Mr Samuel Craig

THE death occurred in Silver Birch Nursing Home, Saintfield, on January 1 of Mr Samuel Craig, a native of Downpatrick.

A man of strong Christian and moral values, Sam was meticulous in all that he did. He treated all with respect and saw only the best in everybody.  His funeral service took place in Kilmore Parish Church, on January 4, the Rev Steven Smith officiating.

Sam was born on February 10, 1923, in Downpatrick, the second of three children of Samuel and Evelyn Craig (née Taylor), of Church Street, and was educated at Southwell Boys’ School. In 1937 Sam won a competition for the position of telegraph messenger with the Post Office. While delivering a telegram on September 3, he heard on the radio that Britain had declared war on Germany.

Sam subsequently joined the RAF and was selected as an air gunner with Bomber Command.  On December 15, 1941, while on a training flight the Wellington bomber, he was involved in a crash on landing. One of the two pilots on board was killed and Sam was hospitalised.

Sam’s subsequent aircrew, including Walter Dougan, the pilot, from Banbridge, was posted to 1443 Ferry Flight, delivering new Wellington bombers to North Africa. The average time for such a journey then was in the region of 57-60 hours due to navigational precautions to avoid overflying enemy territory.

On one occasion their aircraft was destroyed in a bombing attack shortly after landing in Malta, while on another their aircraft had to circle around the island for some time while bomb craters were filled in on the runway to allow them to land. 

Sam’s crew was subsequently posted to 37 Squadron where, as a tail gunner, he flew on missions to bomb enemy targets across North Africa, Crete, Sicily and Italy.  He completed two tours of 250 hours each, extending to 69 operations, which ended on August 10, 1943.

Following completion of his time in the Middle East Sam returned to the UK and was trained as an air gunnery instructor, serving at Morpeth and Bishopscourt, which was only seven miles from his home. Postings to Pwllheli and Roade, near Northampton, followed before Sam was demobbed.  

Following his demob Sam, who had been promoted to the rank of flight lieutenant, joined the Northern Ireland Civil Service. In 1965 he was transferred to Newry with the Department for Health and Social Services.  

Sam met the love of his life, Lily Ferris, from Cluntagh outside Crossgar, at a first aid course when they were both 15. They were married on September 25, 1946, and were blessed with three daughters, Vivienne, Elizabeth and Jacqueline.  

In 1978, Sam and Lily moved, firstly to Banbridge and then Saintfield, before settling in Crossgar in 1983 where they lived happily in retirement close to other family members.  

On December 13, 2015, Sam fell, resulting in a serious break in his left arm. This led to him becoming a resident in Silver Birch Nursing Home where he passed away on New Year’s Day following a brief illness.

The most important thing in Sam’s life was his family. Silver Birch asked for a form to be completed to identify his interests.  When asked about this his response was typical. “Just put down family,” he said. “That’ll cover everything.” 

However, he had always been a keen gardener and was an avid fan of cricket, often attending Downpatrick’s home fixtures.  His love and dedication to his wife, Lily, who died in 2012 after 66 years of marriage, and their family never faltered.  He couldn’t do enough for them and this was matched by the devotion of his three girls to their father.

Sam is survived by his three daughters, his younger brother, Clarrie, seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren.