Northern Ireland

Eric Hunter: Daughter of WW2 pilot visits Belfast grave over 70 years after fatal crash

Jill Rivers
Image caption Jill Rivers visited her father's grave at Belfast City Cemetery

Jill Rivers was just a four-month-old baby back in New Zealand when her father died at the controls of a Wellington bomber which crashed in the Mourne mountains in March 1942.

Now, more than 70 years later, Jill has finally been reunited with her father Eric Hunter by visiting his grave, in the Commonwealth war graves section of Belfast City Cemetery.

Describing it as an overwhelming moment, 73-year-old Jill carried a photograph of her father, who was just 25 when the plane he was piloting crashed just above Donard forest near the seaside resort of Newcastle in County Down.

Weather conditions were bad at the time the plane crashed on a flight from a wartime airfield in England.

Now, while placing an Anzac poppy beneath his headstone, Jill has reflected on the seven decades and thousands of miles they had been apart.

"It is special but it is surreal, after all these years here he is, this is his resting place," she said.

On a sunny spring afternoon Jill surveyed the Belfast hills above the cemetery and thought it the right setting for her father's grave.

'Sacrifice'

"He was a man of the mountains, he met my mother on a mountain, Mount Cook, the tallest mountain in New Zealand where he was a guide, and I have an idea he offset the horror of wartime when he was flying by picturing himself back on those slopes," she said.

Image caption Eric Hunter died after his plane crashed above Donard forest in March 1942

Joining Jill at her father's grave was Northern Ireland man Bryan Johnston.

Last autumn, Bryan was speaking at a Rotary Club meeting in a suburb of Christchurch called Belfast when he was approached by 92-year-old Alan Hunter who told Bryan about his brother's wartime crash near Newcastle and asked him to seek out his grave and make sure the headstone was being cared for.

Then, three weeks ago, Bryan got an email from New Zealand.

This time it was from Alan Hunter's niece, the daughter of the pilot who had been at the controls of the Wellington bomber.

Jill Rivers wanted to travel to Northern Ireland and visit her father's grave.

Image caption Ms Rivers placed an Anzac poppy beneath the headstone of her father's grave

Now standing amongst the Commonwealth war graves in Belfast cemetery, Jill reflects on her father's short life and the sacrifice made by so many of his generation.

"Its very important to me, my children and to my grandchildren. I will be sending the photographs taken today to my grandchildren in New Zealand and Australia so that they can think about them on Anzac day," she said.