David O’Connell was killed on 21 January 1945. He was 24 years old. His parents, Cornelius and Eliza, lived in Lewisham in South London, which is perhaps where he hailed from.

There is no information currently known about how he died, or what unit he was with. With an RAF rank of LAC, he may well have been ground crew working on some aspect of aircraft or airfield maintenance. This seems very likely because the Schoonselhof cemetery record show a number of RASC (Royal Army Service Corps), REME (Royal Mechanical and Electrical Engineers) and Pioneer Corps (the Pioneer Corps often carried out construction work) personnel being killed around the same time. Clearly Belgium was still a very dangerous place to be in late January 1945, even for non-combatants. Although much of the country had been liberated, it was not officially clear of German troops until 4 February.

What led me to David O’Connell was acquiring the beautiful battered old photograph of his grave, taken soon after his burial, lying in a snowy cemetery, marked with an immense central wreath of flowers and many other smaller floral tributes. He must have been very highly thought of, either personally or in a symbolic capacity as a member of the liberating British forces.

O'Connell, Schoonselhof

The grave appears to be in an older cemetery, but there is no mention in the CWGC records of his grave having been relocated after the war when the Graves Service came to rationalise British burial sites. He is now buried in Schoonselhof Cemetery at Antwerp.

On the back of the photograph of his grave, perhaps written there by a comrade, is a very touching faded message:

O'connell, back of photograph

When the temporary wooden cross was replaced by the permanent headstone, the epitaph chosen, probably by his parents, was:

ETERNAL REST GIVE UNTO HIM, O LORD

AND LET PERPETUAL LIGHT SHINE UPON HIM.

R.I.P.