I’ve driven past Thornton Garden of Rest many, many times as it’s on my route to Anfield but I’ve only had one occasion to go through the black iron gates. That was for my first experience of bereavement when my granddad was cremated there in October 1992. So it was with a slight sense of unease that I drove through those gates looking for the graves of two of The Few, Kenneth Macleod Gillies and John Fraser Drummond.
Thornton itself is in the Borough of Crosby, roughly seven miles north of Liverpool city centre but only six miles from my home. It’s hard to believe that I’ve lived so close to two of The Few all my life. A picture of John Drummond’s grave in the book The Battle of Britain Then and Now, taken in the late 1970s, shows the base apparently covered with green glass chippings. Right now the grave is in need of some repair.
I pulled up weeds and grass then stepped back to read the inscription on the headstone. Under the RAF brevet it says,
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
F/O JOHN FRASER DRUMMOND
BORN 19 OCT 1918, KILLED IN ACTION IN THE
BATTLE OF BRITAIN 10 OCT.1940.
“HE FLEW THROUGH WINGED DEATH
TO REACH THE SKIES”
ALSO HIS FATHER
WILLIAM HASTINGS DRUMMOND
DIED 24. SEPT 1967.
John was killed in action just nine days before his 22nd birthday. The reality of just how young the Fighter Boys of 1940 were hit me hard so I decided then and there to make John Fraser Drummond DFC the first of The Merseyside Few I would write about.
It’s a mild Sunday morning in October 2009 and I’ve just parked my car in Warbreck Road, Walton. I cross over at the traffic lights and head down Moss Lane. Orrell Park train station is on my left as I start looking for number 70. The road bends round to the left and it’s clear number 70 is a little further than I thought. There’s a mixture of houses along the way and I wonder if this is a result of bombing by the Luftwaffe in the Blitz of August and September 1940. How ironic that John was fighting the Luftwaffe himself at that time.
I arrive at number 70 which was the maternity home where John Fraser Drummond was born on 19 October 1918. It’s in the middle of a row of two up two down terraces. If the Luftwaffe had hit Moss Lane, they had missed John’s birthplace. The premises are now an outlet of Sayers The Bakers, the largest independent pasty retailer in the north-west of England, established in Liverpool in 1912. Sadly it was closed. But now I know John Drummond’s connection to Liverpool. He was born here.
While walking back towards my car it occurs to me that I must be following the route John’s father, William Hastings Drummond, did almost exactly 90 years ago, when he headed back to the Drummond family home, the proud father of a healthy son. I arrive outside 47 Warbreck Road and pause for a few moments reflection. If it’s the original building, it’s the first of the larger semi detached houses in the road. So, who were the Drummonds and how did John become a decorated fighter pilot at the age of 21?