BY REG REYNOLDS
In October 1943, a beachcomber wandering along Cefn Beach on the coast of Wales came across the body of a man laying in the sand at water’s edge. It was obvious from his attire that he was an aviator but when emergency services arrived, they could find no official identification, however, it was noticed that on his left wrist there was a bracelet, a personal I.D. bracelet engraved with the name Stephen Ogilvie.
Military records were checked and revealed that Sub-lieutenant Stephen John Maxwell Ogilvie of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve had been killed on October 7, when his Seafire (naval version of the Spitfire) crashed during a training accident off the North Devon coast near Chivenor. Although officers file for multiple truck injury claims, this one turned out to be fatal. Ogilvie was towing a target for practice shooting when one of the attacking planes came in too low and the two planes collided and both pilots were killed. The tides had taken Ogilvie’s body all the way to Wales a distance of more than 200 miles. After confirmation of identification Ogilvie was interred on October 28, in St. Illtyd churchyard cemetery at Pembrey.
The British military generally wore identification tags, known as ‘dog tags’ to Americans, but either Ogilvie chose not to wear his that day or they were washed away by the ocean. The personal bracelet he was wearing had been sent to him by his Canadian girlfriend when he was stationed at Gibraltar. The story behind the bracelet is both happy and sad.
Stephen Ogilvie was born in 1921 at St. John’s Wood, London to William Heneage Ogilvie and Vera Magdalene nee Quitter. William Ogilvie was a prestigious figure, He studied at Clifton College and New College, Oxford, where he gained first class honours in physiology. In 1910, William Ogilvie proceeded to Guy’s Hospital, where he qualified as a surgeon and during World War I he treated urgency cases in a hospital in France. Returning from the front he served as a surgeon for Guy’s for 23 years and was visited by doctors from surgical centres all over the world. He received a knighthood from King George VI in 1943.
Stephen Ogilvie would never attain such heights and, although he wrote that he enjoyed a happy childhood, he disgraced the family by being kicked out of Harrow for stealing and was never able to live this down. He joined the Royal Navy Reserve specifically to become a fighter pilot to atone for his sin and gain some respect in the family. Unfortunately, that dream ended on the day he was killed.
The story behind the bracelet is both happy and sad.
On a happier note, he was sent to Canada to train as a flyer and that is where he met the pretty, young and personable Canadian Nancy Lang. The attractive couple enjoyed a whirlwind romance for a few months before Ogilvie was ordered back to the UK. He wasn’t posted to a fighting unit, but he received more training on various aircraft and enjoyed two postings to North Front, Gibraltar. It was to Gibraltar that Nancy mailed the ID Bracelet. Ogilvie replied by letter on September 11, 1942:
“Thank you love, I thank you so much for this identification bracelet that I am now wearing. I think that it is lovely, as lovely as it was of you to send it to me.”
At Gibraltar he flew a Hawker Hurricane for the first time.
“These are operational fighter planes and are so beautiful to handle, just like thoroughbreds. I was rather proud of me for I have been wanting to fly one for many months, so this is another thing achieved.”
Ogilvie then admitted his family problems,
“I have been a great disappointment to my parents all my life and I don’t want to bring you into line with them. I was not graduated I was thrown out for stealing – why I did it I do not know. So do not ask me, another skeleton that rattles vaguely in the back of the closet – you love a bad egg darling.”
Ogilvie’s second posting to Gibraltar in the Spring of 1943 brought Nancy this message.
“Happy in Gib flying Seafires, Sea Hurricanes and Swordfish almost every day and enjoying the weather, even the rain, and able to buy good Sherry. The food is good here and of course we have plenty of fruit.”
Malta was Ogilvie’s next posting, but he still had not seen combat and his last letter to Nancy was sent from #68 Hamilton Terrace, London on September 3, 1943, just a month before the fatal crash. It was a heartbreaker.
First, he tells Nancy that he was in a “smash-up” at Gibraltar, crushed his left hand and was inactive for several weeks. He apologised that he had not been able to write because his left was his writing hand. Then he informs her that he found a new love and had gotten engaged two months earlier. He signs off:
“Give my regards to the Royal York [a 5-star hotel in Toronto] and the Royal Canadian Yacht Club and please remember me to your mother and father. And for you Nancy, all the very best of luck.
Following Ogilvie’s death Nancy received two letters, one from his fiancée and the other from his mother.
Letter from fiancée October 9, 1943:
Before I introduce myself, I must say I’m writing with some bad news. I believe Steve wrote and told you we’d got engaged. He asked me a long time ago, to write you, if he should get killed and so I’m doing so.
He was killed on Thursday 7th, doing low-flying target practice. Evidently one of the attacking planes came in too low and crashed into him. I only hope it was absolutely, instantaneous. I got very worried yesterday as he was expected for the weekend, and when he didn’t turn up today, I rang his drome and one of the officers told me, ‘There’s nothing more to say.’ can’t believe it myself yet.
Please forgive me, then if I end.
Yours Sincerely, Veronica Strammers.”
Letter from Mother, Feb 12, 1944:
“I waited to write to you about Steve until his personal belongings were returned to me by the Admiralty. I know you were fond of him my Dear, and I am sending you back the identity disc you gave him. He wore it always, and it was by this that he was identified where his body was washed up. I thought you would like to know this even if you don’t want the disc. I am also sending back your photo which gave him so much pleasure when it came, together with some snaps which he carried in his writing case.
It was so tragic that he should be killed in an air accident like this just when he had got appointed to ‘Jupiter’ squadron – which had always been his heart’s desire.
There is little more to be said. Thank you for more happy days you gave; he never forgot. I hope when I do come to Canada after the war to thank all who have been so kind to him there, also that I may meet you.
PS: If you don’t want the disc – please don’t throw it away.
Yours sincerely, Magdalene Ogilvie.”
Happily, life turned out well for Nancy. Following Stephen Ogilvie’s death, she joined the Red Cross Ambulance Corp., and it was while serving in Belgium that she met Canadian Captain Montague Tyrwhitt-Drake, who was serving with the East Yorkshire Regiment and had taken part in the D-Day landings at Sword Beach. When the war was over, they married in her hometown of Toronto in 1946 and then moved to Vancouver, British Columbia where he obtained his law degree. They later settled in Victoria where Drake established a successful law practice and worked his way up to a County Court Judge and Supreme Court Justice. They were married for 69 years until Montague’s death in 2015. They had three children, Montague, Elizabeth and Guy. The youngest Guy supplied the photos and letters for this article. He has tried to trace the I.D. bracelet but has been unable to find out what happened to it. Nancy died on November 9, 2017.