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

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

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 somethingverybig.com 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

The Unsung Heroes Project

The Temora Aviation Museum has begun a project they call Unsung Heroes.

“How many Heroes go unnoticed?” reads the blurb on their website. “How many stories go untold? How many memories are forever lost?”

To try and stem the tide of lost memories, the Museum is collecting stories of people who were involved, in one way or another, in Australia’s military aviation heritage. As the project gets underway the collection of stories on the website is so far not a large one, but there are some interesting people profiled in the entries currently there. At $85 a pop, though, the privilege is not cheap, and I’m not sure how I feel about compelling such a significant donation in order to submit content to the database. But at least the Museum is making an effort to recognise the creators of the heritage they preserve in the form of their flying warbirds.

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An offshoot of Unsung Heroes is a video database aimed at a similar group of people. According to the latest email from the Museum, the database “includes men and women who, although not given recognition in the history books, have been vital to the pioneering spirit of Australia’s military aviation heritage.” There’s thankfully no mention in the email of any fee for taking part in this part of the database, and it looks like the Museum is looking for veterans to interview. Selected interviews are it appears available to view via iPads installed in a permanent exhibit in the Museum’s galleries (see image above – from the website of the designer, Bob Shea).

And here is the reason for this post. The biggest event in the calendar of the Temora Aviation Museum is Warbirds Downunder, an airshow featuring all of the Temora Aviation Museum’s collection of aircraft and a whole host of other significant flying warbirds. This year it’s scheduled for Saturday 2 November, and the Museum’s videographer will be there, covering the airshow but also interviewing veterans for the database.

With limited resources it appears unlikely that the Temora database will ever even begin to approach the scale and sophistication of the excellent and extremely far-ranging Australians at War Film Archive (which had the backing of the Australian Government), but it’s perhaps an opportunity for veterans to take part in a less-formal interview situation. Temora is a long way away from any of the state capitals and getting there is a bit of a mission (unless you fly out there in a private aircraft, as I’ll relate in a future post), but if anyone is interested in taking part, contact the Museum by email or by phone on 02 6977 1088.

© Adam Purcell 2013

Hat-tip to Kevin Jacobs for the heads-up.

Bonus Photo Post: Bomber Command Commemorative day, Amberley, Queensland

While many of us were in Canberra last weekend for the annual Commemorative Day Weekend, simultaneous events were also being held elsewhere around the country. Groups of veterans, families and interested others gathered to remember the men and the deeds of Bomber Command at ceremonies held in Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne and Brisbane.

I had a ‘spy’ at the Brisbane event, held at RAAF Amberley (itself the site of the wartime No 3 Service Flying Training School, to which Phil Smith was posted in 1941). Diane Strub, the Honorary Secretary of the 467-463 Squadrons Association in Queensland, was there and sent me these photos:

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bomber-command-veterans-bcm-day-amberley-2013 copy

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It looks like a fair-sized crowd was there, with a good number of veterans present (I counted 23 in the above photo). Everyone looks a little warmer than we were in Canberra!

Good show, Brisbane. And thanks to Diane for the photos.

Talking

I did my first research project about my great uncle Jack at the age of about 12. It was for an entry in a national history competition and my project was to write a series of letters as if Jack had been writing home from the war. This work led directly to our discovering that Phil Smith, who had been Jack’s pilot, was still alive and was living in Sydney. We first met Phil and his wife Mollie in early 1997.

There then came a break of a few years. We stayed in contact with Phil and Mollie and occasionally travelled to Sydney to visit them and while I was aware of ‘Uncle Jack’ the bug had not yet bitten in earnest to find out more about him myself. In 2003 I took a year off between school and university, and that’s when I had some time to once again delve into the subject. Sadly the catalyst for this work was news of Phil’s death in March of that year. The starting point this time was all the original documents that we had about Jack, which I scanned and wrote explanatory notes about to put on a CD-ROM and share around my family. Then university and moving out of home got in the way and it was some years before I felt the urge again and started the work that has evolved into SomethingVeryBig.

The slightly frustrating thing is that I never had the opportunity to speak to Phil in detail about his experiences. I was quite young when I first started researching the story of B for Baker. This phase of work was what led us to him in the first place – and the second phase started after he passed away. I remember one discussion, over the lunch table at Phil and Mollie’s home in Sydney, when my father was asked to read out Phil’s wartime letter about the time his troop ship hit an iceberg in mid-Atlantic (a story in itself) while Phil added comments here and there, but that’s the only occasion that I can recall where we spoke directly about his experiences. I’m lucky that since his death I’ve had access to the superb archive of letters and photos and other documents that his father carefully collated while Phil was in the Air Force, but there’s nothing like actually talking to the people who were there for a ‘feel’ of what it was like.

Which is why I’m slowly collecting veterans, so to speak – contacting as many as I can, writing letters (yes, real letters, with stamps and envelopes and everything), phoning up and generally picking their brains. Each has a story to tell and each little insight adds to what I understand of what it was like to fly for Bomber Command. I can’t ask my great uncle or any members of his crew what their war was like – but I can still talk to other veterans. While it’s not quite the same story, they would have shared many similar experiences with each other so I reckon it’s enough to build a picture of the ‘feel’ of the times they lived in and the tasks they carried out.

© 2013 Adam Purcell

Bomber Command Memorial London

On 28 June 2012, the Bomber Command Memorial will be officially dedicated and opened in London by the Queen. The Memorial will be a lasting tribute to more than 125,000 Commonwealth aircrew who served with Bomber Command during World War II.

The bomber offensive was perhaps the longest, most sustained single campaign of the war – crews were in action from almost the first day of the conflict and the final sorties were flown at the very end of hostilities in Europe. Their contribution to the final victory was immense – as, sadly, was the cost. Out of those 125,000 airmen, more than 55,000 were killed in action. As an overall group, only the German U-Boat crews suffered a higher casualty rate.

Some 10,000 Australians served with Bomber Command. Almost three and a half thousand of them died while on active service. Bomber Command represented some 2% of total Australian enlistments in WWII but suffered 20% of Australian casualties. One Australian unit, 460 Squadron, lost more than 1,000 men over the course of the conflict – the equivalent of being completely wiped out five times.

Yet despite their terrible sacrifice, despite their enormous contribution to the war effort, the men of Bomber Command have never received the recognition that they deserve. A campaign medal was never awarded. And it has taken until now – nearly seven decades after the cessation of hostilities – for an official Memorial to be built. It’s been estimated that some 150 Bomber Command veterans remain alive in Australia. The youngest of these are fast approaching their 90th birthdays. Naturally our surviving veterans are very keen to travel to London to take part in the dedication ceremony. Due to the ravages of age not all 150 are well enough to attend, but at least 80 have registered interest with the Bomber Command Association of Australia.

The Australian Government initially announced a Commemorative Mission of five veterans would be fully sponsored and supported to go to the Ceremony. No family members or carers were included. A further forty grants of up to $3,000 each were to be available to assist other veterans in defraying their travel costs. In contrast, the New Zealand Government announced in a media release (through Veteran’s Affairs New Zealand) that they will be sending an RNZAF Boeing 757 to London with any veterans who are willing and able to make the trip, plus carers. Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand will cover all accommodation, transport, travel and medical expenses. This is a superb effort and shows how much the New Zealand Government respects and appreciates the efforts of their veterans.

So the Bomber Command Commemorative Day Foundation started a campaign for proper recognition of our veterans. And it was successful, sort of. The Government announced on May 12 that they will now be taking 30 veterans, with $5,000 grants available to those who miss out on being part of the official delegation. This is a good improvement, but more is still needed. There are practical difficulties associated with travelling at such an advanced age and having a family member or carer travelling alongside is almost a necessity. The Australian Government was quite happy to send these brave men all-expenses-paid to England seventy years ago. The least they deserve is help so that they have the chance to see that their efforts – and the memories of the 3,486 Australian airmen who never came home – are properly recognised in London.

I’ve written letters supporting this cause to my local Member of Parliament, the Minister for Veterans Affairs, the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader. So far (a week and a half later) the only response has come from the Office of the Opposition Leader, in a phone call this afternoon. The staffer who rang me suggested I also contact the Shadow Minister for Veterans Affairs, so a new letter will be on the way shortly. I’ll be very interested to hear the responses of the others and will post here with any updates.

In the meantime, for those who wish to give practical support, please see details for making donations to the Bomber Command Commemorative Day Foundation’s London Visit Appeal here.

 

Edit 03JUN12:

An article in the Hornsby Advocate featuring a great photo of two of our 463-467 Sqn veterans.

I’ve also received a reply from Warren Snowdon’s office advising that the official mission is now 32 men – 44 applications were received and all those assessed as medically fit to join the mission were accepted.  The number of $5,000 grants is uncapped. This, to me, appears a reasonable response – it is certainly an improvement over the initial proposal. I’m still awaiting a response from my local member.

Picture: http://www.hydro.com/pagefiles/846261563/BCM-Poster_800x1365.jpg

Text (c) 2012 Adam Purcell 

ANZAC Day 2012

ANZAC Day dawned cold and wet in Melbourne. The conditions didn’t stop 35,000 people attending the Dawn Service at the Shrine of Remembrance. I wasn’t one of them, though – instead, I got on board a Virgin jet and headed towards the north.

Descending into Sydney, the city looked an absolute picture. It was one of those sparkling autumn days that I don’t think you really get anywhere else in the world. Only the whitecaps on the rolling seas hinted at the presence of some wind.

I caught the train into the city. Emerging from the pedestrian tunnels out of St James station, I smelt rosemary and heard marching drums somewhere in the depths of the city. Yes, the March was well and truly underway.

The Air Force veterans traditionally hit the circuit around 11am so I had a bit of time to spare. A marching band moved past, its mighty horns echoing off the skyscrapers. Walking out of the tunnels I spied a familiar figure. It was Tommy Knox, a Stirling flight engineer from 149 Squadron who I had met in Canberra last year. He was clutching a free cup of tea that he’d been given by Legacy volunteers at the train station. I’d received a letter from Tommy just a couple of days before. We had a quick chat before he hurried off to find the rest of the ‘Odd Bods’, the group he marches with.

Returning to Elizabeth Street, I patrolled up and down the assembling throng, looking for people I knew. The first veteran I recognised was Hugh McLeod, a 49 Sqn rear gunner who, at “eighty seven and a half” says he is one of the youngest in the group. Hugh was adopted by the 463-467 Sqn Association some years ago and now joins them for the march and lunch each year. Once the banner arrived, safe in the care of Bryan Cook whose grandfather was a 463 Sqn mid upper gunner, it became the focal point and more familiar faces detached themselves from the growing crowd. In recent years it has become something of a tradition for Bryan and I to carry the banner for the Squadrons and we were again honoured to do so this year.

Only six veterans actually marched this year. Even the indefatigable Don Southwell was absent, having pulled a hamstring recently. He rode in an RSL-provided Land Rover instead. The rest of the bunch was made up by numerous families and friends of veterans, numbering perhaps a couple of dozen in all.

Some photos of the march:

After setting off up Elizabeth Street, we turned down Market Street– where, as has become normal each year, we halted for perhaps half an hour to avoid congestion further down the route. President of the Association Don Browning came prepared, wielding one of those walking sticks with a built-in stool. The other three in this photo took advantage of a handy window sill:

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Meanwhile the wind had picked up. While we were waiting to continue Bryan and I had a good chat with Hugh, our 49 Sqn rear gunner, while he clung gamely to one of the banner’s guy ropes to keep it under control in the breeze:

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Following the march, lunch was at the Sydney Marriott hotel, on the other side of Hyde Park. Once again it was a superb meal. 48 people were present, including the same ten veterans who we had last year. Again a group photograph was organised (ignore the two young blokes holding the banner up in the background!):

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Left to right, they are Don Southwell, David Skinner, Bill Purdy, Alan Buxton, Hugh McLeod, George Douglass, Don Huxtable, Don Browning, Albert Wallace and Harry Brown.

Five of these distinguished gentlemen will be travelling to London in late June for the dedication of the new Bomber Command Memorial in Hyde Park.

During lunch I sat next to Alan Buxton, a navigator. Alan never flew operationally with 467 Sqn – he actually flew his tour with 617 Sqn, the famed Dambusters. In late 1944 he baled out of his crippled Lancaster over Norwich after a harrowing return trip across the Channel with all four engines ablaze, a story hinted at by the tiny golden caterpillar badge with ruby red eyes that he was wearing on his tie. He proudly showed me his Caterpillar Club membership card, which he still carries in his wallet. After VE Day Alan was posted to 467 Sqn at Metheringham, in preparation for the planned Tiger Force operations against Japan. Thankfully the war ended before they were required to fight in that theatre. Alan appears in this photo on the left:

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And so another ANZAC Day passes. It is always wonderful to see these blokes each year, and long may it continue. President Don Browning made a toast to absent friends during the lunch – but added that, as long as there was someone to carry the banner, there would be someone to march with it, and so the spirit of the two Squadrons will live on.

© 2012 Adam Purcell

Vale Cliff Leach

I’m very sad to report that Clifford Leach, a 150 Squadron Pilot/Flight Engineer, died last week after a short illness. Cliff, perhaps unusually for his generation, plunged right in to the world of computers and forums in his later years, posting on a number of forums about his wartime experiences as ‘cliffnemo’. His magnum opus, however, was a thread that he started on PPRuNe in June 2008 called ‘Gaining an RAF Pilot’s Brevet in WWII’. Cliff posted about his experiences while in training, backed up with original notes and drawings. This drew a number of other contributors into the open, among them the much-missed Reg Levy, a 51 Sqn Halifax skipper who later  (among other things in a very long and varied career) flew Boeing 707s with Sabena. Four years and close to 2,500 posts later, that thread is still more than going strong, with a former Vultee Vengeance pilot named Danny now holding court.

On another forum, one of Cliff’s first posts was typical of the modesty of his generation:

I didn’t do much only three opps

Well, you might not have thought so, Cliff, but what a legacy you leave behind. The PPRuNe thread likely would not have come into existence without Cliff’s input. And it’s the interactive nature of those kinds of threads that makes them so valuable – being able to read experiences written first-hand, then asking questions either about those stories or on anything else even remotely related to the topic at hand. That little post in June 2008 brought into the open many fascinating stories and the thread now contains a goldmine of information for researchers like me – adding colour to the dry facts and figures.

His son Bill has posted on the thread following the death of his father, saying how proud Cliff was of the thread and how he had arranged for a printed copy of it to be left for his grandson. He also related the story of Cliff’s final flight, just a week before he died. A friend arranged for a local flying school to take him up, and he was, says Bill, “astounded that he was ordered straight into the pilots seat and took the controls for the whole flight. He was told that if it wasn’t for a strong cross wind he would have been allowed to land the plane.”

I never had the chance to meet Cliff, though we corresponded through the thread and through email over the last few years. His input assisted greatly in my earlier post on Flight Engineer training, and his recollections about the Lancaster contributed to th final look of the painting of B for Baker that I commissioned a couple of years ago. “On final check before switching off engines [the] engineers final check included raise flaps”, he wrote. “I think that if we had arrived at ‘dispersal’ and found the flaps down, we would have informed ‘Chiefy’.” And that settled it, so I asked Steve to depict B for Baker with her flaps up!

Another remarkable man has, in the words of the late Neptunus Lex, ‘stepped into the clearing at the end of the path’. Blue skies and tailwinds, Cliff. Blue skies and tailwinds.

Edit 25APR12: Link to a story in the local newspaper of Cliff’s final flight, published only a few days before he died.

(c) 2012 Adam Purcell

Event: Bomber Command Commemorative Day, Canberra, 2-3 June 2012

The Bomber Command Commemorative Day Foundation, with the support of the Australian War Memorial, will hold their 5th annual Commemorative Day in Canberra on the weekend of 2-3 June 2012. Three events are planned: a ‘Meet and Greet’ function on the Saturday night, then a Memorial Service and Luncheon on Sunday.

The Meet and Greet function takes place in the shadow of G for George, the AWM’s Lancaster, in the ANZAC Hall from 6 to 8pm on Saturday 2 June. Cost is $50, hot and cold canapes will be served with beer, wine, soft drink and juice also provided.

The Luncheon takes place at the Rydges Lakeside, Canberra, 12.30 for 1pm to 4pm. $55 covers a sit-down two-course meal with tea and coffee, with a cash bar operating.

To attend the Lunch and/or the Meet and Greet, contact Keith Campbell by 18 May: 142 Coonanbarra Road Wahroonga NSW 2076. Cheques to be made out to Bomber Command Commemoration Day Foundation.

The focus of the weekend, however, is the Memorial Service. This is held outdoors in the Sculpture Garden of the Australian War Memorial, by the Bomber Command Memorial. To allow the organisers to anticipate numbers, please RSVP to the AWM by 11 May: rsvp@awm.gov.au or 02 6243 4363.

In the group photo taken at this event last year, I counted 50 veterans. This is one of the largest gatherings of Bomber Command aircrew (and at least one WAAF) in Australia and for that reason alone it is well worth attending. Talking to so many veterans in the one place at the one time is an opportunity that doesn’t come around too often. I’ve been to three of the last four of these events (though at this stage it is looking unlikely that I’ll be able to make it to this one) and they never fail to impress. More information can be found at http://commemorativedayfoundation.com/.

Update 21APR12: I’ve managed to organise the weekend off so I’ve booked my flights to Canberra for this event. There are also events on in other parts of Australia, for those who can’t make it to Canberra:

VICTORIA: Hastings RSL, 11am Sunday 3rd June

QUEENSLAND: Memorial Gardens at RAAF Amberley, 11am Sunday 3rd June

I think there are also plans for NSW and SA, but I haven’t got details yet.