The Heavenly Twins
James and Reginald Shuttleworth were born on February 25 1919 – three months after the end of the First World War -- to an unmarried mother who already had one son. She kept the father’s name a secret and the boys took her name. Then, as was the norm in those days, they were given up to be fostered separately.
James was given a home by Mr and Mrs H Crabb of 439, Ley Street, Ilford.
Reg was fostered by Cranbrook Road fishmonger Mr E Budd and his wife, who was actually the boys’ grandmother.
Neither boy knew of the other’s existence until they met by an extraordinary accident when they were 17 years old. James happened to visit the old Ilford Baths in the High Road, where his identical twin -- a member of Ilford Diving Club -- was already inside.
When he tried to pay his entry fee, the cashier thought he was Reg playing a practical joke. James showed his identity card and, a few minutes later, the shocked boys were introduced to one another.
They quickly became inseparable. James joined the diving club and the two became a team, winning competitions in London and competing nationally. At local swimming galas, the twins were noted for their exceptional daring in their exhibitions of stunt and comic diving, earning their nickname of The Heavenly Twins.
In 1938, they joined the Territorial Army and, when war was declared in 1939, they transferred to the RAF and trained as radio operators and gunners. They were posted to France with 57 Squadron that December, flying in Blenheim bombers.
On April 14 1940, James's plane was engaged in an aerial dogfight above the Dutch/German border. He and his two fellow crew members destroyed three German aircraft before being shot down themselves.
All three were killed but were given a remarkable funeral with full military honours by the people of Arnhem. Thousands lined the route as their remains were carried in a hearse drawn by two white horses. Senior diplomats from the British Embassy attended and the event was reported in the Ilford Recorder and the London Times.
Reg was devastated and on May 13, barely a fortnight after receiving confirmation that his brother was dead, was himself shot down. He survived but spent the rest of the war in PoW camps, including Stalag Luft 3 at the time of the Great Escape.
He returned to Ilford after the war, married and had two sons –the elder called James -- but sadly died from cancer in 1950.