Israeli fighters and returned fire. One RAF Tempest was shot down, and its pilot killed. He was Pilot Officer David Crossley Tattersfield, aged 22.
Four days later, on 11 Jan., three United Nations military observers from Tel Aviv went to the French Hospital in Jaffa. They escorted the body, together with an Israeli Liaison Officer and a guard of honour composed of Israeli Military Police, to the British Military Cemetery in Ramleh. The burial service was conducted by Rev. Roger Allison, and attended by Mr. Marriott, British Consul in Haifa.
The news of David’s death in England was carried in many newspaper articles, such as those below which include columns from the local Droitwich & Redditch Weekly.
David’s parents sent a card to their many sympathisers.
In Loving Memory
our Dearly Beloved only Child
David Crossley Tattersfield,
Aged 22 years.
Killed on Reconnaisance Flight in Egypt
January 7th 1949.
David’s Mother and Father
do earnestly thank you for
your kind letter of sympathy
which has been a great comfort
to them in their tragic loss.
31 Mill Lane,
Questions about David’s death were raised in the House of Commons on 19 January 1949, as recorded in Hansard. Mr. Blackburn asked the Secretary of State for Air, Mr. A Henderson, “as to the circumstances in which the Press were notified by the R.A.F. authorities of the death of 3051236 Pilot Officer David Crossley Tattersfield before his parents had been informed”. Mr Henderson replied: “A telegram informing Pilot Officer Tattersfield’s parents that their son was missing and believed killed was despatched at 11.49 a.m. and delivered at 4.15 p.m. on Sunday, 9th January. No such information was given by my department to the Press until 5.37 p.m. I am advised that Mr. and Mrs. Tattersfield’s address, which enabled the Press to approach them, was probably obtained from a message which originated with an Israeli spokesman in Tel Aviv and was received by the Press at 1.49 p.m. on the Sunday. I am sure the House will join me in sympathy with Mr. and Mrs. Tattersfield in the loss of their son and in the regrettable circumstances in which it was made known to them.”
A Court of Inquiry was held into the loss of five RAF fighters on the same day. Attention focussed on whether the aircraft had crossed the Palestinian border, as the Israelis claimed. The Court found that they had not, although David Tattersfield’s plane crashed and burned out on the Palestinian side of the border. There were suggestions that the Israelis had tried to cover up the locations of the wreckage of some of the aircraft. This version of events was contradicted in an Israeli statement to the United Nations in New York, which argued that the morning and afternoon flights had been thought to be hostile, the latter even carrying bombs.
The shooting down of five RAF aircraft was a matter of serious international importance. There are numerous de-classified records of it in the National Archives, some originally Secret or Top Secret. It also led to multi-party criticism of the British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, as reported on 16 Jan. 1949 in the Sunday Times-Signal of Zanesville, Ohio.
Among the records in the National Archives is the following remarkable letter, written to David’s father Teddy, but without the name of the author.
On 9 Feb. Teddy wrote to the Foreign Secretary asking whether the British Government would press for compensation from the Israelis for the loss of lives and aircraft. The draft reply indicates that the matter had been raised with Dr. Ralph Bunche, the former U.N. Acting Mediator in Palestine. After giving it the most careful consideration, he did not intend to make a report to the Security Council.
Teddy wrote again, asking for a photograph of David’s grave. The International War Graves Commission Custodian for Ramleh placed a wooden cross on the grave and arranged for a local photographer to visit. The cost was £1-12-0. IWG funds could not meet the cost, so a request for payment was sent from the British Legation in tel Aviv to the Eastern Department of the Foreign Office in London, asking them to send the photographs to Teddy, and to request that he pay the bill!
Teddy wrote again, requesting that David’s grave should have the normal military headstone. The draft reply, on behalf of the Foreign Secretary, said that there was no provision for the erection of such headstones in peacetime. He would ask the Air Ministry whether an exception could be made. Available correspondence does not show whether this modest request was ever met. Nor does it show whether Teddy ever paid the bill!
(The photographs and news cuttings in the above Article were kindly provided by Mrs. Edith Mary Andrews, nee Tattersfield).
Some photographs of the headstone and general surroundings of the grave of David Crossley Tattersfield have been obtained. These photographs were taken by Mr Morey Altman, a genealogist who lives near the Ramleh Military Cemetary. They are published here with Morey Altman’s kind permission.
Header Image: This painting, for which we regrettably can't identify the artist, memorializes an engagement that took place in the final hours of Israel's War of Independence (7th January, 1949). The Israeli spitfire in the foreground is that of Ezer Weizman, who many years later became the 7th President of Israel (1993-2000). Weizman is depicted in the act of attacking and severely damaging the Tempest MkVI of Douglas Liquorish (left of image), who survived the encounter and died at the age of 94 in 2019. The third plane in the scene is presumably the Tempest of David Crossley Tattersfield, which was shot down by American volunteer Bill Schroeder. David Tattersfield's plane was found four miles inside Israeli territory, and his body was initially buried near the crash site, but was subsequently removed to the British War Cemetery in Ramla. About 20 minutes after the action in this image took place, the War ended. Subsequent reports suggested that the British Tempests had not been prepared for the engagement: their external tanks could not be jettisoned and their guns were not fully operational. Painting by unknown war artist, entitled "The last battle of the war".