Michael John Beardsall was born on 7 July 1932 at Colchester in the UK. Details of his enlistment in the Royal Navy are not available, but it appears that in 1951 he become a Midshipman trainee pilot in the RN Fleet Air Arm (FAA) at the age of 19 years. Typically, he would have begun his Elementary Flying Training Course at HMS Siskin, Gosport, and having successfully completed the course he would then move to RAF Syerston where the Navy pilots learnt to fly, where he graduated with his ‘wings’.
On 5 March 1953 Beardsall was promoted to Acting Sub Lieutenant (P). Then (in line with RN and RAN policy at the time) he was transferred on loan on 19 June 1953 for a 12-month period to the RAN for operational flying experience. On 20 June 1953 Beardsall was despatched to Australia on BOAC Flight 704; ETA Sydney 24 June. Upon arrival he reported to HMAS Albatross (RANAS Nowra) the RAN’s FAA training base.
At RANAS Nowra, Beardsall joined 808 Squadron and began his conversion to Sea Fury aircraft. During this period, he had the opportunity of exercising with HMAS Vengeance which was operating in the Jervis Bay area, to qualify for deck landings, and later to embark with the Sea Fury squadrons for exercises at Hervey Bay region. When the squadrons disembarked and return to Nowra in August 1953. Beardsall then transferred to 850 Squadron, another front-line squadron, where he continued flying Sea Furies.
On 27 July 1953 the Korean ceasefire was signed. Shortly afterwards HMAS Sydney was assigned to relieve HMS Ocean in Korea. In September 1953, 850 and 805 Squadrons (Sea Furies) and 816 Squadron (Fireflies) embarked on Sydney for ‘work-up’ exercises. These exercises were aimed at bringing pilots and aircrew up to front line standard. Beardsall and other pilots would have derived great benefit from this, especially in refining their flight deck operations.
On 19 October 1953, Sydney sailed from Sydney Harbour for Korea, via Fremantle, Singapore, and Hong Kong where she relieved HMS Ocean. Sydney arrived at Sasebo, Japan, on 16 November, where maintenance work was carried out. Kure was reached on 20 November, and from 26 November 1953, Sydney began her Korean operational patrols, working in close cooperation with other HMS, USN, RCN, and HMA ships.
The Korean patrols worked to a schedule, with Sea Fury and Firefly aircraft conducting flights along the cease-fire line and coast, interspersed with resupply calls at Kure and Sasebo. Sydney also visited other Japanese ports and Hong Kong. This was Sydney’s second Korean tour of duty, this time during the winter with demanding flying conditions, often with snow and sleet. However, a stop-over at Kure was made to celebrate Christmas Day, and on 27 December HMAS Sydney sailed for Hong Kong.
Captain G C Oldham, DSC, RAN, filed the following in his report for December 1953:
‘Flying operations were carried out on passage [to Hong Kong] and it is with great regret that I have to report that on the morning of the 29th a Sea Fury piloted by Acting Sub Lieutenant M. J. Beardsall, R.N. crashed into the sea about 8 miles ahead of the ship shortly after take-off. Other aircraft were on the scene of the accident within 2 minutes, but only small pieces of wreckage were recovered, and the pilot must be presumed dead.
‘A commemoration to pay tribute to this Officer was held on the flight deck at 1630 and this was followed by a Church Service. I was much impressed with the general atmosphere and complete sincerity of the Ship’s Company on this occasion’.
Michael Beardsall’s loss was especially poignant as it followed the death of his brother by only a few weeks. Fredrick Beardsall was also an RN pilot and lost his life flying Hawker Sea Hawks on 16 September 1953, whilst serving on 811 Naval Air Squadron.
Compiled by Kim Dunstan from the following References:
National Archives of Australia
Sea Power RAN history
HMAS Sydney Reports of Proceedings 1953