Lt Arthur "Haggie" Beane RNVR


Twenty years ago, on 11 November 1992, in company with one David Brown, I found myself in a muddy field in northern France, on the edge of Rauville la Place, a village in Lower Normandy.
It was pouring with rain and the smell of aviation fuel was strong in our nostrils as we examined the remains of a World War 2 Spitfire and the final resting place of a pilot, who we were later to discover was Lt Arthur Beane RNVR.
David Brown, a retired Fleet Air Arm Observer, was then the Head of the Naval Historical Branch and a renowned expert on the Spitfire and its maritime equivalent, the Seafire. Sadly he died a few years ago.
We were in Rauville la Place to examine the remains of the aircraft found in the field by Patrick Delahaye and Michel Rose, to see if we could throw some light on the case and, if possible identify the pilot. We had seen various artefacts, including items of uniform and flying clothing, and were examining the crash site.
As 11.00 struck on the village clock, David and I stopped what we were doing, where we stood, and held a two-minute silence, each of us with our own thoughts. At the end of the two minutes I turned round to face David and noticed that floating on the surface of the large puddle formed by the excavation, was a single poppy – thrown there by David.
I am sure you can imagine the strength of the image this lone poppy created. Despite having a camera in my hand, I did not take a photograph as I felt that to do so would ruin the extraordinary poignancy of this extremely personal moment: one former airman paying his respects to another whose body was somewhere about 10m from where we stood.
At that time we did not know the identity of the pilot, but we were determined to solve the case. Over dinner that night we both hoisted samples of the well-known local drink in the man’s memory.
I will not go into the details of our investigation here but I do recall when we realised we had finally identified the pilot whose aircraft had crashed in that field. One might even say it was an Archimedean ‘Eureka’ moment.

I was in the bath at home, with a scotch and soda to hand (I must have been away somewhere cold and wet, probably Salisbury Plain for the day), when the telephone rang. My wife shouted upstairs that it was David Brown, and I went downstairs to answer his call.
Earlier that day, we had come to the conclusion that we had a couple of possible names, but neither of us was convinced: there were too many anomalies. Nevertheless, we had decided to meet the following morning to go through the possibilities again. David was now ringing to say he had uncovered another, far more likely, possibility, named Beane, whose parents lived in St George’s Hill. Yet there were still a couple of points to resolve. We, again, agreed to meet the following morning, and I went back to my warm bath.
I had barely settled into the water when I leaped out again and rushed to phone David – my wife seems to recall I had even forgotten to don a towel.
“David, did you say the parents lived in St. George’s Hill? If so, Beane is almost certainly our man. One of those tailor’s bills found in the pocket of the jacket was from Beetham’s in Weybridge and he may have gone in there while visiting his parents.”
David agreed that it looked as if we may have cracked it.
The following morning he called up Beane’s file from the archive. We compared the signature on the tailor’s bill with the signature on his joining-up documentation, and were then able to state, categorically, that the pilot still lying in the field in Normandy was, Lt Arthur “Haggie” Beane, who had been shot down and killed on 26 November 1943.
In the course of our visit to Rauville, David and I had spoken, at length, to Marcel Petit, the farmer who owned the field. It was to us that M. Petit stated that he would erect a memorial to the as-then unidentified pilot still lying in his field. The memorial is there, today, built, erected and maintained by students from Charterhouse School: Arthur Beane was an Old Carthusian.
A couple of months later, I was present at “Haggie” Beane’s full military funeral and had the honour of talking at length to Beane’s aunt – his only surviving relative. A very moving occasion, on a foggy morning in northern France.
The firing party was all-female RN personnel: the first time ever in the history of the RN. They did an excellent job, despite them all having supped well on the well-known local spirit the night before.
Two particularly poignant entries from the Charterhouse Roll of Honour:

BEANEArthur HaggieLieutenant (A) RNVR. Born 10.6.17, elder son of Sir Francis and Lady Beane of St George’s Hill, Weybridge, Surrey. He was at Charterhouse 1931 – 1936 and Brasenose College, Oxford. He served with 805 Sqn in North Africa and became an instructor at HMS Heron. Temporarily attached to 165 (Ceylon) Sqn RAF, he was killed in action on 26.11.43, aged 26, when shot down in Spitfire IX MH905 (SK-G). He is buried in St Charles de Percy War Cemetery, grave II.B.10. A memorial near the crash site, dedicated on 8th May 1995, is maintained by pupils, ex-pupils and others associated with Charterhouse.

[TR="bgcolor: #CCFFFF"]
[TD="width: 20%"]BEANE[/TD]
[TD="width: 25%"]Peter Francis[/TD]
[TD="width: 55%"]Leading Airman RN. Born 15.8.18, younger son of Sir Francis and Lady Beane of St George’s Hill, Weybridge, Surrey. He was at Charterhouse 1932 – 1937 and Brasenose College, Oxford. From HMS Daedalus he was attached to Service Flying Training School No.1. He was killed on 20.3.41, aged 22, in a training accident at Netheravon, Wiltshire. He is buried in St Peter’s churchyard, Hersham, Surrey, grave C.9.8.[/TD]
[TD="width: 20%"][/TD]

Lest we forget.


Naval Gazer, the details of his service record came out in our investigation.

We also found Mrs Jessica Beane, his aunt, living on the Isle of Wight. As poignant, though, was the extraordinary luck we had "on the knocker", as it were, when a colleague knocked on a door in St George's Hill and was greeted by an elderly lady, a Mrs Freda Souter, who remembered she had been with Beane's mother, Lady Irene Beane (known as Rene) when she received the telegram about Arthur - bearing in mind she had lost her other son, Peter, in March 1941.
"Something wrong, Rene?" said Mrs Souter.
Lady Beane, who was looking out over the garden said quietly "Arthur's missing. Shall we play some bridge."

I also found the son of thechap whose rank tabs were found at the site, and the owner of the flying boots also found in the wreckage. I had a long conversation with the latter who lived in Canada. He told me he had written in his log book that day: : That b****r Beane has pinched my boots and aircraft, again". Of course he never saw them again. He sent me his logbook, but it never arrived: it went missing in the post.

I will add that, at the time, I was the Defence and Aviation Correspondent at the Daily Mail - a post I left about 6 weeks after this article appeared, and I left the world of journalism completely in 1995. Today when people ask about my time as a journalist, I tell them that the best thing I ever did on Fleet Street was this investigation, where I helped to identify a pilot who had been missing, believed dead, since 1943, with no known resting place. But we identified him and his final resting place is now known - even though no body was ever found.
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For the possible benefit of others conducting similar research at this solemn time:

Here is the entry for Lt Beane on the Commonwealth War Graves Commision (CWGC) website: Lt Arthur Haggie BEANE RNVR

This is where Lt Beane lies buried according to the CWGC website: St Charles de Percy War Cemetery, Calvados, France

As a naval serviceman, this is where his death is listed on (thanks to Don Kindle):

With regard to men and women of the United Kingdom Armed Forces (Regular and Reserve) who have been killed on duty or as a result of terrorist action since the Second World War, you can search for their name on the National Memorial's Roll of Honour via the Veterans UK website here and ascertain whether their name is inscribed on the memorial in the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas in Staffordshire.
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That's the one. I haven't seen it myself and only became aware of what it looked like a week ago - although I became aware that Charterhouse had done something a couple of years ago.

Last night, funnily enough while I was looking for something else, I came across a file with all the details of the investigation, copies of the photos of Beane, the artefacts etc, and the final official MoD report into the investigation written by David Brown.


I have a load of contemporaneous notes, as well as overheads (remember them?) of photos which I used to give a lecture on this investigation.
The lecture notes also contain a lot of technical details ref the aircraft, weapons on board - why did we find loads of chaff bundles, for instance - aircraft construction details and instruments found etc.
There is probably a site out there somewhere where others might like to share this info. Any ideas to where I can send the notes?