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Bari, Italy. October 1943. 61180 Flight Sergeant Arthur H. Collier of Bondi, NSW (centre, holding bottle), returns to his squadron after being missing for ten days.
He is surrounded by his comrades No. 3 (Kittyhawk) Squadron RAAF, who are all celebrating his return. Pictured: Flying Officer (FO) Bruce Burchfield;
Flight Lieutenant Murray Nash; McKernan; FO Bob Dent; Ted Hankey; `Natter' Forstrum; Flight Sergeant Peter Gilbert, and Squadron Leader Brian Eaton.
Passed away peacefully on November 27, 2011; late of Nambucca Heads NSW. Formerly of Sylvania in the southern suburbs of Sydney.
Arthur was a Kittyhawk pilot with 3SQN in Tunisia, Malta, Sicily and Italy. He joined up with the RAAF shortly before the outbreak of the war in Europe in 1939. By early 1941, Arthur was a flying instructor at Point Cook in Victoria when his career suffered a dramatic setback; he was court-martialled for "low flying" a Westland Wapiti over the suburbs of Melbourne and, despite otherwise "very good" conduct, dismissed from the Air Force. Despite this blow, Arthur kept up private flying lessons and petitioned the Air Board to be reinstated. Eventually, with the war situation deteriorating, he was accepted back as a Sergeant Pilot. He trained at Evans Head NSW with Jack Doyle and Jack recalled the two of them having to invent their own air-combat exercises in obsolete Fairy Battles, as there was no-one else in their training base with any combat experience.
Once in action with 3 Squadron, Arthur proved to be a popular and effective team member. ("Low flying" was of course an essential skill!)
When Tunis fell in May 1943, Jack Doyle and Arthur rode a 3 Squadron truck into the battle zone to sight-see.
"...Amazing we never got shot! - The things you do!" recalled Jack.
Tunis, Tunisia. c. May 1943. Airmen of No. 3 (Kittyhawk) Squadron RAAF lined the main square in Tunis to watch General Juin leave the French Embassy.
Later, in September 1943, just after 3 Squadron had "invaded" southern Italy, Arthur was shot down. He then pulled off a spectacular evasion with the help of several courageous Italians; as described in "3 Squadron at War":
In company with other squadrons of No. 239 Wing, No. 3 carried out intensive operations on the 17th, the bombing and strafing of motor transport on the roads around Foggia, Oliveto, Avellino, Cerignola and Barletta proving most successful. During an attack on one of the satellite aerodromes at Foggia, where some twenty JU88s were lined up, F/Sgt. Collier was forced to make a hurried crash landing on a beach, hotly pursued by Luftwaffe fighters. Fortunately he was unhurt in the crash and hurriedly concealed himself in the water nearby to escape anticipated enemy strafing. After circling over the crashed "Kitty" for several minutes, the German pilots eventually flew away.
Leaving the water, Collier then headed in the direction of the British lines. That night and all the next day he walked; also swam across two canals thick with mud and slime. As night was falling, he came to another canal but, being too exhausted to swim, he decided to take the risk of walking across the bridge, which was guarded by two German sentries. Acting in an idiotic manner calculated to disarm suspicion, Collier was successful in getting past the sentries, although he went through many anxious moments when they searched him. The next day he fell in with an Italian civilian, who took him to the local Chief of Police. When the circumstances had been explained, the police officer suggested that the Australian pilot disguise himself as a civilian and allow himself to be locked up for the night. This plan was agreed upon. After two days in the 'clink', Collier decided to make another attempt to reach the safety of Allied lines, as it was feared that the Germans in the village might become suspicious of his presence in the lock-up.
Some time later he joined up with a number of Italian soldiers dressed as peasants, who were travelling south in a horse-drawn hay cart in an attempt to desert to the Allied forces. However, they were shortly afterwards stopped by a German patrol, and identity papers were demanded. Collier, who was at the rear of the party of Italians, quietly disappeared without being observed, and took to the hills. After this "sticky" incident, he decided that the safest course for the present was to lie low. Fortunately he discovered an ancient monastery, where he remained concealed for two days, the Italian monks clothing him in the habit of their order.
Eventually some advance British patrols contacted Collier, and he was able to return to "Three", none the worse for his experiences.
Arthur earned a Mention in Despatches for this escapade.
Painting: "Springtime in Southern Italy" by Dennis Adams.
A wrecked Junkers Ju88 aeroplane at Tortorella Strip near Foggia, Italy. A Wellington can be seen in the background and also a white cloud of dust from the chalk covered taxiways.
The wrecks about this aerodrome were all very much stripped by souvenir hunters. In this one the metal sheeting which forms either side of the rudder fin have been cut out for the swastikas
which were always painted here on German aircraft. The camouflage is typical. When Spring came to Southern Italy, the flowers grew up amongst these wrecks. [AWM Copyright ART23464]
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