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.
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!
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.
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.
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, BrandyWSRO PH 29951/25
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.
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.
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