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Cates, Gerald George (also Sims And Swift, Winterbourne Road, Solihull) - Friendly Fire Victim 1942


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Gerald George Cates lived up until 1942 at 5 Winterbourne Road, Solihull with his wife Ruth and daughters Mary and Geraldine (b. 1939). After being widowed Ruth remarried in 1945, to a gentleman named Weir. The daughters later became Mary Sims and Geraldine Swift. Gerald worked at the Inland Revenue office in Birmingham.

Gerald was unfortunate in that as a member of the Solihull Home Guard he was given an invitation in April 1942 to attend an aerial attack demonstration by the RAF at Imber on Salisbury Plain. This was a dress rehearsal for an identical exercise which was to take place three days later in the presence of Winston Churchill and General Marshall. It was a catastrophe. Squadrons of Spitfires and Hurricanes were due to attack ranks of dummy troops and vehicles; but unfortunately one aircraft went off-line and accidentally strafed the nearby spectator enclosure causing 30 deaths and 70 injuries. Gerald was one of those who lost their lives.

In 2012 a Memorial plaque was unveiled at Imber to commemorate the losses. When I was doing a bit of work on this last year it became obvious to me that Gerald's name had been omitted from the Memorial. This omission has obviously been noticed by others as well and is due to be put right at a ceremony on Friday 13th April 2018 where his name, and that of another officer, will be properly commemorated.

The organisers of the ceremony are anxious to trace descendants of either of these two men and, whilst I know it is a very long shot, I am mentioning the local names in this post in the hope that, perhaps somewhere, a bell will be rung in someone's memory about this family.

(The full story can be read here, if anyone wishes to delve further into the background).