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Dedication of RAAF Memorial Plaques

- At The Royal Air Force Chapel, St. Clement Danes Church, London, 26/3/09.

By Vicki Crighton, 3 Squadron Association NSW Secretary
[Daughter of "Curly" Morrison, 3SQN WW2 "Desert Culinary Artiste".]

What a privilege it was for me to attend this commemoration, all the way from Australia; along with Curly’s grandchildren, Jessica and Alex, who live in London. 

The weather was truly English that night: ‘It rained...!'

The Church is located opposite the Royal Courts of Justice, The Temple and Fleet Street, close to Australia House.  Placed on an island in the middle of The Strand, an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity prevails; quite set apart from the city noise and the traffic outside. 

For over 1,000 years a Church has stood on this spot.   On 10 May 1941, incendiary bombs gutted the building, leaving only walls and tower standing.  In 1953 the church was handed into the keeping of the Air Council and re-consecrated (in 1958) as the perpetual Shrine of Remembrance to those of the Allied Air Forces who gave their lives during the Second World War.  St Clement Danes is the spiritual heart of the Royal Air Force and the Commonwealth Air Forces.

[The original concept to restore this ruined church as an Air Force memorial was devised by an ex-3 Squadron WW1 officer, Henry Wrigley.]

Inlaid into the white Portland Stone floor are the crests of the RAF, surrounded by the crests of Commonwealth Air Forces; Australia, Canada, Ceylon, India, Kenya, New Zealand, Pakistan, Rhodesia and South Africa; worked in brass, copper, white bronze and marble. 

Until March 2009, only two RAAF WW2 crests had been dedicated [No.10 SQN and No.461 SQN, both of whom flew in the Battle of the Atlantic with Coastal Command].  However, ten more squadron Crests have now joined those [No.3 RAAF, 450, 451, 452, 454, 457, 458, 459, 462, 464 and 466], in recognition of all those who served in peace and war.

The service was attended by 175 veterans and guests. 


Central Figure: Jack Doyle, DSO, DFC and Bar at the Ceremony. 
(Jack was a Flight Leader and Acting CO of 3 Squadron and later Commanding Officer of 450 Squadron.)

 

Service Agenda: 

The Reading: By Air Commodore Steve Martin, Head of Australian Defence Staff, London. 

Address: Deputy Chief of Air Force, Air Vice-Marshal Geoffrey Brown.  [Former Commanding Officer 3SQN RAAF.]

Squadron Histories (see summary below): By Air Force Adviser - London, Group Captain Peter Norford and Assistant Air Force Adviser, Wing Commander John Ibbotson

 

 

Reception

After the service, morning tea was in the 'Downer Room' in the Australian High Commission, across the road.  Everyone, young and old, enjoyed the time to reflect.  And for some it was a time to meet up again with British mates that served in integrated squadrons. 

Jessica, David and myself were in awe of the stories that were told and the high regard for our veterans.  To sit on the floor near the end of the day and listen to a British veteran speak about the three photo albums, that he had only recently let his family know about, was really moving.  - His sons were present, with one son having flown-in from Saudi Arabia just for the dedication.

 

Visits to Significant Air Force Sites:

 

Friday, 27th March 2009. 

A day tour at the RAF Museum with over 100 aircraft in five buildings, being able to examine aircraft such as the Spitfire, Kittyhawk, Hurricane, Lancaster bomber and more, at close quarters.

Evening Dinner at the RAF Club, Piccadilly, London; once again being able to spend time chatting with veterans or their family members about their time serving with the different squadrons.

 

Saturday 28th

- Off again, this time Biggin Hill Airfield.  It was first used as an aerodrome in 1917 when fighters were based there in an attempt to intercept Zeppelin and bomber raids on London during World War I.  After the Armistice it remained in military hands and RAF Biggin Hill was expanded during the 1930s.  Many of the brick buildings on the RAF site (West Camp) on the Westerham Road date from this time, including the Barrack Blocks (1932), Officer’s Mess (1934) and the Station HQ.

Work to “harden” the airfield against enemy attack was still underway after the outbreak of World War II in 1939.  At that time, today’s main north/south runway did not exist (completed 1942), but two short concrete runways were completed in March 1940.  By the time of Battle of Britain, RAF Biggin Hill was an important “Sector” station with two squadrons of Hurricanes or Spitfires based there.  It also housed the “Section C” operations room, directing satellite airfields such as Gravesend.  As such, it was high on the list of the German High Command's targets.

We visited St George’s Royal Air Force Chapel, Biggin Hill, built in 1951 (replacing the first station church made in 1943 from three wartime huts).  The church and hall have exceptionally fine stained-glass windows, designed by Hugh Easton, as well as some very interesting artefacts. 

Then lunch, which was at the local drinking-hole for the ground crew.  After lunch, a walk on part of the airfield, to see a few original wooden huts and shelters as reminders of yesteryear; it was very moving.

 

Sunday 29th

- Once again saw us back at St Clement Danes, for the Service to commemorate the Formation of the Royal Air Force.

 

I do appreciate the honour of representing the Association at the 3 Squadron plaque dedication and associated functions.  - Vicki.

 

Brief Histories of the Australian Squadrons Represented at the Ceremony:

3 Squadron RAAF.  Originally formed in 1916 as part of the Australian Flying Corps; 3 Squadron was re-formed as an R.A.A.F. Squadron in 1925 and in WW2 deployed to Egypt in July 1940.  Initially flying Gauntlets, Gladiators and Lysanders; then Hurricanes, Tomahawks, Kittyhawks and Mustangs; 3 Squadron played critical roles in the invasion of Syria, the defeat of Axis forces in Africa and operations in Sicily and Italy.  3 Squadron was the highest-scoring British Commonwealth squadron in the Mediterranean theatre.  3 Squadron is still operating, to this day.  The Squadron painted a Southern Cross on its rudders – still used today on its Hornets at Williamtown.

3 Squadron suffered 90 casualties and its personnel were decorated with three Distinguished Service Orders, 20 Distinguished Flying Crosses - five with Bars, a Military Cross and nine Distinguished Flying Medals.

Jack Doyle from 3 Squadron, World War II vintage, is with us today.  Deputy Chief of Air Force, Air Vice-Marshal Brown, who has joined us today, also commanded No.3 Squadron in the late 1990s.

 

450 Squadron, nicknamed the “Desert Harassers”, was one of the most famous RAAF squadrons of the Second World War.  450 was formed at Williamtown in February ‘41 and fought in the Middle East – with 260 Squadron, Royal Air Force – on Hurricanes; then Egypt, using Kittyhawks; and the African Desert and Italy in the ground-attack and close support role. Just as it was re-equipping with Mustangs, 450 was disbanded at Lavariano, Italy in August '45.

450 SQN lost about 63 personnel, 45 of whom were Aussies.  The squadron was awarded 2 DSOs, 20 DFCs & 3 Bars, 6 DFMs and one Military Medal.  

Attending veterans from 450 Squadron - Jack Bissett, Allan Buckman, Jack Doyle, Evan James, Deven Minchen and Col Morton.

 

451 Squadron was formed at Bankstown in February 1941.  Equipped with Hawker Hurricanes and Lysanders, the squadron supported British Commonwealth operations in the Western Desert from July '41 until January '42.  After North Africa, 451 operated in Syria, Egypt, and (re-equipped with Spitfires) in Corsica and Southern Europe.  451 deployed to the UK in December '44 and was employed on fighter sweeps and ground attack - including against V2 rocket launch-sites. Despite initial plans that it would be part of the occupation forces in Europe after the war, 451 was disbanded in January 1946.

451 SQN lost 28 personnel - 18 Aussies – and was awarded 5 DFCs & 1 Bar.

With us today from 451 Squadron - Joseph Barrington, John Evans, Sidney Handsaker, and Lindsay Richards.

 

452 Squadron was the first Australian ["Article XV"] squadron to form in Britain during the Second World War [April 1941]. As part of 11 Group, flying Spitfires, 452 operated from airfields in south-eastern Britain, becoming one of the most successful squadrons in Fighter Command.  452 relocated to Richmond, NSW and then the Northern Territory, followed by operations in the Dutch East Indies, Morotai, Tarakan, and Balikpapan.  452 disbanded on 17 November '45.

Awarded 6 DFCs & 1 Bar, 1 Military Cross and 1 DFM.  452 SQN lost 49 men killed on operations.

From 452 Squadron – Ted Sly and Peter Bullock.

 

454 Squadron formed at Williamtown in May '41.  454 was disbanded in July '41 with its personnel dispersed between the RAAF’s 456, 457 and 458 Squadrons.  454 was then re-formed in September '42 in Palestine with initial operations in Iran.  In January '43, 454 redeployed to Palestine, then the Mediterranean for operations using Martin Baltimores.  In Italy during 1944, 454 earned a reputation for efficiency, despite Italy’s climatic extremes.  454 disbanded at Villa Orba in August '45.

60 casualties,  9 Distinguished Flying Crosses.

With us today from 454 Squadron - Leonard Barnden, Ken Rimmer and Doug Roberts.

 

457 Squadron formed at Baginton, near Coventry, England in June '41, initially supported by the Royal Air Force but with Australian pilots,  457 flew Spitfires as part of 9 Group of Fighter Command.  In mid-1942, 457 was redeployed to Redhill, near London, within 11 Group; conducting patrols, providing bomber escort and sweeps over France and Belgium. 457 withdrew from operations in Britain in May '42 and redeployed to Australia, returning to front-line service in January '43… with Spitfires… and operated in the defence of Darwin and then in support of land-operations throughout the Dutch East Indies and Borneo.  With its distinctive grey-green Spitfires, 457 became known as the “Grey Nurse Squadron” - painting its aircraft with a distinctive shark’s mouth. 457 Squadron disbanded on 7 November '45.

25 RAAF personnel killed in operations.  8 DFCs.

Making the trip to join us today, from 457 Squadron -- Paul Dehlsen, Arthur Gould and Lysle Roberts.

 

458 Squadron formed at Williamtown in July 1941.  458 then deployed to Holme-on-Spalding Moor, UK and, equipped with Wellingtons, commenced strategic bombing operations over German-occupied Europe in October.  In January '42, 458 moved to the Middle East – a rather chaotic affair – and finally reformed in September.  458’s primary role was attacking enemy shipping in the Mediterranean.  In 1944 – by now operating from Corsica and Italy, the squadron supported the Allied invasion of southern France, ending up in Gibraltar in January '45 escorting shipping and hunting submarines.  458 disbanded in June 1945.

141 casualties – of which 65 were Aussies.  3 DFCs.

From 458 Squadron - Leon Armstrong, Jack Christianson, Bill McFadden and John Ringwood.

 

459 Squadron was formed in the Middle East in February 1942, initially with Hudsons and Blenheims.  Finally moving to an all-Hudson fleet,  459’s main roles were to interdict German shipping and escort Allied shipping across the eastern Mediterranean.  In December '42, 459 moved to Libya – continuing in the convoy-escort and anti-submarine role.  In 1944, Venturas were replaced with Baltimores and the squadron moved to Palestine.  In February '45, 459 moved to the UK, converted to Wellingtons, but was disbanded early, in April '45.

53 casualties.  One Order of the British Empire, 7 DFCs and 1 DFM.

From the original members of 459 Squadron  – Tom Hodgsen and Brian Rostron.

 

462 Squadron was formed at Fayid, Egypt, on the 6th of September 1942.  Using Halifaxes, and with many RAF personnel in the squadron, 462 operated throughout the Mediterranean, attacking harbours and shipping.  462 was re-badged as RAF 614 Squadron in Italy in February '44 and then disbanded.

462 Squadron was re-formed in the United Kingdom in August '44 - with many personnel from the RAAF’s 466 Squadron.  Equipped with Halifaxes, the squadron joined 4 Group, Bomber Command.  The squadron then joined 100 Group in a radio-countermeasures and diversionary-raids role.  At war’s end, 462 was employed in the repatriation of Allied POWs from Europe.

It disbanded for the second time in September '45.  462 SQN has re-formed recently as an RAAF ground-based information operations squadron.

38 Australian casualties;  one DSO, 18 DFCs, one Conspicuous Gallantry Medal and four DFMs.

With us today from the original squadrons; now the combined 462/464 Association, Charles Darby, Dr Arnold Derrington, Harry King and Stan Parker. 

 

464 Squadron was formed at Feltwell, UK in September 1942.  Equipped with Venturas, it quickly built a reputation for precision bombing and conducting daring raids.  In 1943, 464 re-equipped with the versatile Mosquito - becoming well-known for precision low-level bombing and harassing attacks – especially against V1 assembly and launch facilities - and as night fighters.  The squadron’s busiest time was in support of the D-Day landings in June '44. 

464 Squadron also participated in several special raids – the Amiens 'prison break’ in February '44; a raid on the SS Barracks at Bonneuil-Mantours in July of '44; and several attacks on Gestapo headquarters in Denmark.

After the war, 464 was employed on escort missions over newly-liberated Europe for VIPs - including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill; Crown Prince Olaf of Norway; and General Alfred Jodl who signed the surrender agreement for Germany in Berlin.  464 disbanded on 27 September 1945. 

102 casualties – 33 of whom were Australians.  14 Distinguished Flying Crosses and 3 DFMs.

 

466 Squadron.  When formed in October 42, 466 Squadron was mainly made up of RAF personnel.  The squadron relocated to Leconfield in December '42 - equipped with Wellingtons - as part of 4 Group, Bomber Command, and was involved with mining and bombing ops.  466 re-equipped with Halifaxes in late '43 and was employed on mine-laying and bombing operations before being committed in support of the D-Day landings in June 44.  The squadron then returned to the strategic bombing role.

466 nearly became a transport squadron (heaven forbid!!) in May '45, but then began re-equipping with Liberators in September '45, before being disbanded in October 1945.

466 suffered 184 RAAF casualties and lost over 80 aircraft; with its personnel decorated with two DSOs, 83 DFCs, 3 with Bars, and two DFMs.

From the original 466 Squadron – Charles Darby, Dr. Arnold Derrington, Harry King and Stan Parker.   

 

[Illustrations on this page have been sourced from the excellent 450 Sqn Assn. slideshow of the church service available on:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/roddyb/sets/72157616016234822/show/ ]

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