“The best bunch of lads possible”: Anthony Antunovich and his war time photography

By Abigail Hartley, Searchroom Archivist

Please note that some of the language used in the original records includes offensive or insensitive terminology. The inclusion of these terms is to authentically represent the original document and is not an endorsement of said terms.

Some photographs are copyright of the London Illustrated News, now in the care of Mary Evans Picture Library.

Black and white photo of five people - three women and two men. In the centre is Tony in white Naval uniform. On the far right is Don, wearing a cotton short sleeved shirt and linen trousers. The women have their hair curled and are wearing printed blouses and light cardigans.
WSRO PH 29951/194 – Tony Antunovich in the centre with Mrs Mifsud, Gladys, Rosemary and Don

It is often the most unexpected searches that lead one down a rabbit hole. In my recent search for a suitable image for Canada Day (i.e. the anniversary of Canadian Confederation on the 1st July 1867) I came across and – in a phrase – fell in love with two photograph albums which had recently been catalogued under PH 29950 and 29951. The albums cover a short period in the life of a naval pilot during the Second World War through photographs of his friends, his training, and his travels.

Anthony Stuart Antunovich was born under the surname Hill in 1922. His mother, Agnes May, had remarried before he was born to Antonio Antunovich. It is his step-father’s name that Anthony would later take instead of Hill. The family travelled for much of his early life, but by the 1940s were settled in Golden Acre, Angmering-on-Sea. With the outbreak of the Second World War, Anthony (known as Tony) had enlisted in the Navy, and was posted overseas as part of his training. Tony served in the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserves (RNVR), and he seemed to have been trained as a telegraphist according to later records. If this meant he was a telegraphist air gunner or in general service I am unable to say.

It is in his photograph albums, filled with hundreds of images taken by himself and his friends, where an image of a gregarious and lively young man jumps out. It’s possible that, with the time Tony spent in Britain, the Caribbean, Canada, Madagascar, Gibraltar and Malta, he ended up becoming one of the most well travelled people in the County!

  • Portrait black and white image of the coast and mountainous landscape of St. Kitts.
  • Black and white portrait photograph of small wooden paddling boats - five in total - in the water at St. Kitts
  • Six photographs in two rows of three. Captioned as 'Shark (wings folded) proctor; 'Cumulus clouds'; 'Taking Departure from Galera Point'; Back-bearing of Galera Point'; 'Wind-Finding over Tobago'; 'Last leg back to Bocas'
  • Three black and white photographs in a row captioned: 'Pierre and Noreen'; Tony and Jackie; Noreen and Len. The phographs of Noreen feature her being carried under her arms and back by Pierre on the beach, both wearing swimwear, and smiling on the sand with Len. Tony and Jackie's photo features the man and woman - Tony in casual clothes, Jackie in white uniform, leaning against a car, palm trees in the background
  • Eight black and white photographs showing the parade participants and spectators.
  • Two black and white photographs of a parade featuring paper constructions of scaled down temples. Caption reads: "Hosein" Indian Festival. These monuments are made of paper and after being pulled around the streets they are burnt with much ceremony at night.

The album’s timeline begins part of the way through his training. He sailed to Trinidad with the 42nd Fleet Air Arm observer course, which took the best part of the Autumn and early Winter of 1941. Amongst the photos of flights and scenery are pictures of parties on beaches, carnivals and the many women the young men met on their travels. Described by Tony as paradise, the warm beaches of Trinidad were soon swapped for the ice and snow of Ontario.

  • Three photos showing the disembarkation off the ship at Greenock, Jeff Smith at Halifax, and a smiling pair, Eric and Captain.
  • Six black and white photos. Two of crew members in sailor uniform sitting at a table, and four images of the Atlantic Ocean, with ships visible on the horizon of the convey, and two photos of the HMS Repulse.
  • Three black and white photos showing the front and the garden of Mylands house. The third photo shows 'mother, dad, brutus, rusty [the two dogs] tea on the loggia'.
  • Three black and white photographs looking south west, south and south east along the beach at Angmering
  • Two rows of four photos. Captioned: 'mother and rusty'; 'cecily'; 'cecily and rusty'; 'mother with rusty and brutus'; 'tony 'the nelson touch'; 'tony, cecily and anthony'; cecily and tony; and 'tony - very serious'
  • Six photographs in black and white showing the first sight of the canadian coastline, the ship that carried him there and some of the men on the deck of the ship.

Just before Christmas 1941, after a brief stint back in Sussex, he set off for Canada with 28th and 29th pilot’s courses. Based at RCAF Station Kingston, this training ground was built by the Royal Canadian Air Force specifically for the use of the British Royal Air Force. The photos from this time are stunning, showing off Canada’s endless white plains and beautiful landscape. It also includes an aerial shot of Camp 31 at Fort Henry in Kingston, which served as an internment camp for German combatants and civilian internees during the early stages of the war.

  • Six black and white photos showing the men trying to ice-skate. Some look very unsteady on their feet.
  • Eight black and white smiling portraits of Tony, Stan, Denny, Ted, John, Titch, Alan and Harry.
  • A large and imposing black old fashioned train sitting on snow covered tracks.
  • Six black and white photos of the snow covered expanse of the training ground and surrounding area at Kingston, Canada.
  • A smiling woman walks down a waterlogged pavement. It is winter, and snow and ice sits on the sides next to shops and buildings.
  • Seven photos of sailors in their quarters on the ship. They all are sleeping or relaxing according to the given adjective.
  • Two photos of planes flying over Canada taken from another plane. Two photos above the clouds. All four photos are in black and white.
  • Black and white photograph taken at night of niagra falls. The two waterfalls are lit up, as is the grounds opposite.
  • Two rows of four photographs each showing sailors kissing and hugging women - potentially WRNS -goodbye as they prepare to set sail
  • Seven black and white photographs of Tony, Stormy, Al, Jean, Ziss, Marguerite and others relaxing in Moncton.
  • The photograph of the men in their formal uniforms includes a note underneath of their first names, and whether they flew a fighter, a bomber, or a sea plane. There is also three men who is listed as dying during training and how
  • Three photos in black and white. Two of of a fighter plan landing on a runway. The third is three men in unifrom relaxing on the grass. They are identifed as Tim, Reg and John and described as 'three of the best'
  • Three rows of naval fighter pilots in uniform. Underneath their first names are listed.

The Fighter Boys. Good luck to all of you ~ you’ll need it, Tony

PH 29951/102

Day trips on his time off are featured in both albums; most notably to New York, where Tony notes what alcoholic concoctions he drank whilst in America.

Time: 3 a.m.

Locality: Hot Dog Stall.

Condition: 9 Sheets to the Wind + Tom Collins, Cuba Libra, Old Fashioned, Creme de Menthe, Brandy

WSRO PH 29951/25
Text reads: NOTIVE is hereby given that by a deed poll dated 17th day of July 1942 and duly enrolled in the Supreme Court of Judicature on the 5th day of August 1942, I, ANTHONY STUART ANTUNOVICH of 'Myland' Golden Acre Angmering-on-Sea in the County of Sussex a Sub-Lieutenant (A) in the Royal Navy a natural born British subject renounced and abandoned the surbname of Hill - Dated the 5th day of August 1942. ANTHONY STUART ANTUNOVICH, formerly (152) known as Anthony Stuart Hill.
Excerpt from the London Gazette 1942 of Tony’s deed poll to change his surname

The second album continues his time in Canada, whereupon he returns home to the UK and visits his family. His step-father, Antonio, is noted as ‘dad’. Just a few months beforehand, Tony himself had submitted a deed poll to change his surname to his step-father’s, and it is clear from the photographs that his family were close.

Upon completion of his training, Tony’s squadron was the 880th Naval Air Squadron, and he served on the HMS Indomitable. In the late Spring of 1942, he was on his way to Madagascar to help capture the Vichy French-controlled island.

Just after this we left the Clyde for the last time. Up to Scapa to join Force H & out to Gibraltar June 17th.

PH 29951/177

By July, he was back in Europe, this time as part of the convoy carrying supplies, fuel and food to Malta, which at the time was under siege. HMS Indomitable was bombed during this time, and Tony’s photographs show the damage that the ship endured during the campaign.

  • Black and white photography of a young woman holds a baby on a garden wall outside, smiling.
  • Seven men in Naval uniform crowd around and writing on a clipboard. Copyright ILN.
  • Two black and white photos, one of a line of planes on an aircraft carrier, the second over mountainous terrain.
  • Two black and white photographs - one portrait one landscape. The captions read 'Burning fore & aft' and 'A hit and near miss astern'.
  • Two black and white photographs - one portrait one landscape. The captions read 'Fires almost under control but stopped dead.' and 'Fire in forward turret. Johnny Brooks DSC walked in here to get wounded out.'
  • Black and white photograph of a pilot in a lit up cockpit during night-time. Caption: 'Night Flying in a Seafire!? Not me! Dickie. The one and only Goon.' On the back: 'Illustrated Copyright Photograph' [Illustrated London News].
  • Captioned 'Gil, Tony & Jimmy shoot their lines to the press.' published by the Planet News Agency
  • In uniform and standing on the wing of his plane, Jack looks off to the middle distance. The caption reads: Caption: 'Front page of "Illustrated" [Illustrated London News].'
  • Three pilots in uniform standing at the nose of the plane on the aircraft carrier. The photo is portrait and in black and white. On the back: 'Illustrated Copyright Photograph' [Illustrated London News].
  • Three portrait photos of young pilots in uniform. Each are captioned: Paddy, now 899 'You wild Irishman'; Johnny ''How de cobber, 'ow are yer?' and Jack (Dumbo) 'Haven't a clue old boy'. The page then has a caption reading: 'After spending Xmas in [RNAS] Hatston we flew to Machrihanish in the end of February & joined Indomitable March 3rd. Having been cut down in strength by Dickie, Paddy, Tony H, China & Clive leaving last Dec. to form 899 Sqdn we are now under 12 so Steve set up a school at Machrihanish to train new chaps to land.'

After spending Xmas in [RNAS] Hatston we flew to Machrihanish [Argyll] in the end of February & joined Indomitable March 3rd. Having been cut down in strength by Dickie, Paddy, Tony H, China & Clive leaving last Dec. to form 899 Sqdn we are now under 12 so Steve set up a school at Machrihanish to train new chaps to land.

PH 29951/133

Arrived in Gib. after an uneventful trip down. Still the same as last time but warmer now. Left Gib July 3rd & went to Mers-el-Kebir. Then to Algiers on 6th. The 10th found us off Sicily with force H. Patrolled for 4 days & then got ‘fished’ so returned to Malta.

PH 29951/190

Our photograph albums end here, but Tony’s story does not.

Tony would return to the Mediterranean in 1943 during the invasions of Italy, and it is during this time that he married WRNS cipher officer Joan Scott McLean-Foreman at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, Gibraltar, on 29 September 1943. Sadly, they would not have long together.

In January 1944, Tony was stationed in RAF Ballyhalbert in County Down Northern Ireland. In perhaps the most unfair turn of circumstances, given his dangerous training and service, he was killed in a road accident by the village. He was just 22 years old.

Tony is buried, along with other family members, in the East Preston churchyard. His gravestone is viewable to this day. As well as his name being listed on the East Preston War Memorial, there is also a stained glass window in the Chancel dedicated to his memory.

Black and white full length portrait. Tony has a white scarf on and large black trousers tucked into snow boots. He is smiling, and what appears to be a cigarette is in his mouth.
WSRO PH 29950/402 – Portrait of Tony

His squadron would continue to see action off the coast of Norway, then travelled to fight in the British Pacific Fleet, ending their war campaigns carrying out air strikes against Japan.

It can sometimes be difficult to relate to the people who fought in historic conflicts; represented as no more than names on a monument, or a number in the millions of those that fought. These photograph albums greatly humanise both the photographer and his comrades. Their young age, their smiles, their joking captions and funny poses; it can be in equal parts heart-warming and heart-breaking to read.

The final page of the first photo album features a long note from Tony himself in which he dedicates the albums to his friends who were serving on active duty. With lists of prisoners of war, decorated men, and a roll of honour, Tony’s final sentence becomes a haunting one. Like those he listed in his album, he too would not live to see the end of the Second World War, 3rd September 1939-2nd September 1945.

Well folks, this page concludes this album and before we go onto the second book I should like to say a few words with references to this book. It starts with the trip to Trinidad, a finer place I cannot think of, with the lads of the 42nd Fleet Air Arm, Observer Course. England we reached and again left; this time for Canada with the lads of 28th & 29th Pilot’s courses. I can add that I have been fortunate in falling in with the best bunch of lads possible in both courses. Of the 42nd most of them are in action and several have been killed. Their names are on the opposite page and to their memory I dedicate this album, that they fought bravely and well, and gave up their lives for their country in this Second GREAT WAR. Sept 3rd 1939 – ?

WSRO PH 29950/402

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