For almost 30 years, Englishman Raymond Batkin has been carefully tending the grave of a lone Australian airman at a Jewish cemetery in Britain.
“It seemed the right thing to do,” Raymond said from his home in Plymouth. “I started to visit the grave on, at least, an annual basis from the mid-1980s, usually on the date of his death and then again just before Remembrance Sunday each November.
“I leave a Remembrance Star [of David] on the grave along with a pebble or stone, which is customary in visiting a grave of a [Jewish] friend or family member.”
Raymond first noticed the grave after he and his young family moved to Plymouth in the late 1970s, but he never dreamt his visits to the local Jewish cemetery would set him on a journey of discovery.
“I grew up with many Jewish friends in London [so] I visited the Plymouth Synagogue as a matter of course soon after we arrived in Plymouth, and I got to know the Rabbi, Dr Bernard Susser,” Raymond said.
“I have an interest in military history … and he mentioned the military graves at the Jewish cemetery which is close to my home. On the first visit I noticed the grave of Morris Solomon, which was particularly distinctive as the headstone bore the RAAF insignia…
“After almost 30 years since I first ‘met’ Morris at the Jewish Cemetery and the many visits I have made to his grave since, [it] has left its mark on me. The curiosity about him being so far away from his home country, Australia, and whether he had any surviving family never went away.
“Placing a Remembrance Star of David poppy on his grave each November began to seem inadequate. The start of a series of public commemorations to mark the beginning of the First World War was a catalyst to ‘stop thinking and start doing’.”
Raymond used the information on Solomon’s headstone to start his research, trawling through online military archives and records in Australia and Britain in a bid to learn more about this young Australian.
The eldest son of Samuel and Rose Solomon of Double Bay in Sydney, Morris Solomon enlisted in 1940, shortly after turning 21. He served with the Royal Air Force as part of the 1404 Meteorological Flight, flying daily meteorological reconnaissance off the south-west coast of England. As other flying operations depended on their weather reports, the crew had to operate in practically all weathers. It was sometimes said that they would operate when “even the birds were walking”.
On the 21st of July 1942, the Lockheed Hudson in which Solomon was a crew member was returning to base when it encountered low cloud and was unable to land. Directed to land further south, the pilot instead followed the coast northwards, flying at low altitude. While still in cloud, the aircraft crashed into the cliffs at Kellan Head. All four crewmembers were killed, including Sergeant Solomon, who had just turned 23.