Alexander Aitken (Alec) was the eldest son of James Aitken and Jeanie Aitken nee Smith.He was born in the Maryhill district of Glasgow, Scotland, on the 24th November 1910. He was the eldest of five children. He had three sisters, Eleanor, Margaret and Jean, and a young brother, James.
By the time the first world war started, the family had moved to the Springburn district of Glasgow where there was plenty of work in the five steam locomotive factories for the expanding railways of the Empire. Alec went to the local Gourlay Street Primary school after which he trained as a boiler maker. He worked in this trade for some time. His hobby was photography, something he excelled at. He often entertained his siblings and friends with “magic lantern shows” which they enjoyed very much.His photographic equipment was of a high quality and was well maintained. It still exists including the original instruction books. When the Depression hit in 1929, Alec decided to change his life and applied to join the RAF. He was accepted into the RAF and, after training, he was sent to India to join the 20th Air Corps Squadron who were based in Peshawar in the North West Frontier of India (now in modern day Pakistan). He served here for many years and his photograph albums show he had a great time there, travelling and taking photographs.
In 1939, he was posted back to the UK before the outbreak of war. He was based with 37 Squadron in RAF Feltwell as part of Bomber Command.When Alec came home on leave for what was to be the last time, he told his brother that his plane had been going on raids daily and that they had several close calls. He said he thought their luck could not last, and unfortunately, he was correct. His plane did not return from an operation soon after, on the 7th July 1940. A series of letters, still treasured by the family, tell the story of how they came to learn of Alec’s last mission aboard R3236:
7th July 1940:-A letter received by Alec’s mother from the RAF said Alec was missing. This letter would have been received by all of the families of the crew.
29th August 1940: Letter from RAF reporting that a telegram to the International Red Cross from the Germans had stated that Alec and the rest of the crew had been killed in action.
16th December 1940 letter from the RAF stated that on the evidence they had, Alec was presumed to have been killed in action on the 7th July 1940 and that for legal purposes he died on that day.
Alec’s sister Jean was married to a pilot in coastal command, Flight Sergeant Frank Hawkins. He was also posted as missing in action and was never found. In 1952, Jean was sent a form to fill in her husband’s details for the memorial for missing airmen at Runnymede. When she returned the form, she told them her brother was also missing. They replied that he was no longer listed as missing and told her to contact the Air Ministry which she did.
1st April 1952: Letter from RAF stating Alec was buried in the Sage War Cemetery near Oldenburg, Germany. Jean flew out immediately to visit the grave.
2nd May 1952: Letter from the RAF detailed how the “Missing Research and Enquiry branch” had found the crash site in 1947 and the grave in Jever. They reported that the crew’s remains had been exhumed and re-interred in the Commonwealth War Grave Commission’s Cemetery at Sage. They included a photograph of the original cross. The letter also told the family that, apart from F/O Lindsay, all of the crew’s remains were in a shared plot as they had been unable to identify the individual bodies.
Alec’s mother died three weeks after receiving this letter, happy in the knowledge that they had found “her boy”. Alec’s name, and the fact that he was killed in action, has been was added to his parents’ gravestone in Cadder Cemetery, outside Glasgow.
Having found out about the Aitken Family gravestone in Cadder Cemetery, Caroline Kesseler and Jack Waterfall managed to make contact with Alec’s nephew Gordon Inglis, after an article in the local newspaper highlighted the R3236 project. Gordon attended many of the events taking place during 2015 and 2016 and travelled with the group to Jever.
“Uncle Alec and his brother-in-law, uncle Frank’s sacrifice are always remembered by our family. Requiescant in pace”