SERGEANT JOHN TOMPKINS Observer 35 Squadron
During 2001 the WHMS Secretary was given a photograph showing a Royal Air Force burial party at a
churchyard in the Salisbury area immediately prior to WWII.
The burial party was made up of personnel from 16 Squadron, stationed at RAF Old Sarum. Following some research it was discovered that the burial was for Sgt John Tompkins a RAF Observer with 35 Squadron based at RAF Cottesmore.
He had been killed along with the rest of the crew of his Fairy Battle light-bomber(pilot Plt Offr GL Cooper, Air
Gunner AC2 Sweeney) in a night flying training accident on 5 May 1939.
The body of Sgt Tompkins was returned for burial at St. Johns church, West Grimstead, Salisbury. No headstone was provided at the time to mark the grave and the Wiltshire Historical Military Society felt that as Sgt Tompkins was training for war, his grave should be marked in the same way as if he had died after 3 September 1939.
To obtain a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone it was necessary to provide proof of a service funeral. Although the photograph proved this there was no supporting documentary evidence available.
The WHMS therefore set out to raise the money to provide an identical headstone. This was achieved and on Sunday 5 May 2002 a dedication service was held at the graveside. The service was conducted by Canon Michael Ward and attended by the sister and daughter of Sgt Tompkins and other family members. Representatives of the Salisbury branches of the RAFA, Aircrew Association, Royal British Legion and WHMS were also in attendance.