Archive for the 'Events' Category

Ten Veterans

At the 463-467 RAAF Squadrons Association lunch which followed the 2014 ANZAC Day march in Sydney last Friday we were privileged to have no fewer than ten Bomber Command veterans amongst the 50 or so people present. I’m still putting together You can find a full post about the day here, but for now here is a collection of photographic portraits, one of each veteran:

Don Browning

Don Browning

Don Southwell

Don Southwell

Don Huxtable

Don Huxtable

Keith Campbell

Keith Campbell

Alan Buxton

Alan Buxton

Albert Wallace

Albert Wallace

Hugh McLeod

Hugh McLeod

David Skinner

David Skinner

Harry Brown

Harry Brown

George Douglass

George Douglass


Photos (c) 2014 Adam Purcell

Event: Bomber Command Commemorations in Canberra, 31 May – 1 June 2014

Following are details for the Bomber Command Commemoration Day events to be held in Canberra on the weekend 31 May – 01 June 2014. There are three key parts to the weekend:

  • Meet & Greet
  • Ceremony
  • Luncheon

The Meet & Greet:

  • ANZAC Hall, Australian War Memorial
  • Saturday 31 May 2014
  • 6.00pm to 8.00pm
  • $50 Canapés, hot & cold with beer, wine, soft drink and juice.

The Ceremony:

  • Sculpture Garden, Australian War Memorial
  • Sunday 1 May 2014
  • 10:50am for 11:00am
  • Wreathlaying: Contact Anna Henry

The Luncheon:

  • Rydges Lakeside Hotel
  • Sunday 1 June 2014
  • 12:30pm for 1.00pm until 4.00pm
  • $55 Two course, sit‐ down lunch with tea/coffee. Private donation wines with cash bar.

Contact and RSVP:

If you are planning to attend any of these three events, please contact Ros Ingram:

  • (02) 9570 6176
  • RSVPs close 26 May 2014

Full details, including payment information, on this document (PDF).




Bomber Command Commemorative Day 1 June 2014 – Events Around Australia

Sunday 1 June 2014 will see the annual Bomber Command Commemorative Day take place in locations around Australia. The headline event, as usual, is a weekend of activities and ceremonies in Canberra but there will be ceremonies taking place right across the country:

  • Canberra:
    • Sunday June 1 2014, 10.50am for 11.00, at the Bomber Command Memorial, Sculpture Garden, Australian War Memorial
    • Canberra will also host a Meet & Greet function at the War Memorial on Saturday night and a Luncheon following the ceremony on Sunday. Further details to come.
  • Brisbane:
    • Sunday 1 June 2014, 10.15am for 11.00 at Memorial Gardens, front gates of RAAF Amberley. Contact: Ted Vowles, 0418 758 072 or 07 3396 3004
  • Adelaide:
    • Sunday 1 June 2014, 11.00am at Air Force Memorial, Torrens Parade Ground, Victoria Drive, Adelaide. Contact: Dave Helman
  • Perth:
    • Sunday 25 May 2014, 10.00am at RAAFA (WA) Headquarters, 2 Bull Creek Dr, Bull Creek. Contact: Grahame Bland, RAAFA (WA) State President, 08 9311 4445
  • Melbourne:
    • Sunday 1 June, 2014, 2.00pm at Nurses Memorial Centre, 431 St Kilda Rd [entrance off Slater Rd]. Tram Stop No. 23. Contact Robyn Bell, 03 9890 3107.
    • Note the change of venue, a temporary measure for this year only due to ongoing renovations at the Shrine of Remembrance
  • Sydney:
    • Details TBA




Event: ANZAC Day 2014 in Sydney with the 463-467 Squadrons Association, NSW Branch

ANZAC Day approaches again, and once more the NSW Branch of the 463-467 RAAF Squadrons Association are planning a luncheon to follow the Sydney March.

Note: There have been some significant changes to the ANZAC Day March in Sydney. WWII veterans willl now lead off at the front of the March. Descendents and family members are no longer permitted to march behind the Squadron banners with the veterans, but are encouraged to join in at the end of the march instead.

Because of the earlier start for the veterans, lunch has been brought forward. Here are the details:

  • Venue: Pullman Hotel Hyde Park (formerly the Sydney Marriott)
  • Includes: A two-course lunch with beverages
  • Time: Refreshments begin from 11.00am. Lunch to be served from 12:00.
  • Cost: $54 per person
  • RSVP by 10 April 2014 to David Southwell,

This is always a great occasion and offers a chance to catch up with and pay tribute to veterans of these two fine Squadrons (and a few others). I’ll be travelling up from Melbourne for the day.

Bomber Command Panel Discussion at the Shrine

The Panel Discussion On Tuesday a large crowd of at least 150 people gathered at the Shrine of Remembrance here in Melbourne to take part in perhaps the largest of the events to be held in conjunction with the Bomber Command exhibition currently showing at the Shrine. I was particularly looking forward to this one, and it didn’t disappoint.

The occasion was a Panel Discussion about Bomber Command, chaired by Air Vice Marshal Chris Spence (Retd), Chairman of the Shrine Trustees. The panel was made up of three veterans, covering the entire period from the beginning of the war to the end. Jack Bell was a Wireless/Air Gunner who served in the Middle East early in the conflict before being shot down in a Bristol Bombay and becoming a prisoner of war in Italy and then in Germany. Peter Isaacson was a Pilot with 460 and 156 Squadrons, later famous as the man who flew Lancaster Q for Queenie to Australia (and under the Sydney Harbour Bridge) on a War Bonds tour in 1943. And Maurie O’Keefe was a Wireless/Air Gunner who served with 460 Squadron at the tail end of the war.

Left to Right: Jack Bell, Peter Isaacson, Maurie O'Keefe and Chris Spence

Left to Right: Jack Bell, Peter Isaacson, Maurie O’Keefe and Chris Spence

With Air Vice Marshal Spence asking questions and gently prodding the veterans along, over the next fifty minutes or so the discussion covered the entire war: from enlistment to training to operations and beyond. Peter joined up, he said, after seeing a mannequin wearing an Air Force uniform in a recruitment display in the window of Myer in Bourke St, Melbourne. It was a very smart blue suit, he said, and he decided that he would like one of those. So he enlisted. Maurie concurred. “You used to go to dances,” he said, “and the girls made a bit of a fuss of you if you’d joined up… so that was the main attraction, really!”

The theme continued. Peter related a story of landing a Tiger Moth in a farmer’s field so he could sneak an illicit smoke while at 8 Elementary Flying Training School. Unfortunately he was seen by an overflying aircraft and was as a result confined to barracks, the indiscretion, he said slightly wistfully, “rather spoiling a little romance I had going with a girl in Narrandera…” Once aircrew, always aircrew.

But there were also some desperately sad stories. Jack was shot down after his aircraft stumbled over the German 15th Panzer Division in Libya. The navigator was killed in the ensuing crash and, after he returned to Australia following three years, three months and three days as a prisoner of war Jack went to visit his dead crewman’s family. He could see in the mother’s eyes the unasked question, ‘why my son and not you?’ It was, he said, the hardest thing he ever had to do.

Following the formal part of the discussion, the microphone was opened to questions from the floor. And there were some very good questions, too. One was relating to Schräge Musik, the fixed upward-firing guns fitted to nightfighters which were so devastatingly effective and utterly unsuspected by Bomber Command until quite late in 1944. What was it like, the questioner asked, to encounter Schräge Musik? Incredibly enough, a first-hand answer was available. In the audience were at least ten other veterans, and one of these – Jim Cahir – was actually in Stalag Luft III with Jack Bell. Jim’s aircraft was shot down by Schräge Musik over Germany one night. He first became aware of it – “too late, of course” – when shells started hitting his aircraft. Having someone there who, well, was there, gave the answer a real meaning and brought the subject home in a very personal and tangible way.

Inevitably at a public event of this nature the discussion eventually turned to Dresden and, as Peter Rees emphasised both in his book and in his talk last week, there were some passionate defences of the rationale and of the attack itself, both from the floor and the panel.

Following the discussion someone suggested organising a group photograph of all of the veterans present. In all there were thirteen in the photo, though I suspect one or two others may have slipped off before we had a chance to get everyone gathered near the front of the room. Unfortunately I was unable to get everyone’s names so only the following are identified in the photograph below: Back row, L-R: Peter Isaacson, Bruce Clifton, Wal McCulloch, [unknown], Gerald McPherson, Allan Beavis, John Wyke, Gordon Laidlaw, Jean Smith, Maurie O’Keefe. Front row, L-R: Bill Wilkie, Jack Bell, Jim Cahir(Most of) the veterans Other veterans who were present but for whom I cannot match a name with a face were Jim Carr, Col Fraser and Ron Fitch. (If you are able to identify any of the unknowns in this photo, please get in touch)

The opportunity then arose to mix a little bit over a cup of tea. I knew a few veterans (among them Allan Beavis, a Mosquito navigator who I visited at home in Geelong earlier this year) but most were new to me. Most notably, I recognised a tiny golden caterpillar with ruby red eyes on Bill Wilkie’s tie. When I asked him about it he immediately opened his wallet and pulled out his Caterpillar Club membership card, which he carries around with him everywhere even today. He had been a 15 Squadron rear gunner flying out of Mildenhall when his Lancaster was shot down over Germany in January 1945.

There were of course other people to see as well. Robyn Bell was there and I finally got to meet Neil Sharkey, the curator at the Shrine responsible for the current Bomber Command exhibition. Happily I was also able meet a man named Geoff Easton. His father was Arnold Easton, a 467 Squadron navigator who was operating at much the same time that my great uncle Jack and his crew were at Waddington. Arnold’s logbook, which I have a copy of, is one of the most precise examples I’ve ever seen and has been a great help in my research so far. But apart from a few emails about five years ago I’d never actually met Geoff. We had a good chat and he offered to send me copies of his late father’s wartime correspondence and a few photos of a very special visit he made recently to what’s left of ‘Old Fred’, Lancaster DV372 in which Arnold completed 20 sorties (and Phil Smith flew at least once), at the Imperial War Museum’s Duxford site. That will be the subject of a future post (it’s a wonderful story). Geoff has since sent me the files and I’m going to enjoy diving into them to see what nuggets come to the surface.

On my way out, I saw Gordon Laidlaw, the 50 Squadron pilot who I first met when visiting the exhibition a few weeks ago. He was waiting for his lift to arrive and I couldn’t resist one last photo of him: Gordon Laidlaw In all, a fantastic event. The Shrine of Remembrance has embraced the Bomber Command theme in the last few months and the interest from the public has been obvious, with big crowds turning out to the two events which I’ve been able to attend in the last week. Peter Rees said to me in an email after his talk last week, “It really feels like the book has tapped into something out there. Maybe people have long sensed [the airmen] were given a bum deal; if I’ve made it accessible for them to understand, then that’s a good outcome.”

The same could be said of the Shrine’s efforts over the last few months. It’s quite strange – but also very encouraging – to see big banners around the city of Melbourne emblazoned with the legend ‘BOMBER COMMAND’ with a photo of a crew in front of a Lancaster. It’s far too late for the vast majority of those who were there, of course, but while we still have some left, events and exhibitions like these allow the stories to be told and the memories to live on.

Download a podcast of the discussion from the Shrine website here.

© Adam Purcell 2013

Lancaster Men at the Shrine

Peter Rees, author of the highly successful book Lancaster Men, delivered a talk about his book tonight at the Shrine of Remembrance here in Melbourne..

Peter Rees signing copies of his book

Despite the shocking weather there was a good-sized audience of perhaps 100 people present, all of whom listened in some awe to a very thorough presentation which covered the main themes of the book and told some good stories. Peter made certain to mention that Lancaster Men was his publisher’s choice for a title, not his – there were, as he rightly points out, other aircraft flown by Australians in Bomber Command! He told some stories from ‘behind the scenes’ of researching and writing the book, like Ted Pickerd, a 463 Squadron veteran who  who greatly assisted Peter’s research before he died last year. They would meet weekly at the Australian War Memorial to pore through documents and archives together, Ted still being in possession of his navigator’s eye for detail and accuracy coming to the fore. He also said that since publication the book has received strong support, so much so that it’s now on its third print run (and indeed the Shrine shop ran out of copies of the book tonight, like the Australian War Memorial did during the Bomber Command weekend in Canberra in June), and as a direct result of writing it he has received so many further stories from people who have read the book that he is planning a follow-up volume in a couple of years time.

A lively discussion followed the talk, with Dresden getting much of the attention – and, incredibly, adding their input from the audience were four Bomber Command veterans, three of whom had in fact been on the Dresden trip and who could add recollections of what they were told at briefing for that raid. That added a very personal, and quite immediate, touch to the discussion at hand.

Someone mistook me for an official photographer and asked me to organise a group photo of Peter with, yes, the Lancaster Men.

13Nov-Shrine+MEL 025small

Left to right, we have Len Swettnam (a bomb aimer),  Gerald McPherson (rear gunner), Peter Rees (author),  John Wyke (another rear gunner), and Gordon Laidlaw (pilot).

Peter cites the lack of recognition given to Bomber Command and especially its returning veterans at the end of the war as one of the reasons he wrote his book. This event, of course, tied in with the Bomber Command exhibition which is now showing at the Shrine. And next week at the Shrine will be a panel discussion with, among others, Peter Isaacson, perhaps one of Australia’s most well-known Bomber Command airmen. It’s all evidence of the increase in awareness of Bomber Command in recent times.

At least a little bit of the credit for that should go to Peter himself. His very readable book has made some of the extraordinary stories of the ordinary airmen of Bomber Command accessible to a mass audience. That can only be a good thing, if the stories are to live on.

Bring on Volume Two!

The Shrine has placed a podcast of Peter’s talk on their website. The download is here.

(c) 2013 Adam Purcell

Ladies’ Day with 463-467 Squadrons Association, Sydney

The 463-467 Squadrons Association (NSW) holds a luncheon every November, on the Sunday after Remembrance Day. For as long as anyone can remember it’s taken place in the rather classy surroundings of the Killara Golf Club in Sydney’s North Shore, and this year was no different. I was able to wrangle the day off work so I flew up from Melbourne last Sunday to attend.

I was staying at my sister’s place in Marrickville so I travelled to Killara by train, walking to the station in teeming rain. One of the stops along the way was Town Hall and here I noticed a tall, slim older gent and a middle-aged woman among the passengers getting on the train. I caught a fleeting glimpse of his tie and it looked rather familiar. They sat across the aisle from me in an otherwise nearly empty top deck compartment and continued the conversation they had been engaged in when they boarded the train. First I overheard the word ‘Killara’, then, a little later, ‘Southwell.’

Clearly, I decided, we were going to the same place. So I moved across the seat and introduced myself. The older gent was Tom Hopkinson, a 463 Squadron mid-upper gunner. He was up from Canberra for the function, staying with his second cousin Pamela who was travelling on the train with him. We had a great little chat on the way and while sheltering from the rain waiting for our lift to arrive at the station to take us to the golf club. It’s not very far away and last year, I thought to myself, I got sunburnt as I walked it…

A nice little crowd had gathered in the atrium area when we arrived. Most of the usual suspects were around, though there had been one or two cancellations as a result of the weather (it was still bucketing down outside).

The next couple of hours saw some good conversation amongst forty-odd guests with twelve veterans in total present. I found myself seated between Ron Houghton, a 102 Squadron Halifax skipper, and my frequent neighbour at these sorts of events, 49 Squadron rear gunner Hugh McLeod. The Golf Club put on a good meal again and, as is traditional, Don Browning proposed a toast to the ladies, present and elsewhere, for their support of their veteran husbands, fathers and grandfathers, which is the reason that this function is known as Ladies’ Day.

A remarkable photograph followed. By my count we had three pilots, a navigator, a bomb aimer, three wireless operators, two mid-upper gunners and two rear gunners in the group. Between them they covered almost every position in a typical heavy bomber crew. Unfortunately there were very few Australian flight engineers, and none were present here or I would have suggested we find ourselves a Lancaster and go flying.

Bomber Command veterans in Killara, November 2013

Seated, left to right: Ron Houghton (102 Squadron Halifax pilot), Don Huxtable (463 Squadron pilot), Don Browning (463 Squadron wireless operator), Harry Brown (467 Squadron wireless operator)

Standing, left to right: Hugh McLeod (49 Squadron rear gunner), Roy Pegler (467 Squadron bomb aimer), Max Barry (463 Squadron rear gunner), Albert Wallace (467 Squadron mid-upper gunner), Ross Pearson (102 Squadron wireless operator/air gunner), Bill Purdy (463 Squadron pilot), Tom Hopkinson (463 Squadron mid-upper gunner), Don Southwell (463 Squadron navigator)

I also made sure that I got a photo with Albert Wallace. In June last year I received a comment on from a veteran called Albert Wallace. Unbelievably, it was a different Albert Wallace, who lives in Canada. At the opening of the Bomber Command memorial in London earlier that year he (Canadian Albert) was amazed to meet an Australian veteran of the same name who had also been a mid-upper gunner. I helped both Alberts get in touch with each other, though unfortunately they did not get a photo with both of them together!

Bomber Command veterans at Killara, November 2013

Left to right, in this photo we have Ron Houghton, Hugh McLeod, Albert Wallace and myself.

A couple of photos to finish off, then. Bryan Cook and Don Huxtable:

Bryan Cook and Don Huxtable

Hux had a minor heart attack a few months ago but though he looks a little more frail than I have seen him in recent years it clearly has not affected his mischievous nature. Here he is clowning about before the group photo:

Don Huxtable

Again, a great little function and well worth making the trip up from Melbourne. I’ll be back next year.

© 2013 Adam Purcell