Memorial unveiled for fallen WW2 pilot at Stirling

A memorial to a Belgian fighter pilot who died when he crash landed a Spitfire near Stirling during the Second World War has today (29 Jan) been unveiled to mark the tragic event’s 80th anniversary.

Stirling Provost Douglas Dodds and Lord Lieutenant Alan Simpson with the grand nephews of Henri Delabastita at the unveiled memorial
Stirling Provost Douglas Dodds and Lord Lieutenant Alan Simpson with the grand nephews of Henri Delabastita

Henri Jeanne Paul Delabastita died when he crashed near the North Third reservoir on 29 January 1943 on return to RAF Balado Bridge following a training exercise. It is believed the crash was caused by the oxygen feed icing up while flying at a high altitude.

While Henri was buried locally, the crash site was undisturbed for nearly 60 years. His aircraft, a Spitfire named Gibraltar, was left submerged in the bog and was not fully recovered until 2000.

At the time of the crash, Henri was serving as an RAF Voluntary Reserve pilot. He had made his way to Britain after being held in the infamous German prisoner of war camp, Colditz, and it is claimed he escaped from the notorious medieval fortress.

Thanks to the efforts of local volunteers and veterans, a permanent memorial to the fallen pilot was today unveiled, 80 years after his death.

Image of Henri Delabastita
Henri Jeanne Paul Delabastita was serving as an RAF Volunteer Reserve Pilot at the time of his crash

A Fitting and Proper Memorial

Members of Henri’s family flew over from Belgium for the special ceremony, which was also attended by Stirling Provost, Douglas Dodds; the Lord Lieutenant, Alan Simpson; RAF dignitaries; volunteers who uncovered the crash site; and representatives from the charity ERSKINE.

Provost Douglas Dodds said: “On behalf of the people of Stirling, it’s a privilege to unveil a fitting and proper memorial to the life of an Allied hero of the Second World War. Henri Delabastita served with distinction in his home country before playing a valuable role in Britain’s war efforts after having been detained at Colditz. We are honoured that some of Henri’s family could attend this special commemorative event, and this plaque ensures his memory and sacrifice will never be forgotten.

“I also pay tribute to the dedicated work of the volunteers who recovered the remnants of the Spitfire that crashed here in Stirling, as well as those who put in the time and effort to create this beautiful memorial so that we may remember this remarkable man and this chapter in Stirling’s history.”

"A Strange and Poignant Experience"

Dirk Delabastita, the grandnephew of the late pilot said: “It is a strange and poignant experience for us to be part of this memorial event and to witness the unveiling of the plaque personally dedicated to our great-uncle.

“In our lives, our great-uncle Henri has always been – very paradoxically – both a presence and an absence. A presence because both our dad and our grandad so often spoke with obvious pride, and invariably repeating the same anecdotes, about their heroic uncle and brother. This gave Henri a somewhat legendary status within our small family.

“Being here helps us as a family to imagine our great-uncle as the real person that he was – someone who walked the earth – albeit as little as possible, because he was most in his element flying high above it.

“We are extremely grateful to the Provost and Stirling Council, to the archaeologists, the builders and the artists, the sponsors, organisers and volunteers past and present who made this commemoration and monument possible. We feel honoured as a family and are moved by your generosity.”