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AWM ART27514 - A portrait by Sir William Dargie of Nicky,
resting in the sun in his flying gear, after coming off an Operational flight in March 1942, .
QUOTH SHAHRAZAD: It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that there came into their camp one night in the desert a magnificent young man with laughing blue eyes, mounted on a camel, and clothed in the flowing robes of a sheik. And as they looked wide-eyed and unbelieving he smiled and said:
"There is no god, but the God! God is most great!"
Then they knew 'twas he and they fell to great rejoicings. . .
Squadron-Leader Andrew William Barr, D.F.C. and Bar, hereinafter called "Nicky", inevitably impels thoughts of the Arabian Nights. If, jinn-borne, he had set out with happy smile and eager blue eyes to court adventure in the air, he could not possibly have gone through a more remarkable series than what befell him almost as a matter of course riding fighter planes in the Middle East.
To be reported missing four times in six months, to shoot down 12 enemy aircraft in combat, to be shot down three times and wounded, to force land in enemy territory and escape, and finally to be captured and to escape over the snows from a German train - after 17 months as a prisoner of war in Italy - who could ask for more?
His adventures began quickly. His return in the guise of a sheik occurred in January 1942, only a few months after his posting to operational work. Rommel had entered Benghazi again to begin the second big effort to drive the British from Africa. Barr was out on bomber escort when they were attacked by a formation of enemy fighters. They were over El Agheila on from Benghazi. Nicky tackled two Italians. He destroyed one. Then he turned on to a Messerschmitt which had shot down one of his squadron. He destroyed the German. He was going down to land and rescue his comrade when two Messerschmitts closed on him.
Nicky's wheels were almost down and his guns had jammed. He manoeuvred rapidly, working swiftly. Then he turned for battle. With one good burst he blew up one German in mid-air. Two other Messerschmitts joined the fight. That was the end. Nicky was shot down. The Germans followed him all the way with guns blazing. They set fire to his machine and wounded him as he raced away.
For three days he was on the dodge in enemy territory. He made the most of it. He observed enemy positions and noted strengths. Friendly Arabs gave him robes and a camel. When he got through he had valuable information for the Army. That was fine work. His magnificent battle over El Agheila, in which he destroyed three of the enemy, had brought his aggregate kills to eight, six fighters and two bombers. He was awarded the D.F.C.
The fair-headed, six-foot Nicky was 24 when he joined the R.A.A.F. in March, 1940. He was born in New Zealand in 1915, but was educated at the Swinburne Technical School in Victoria. In Melbourne he won many cups for swimming; he held the Eastern Suburbs Diving Championship for three years and he played local and interstate Rugby Union. As a hooker he was unusually fast.
In 1939 he was chosen in the Australian team for England over Eddie Bonis, recognised as the Prince of Hookers throughout the Rugby world. Experts predicted that he would develop into one of the greatest Union players of all time. But Nicky played not on the green fields of England. War was declared the day after the Australians arrived. He tried to enlist to fight for England on the spot. Rules and regulations forbade it. For three weeks he filled sand-bags. Then he came back to Australia to become an airman. Before he went to join No.3 Squadron in the Middle East he won the high-diving championship for the R.A.A.F. in Service Sports in Brisbane and there, too, he captained the Rugby team.
There is the story of the day Air Force met Army. A free kick was awarded to Air Force on their own goal-line. The bell rang. R.A.A.F. were leading by a point. All Barr had to do was kick the ball into touch and the game was over. By Rugby standards he was entitled to do that. But on his standards if Army could beat him, Army could have the chance. He put the ball into the air twice. Army failed. That was sportsmanship, clean and sunny like the skies of Queensland.
Adventure followed adventure for Nicky after El Agheila. With Rommel sweeping forward, fighter work was hot and hard and fast. It called for unlimited pluck and endurance. On one day Nicky made no fewer than six sorties with bombers. Then he was again shot down. This time he was dog-fighting Messerschmitts which were covering the German infantry from Allied bombers and fighters. An enemy machine attacked his No.2. Nicky swung round to beat him off when he, in turn, was attacked by others. Bullets flicked along his fuselage. He dived low to gain speed. He was shooting along 50 feet above the ground when he was flung half over on his back. Anti-aircraft guns had caught him. His propeller hit the ground. He crashed beside Allied motors and tanks in battle.
He was pulled from his aircraft just as German Stukas swept down with their bombs. He jumped into a slit trench. When it was over an ambulance took him back to his squadron. On another occasion engine trouble forced him down in No Man's Land. Calmly he overhauled it, cleared camel-thorn bush from his path, and took off a few minutes ahead of the enemy.
A few weeks later on June 26, six days after Rommel's capture of Tobruk, he was leading four planes on reconnaissance. It was his third operation that day. They encountered 12 of the enemy. Rugby rules accept all odds. This time the hooker was tackled by a pack, but not before he had sent one of his opponents sprawling out of action. The Germans set him on fire inside their lines. He baled out and this time he didn't get away.
Nothing was heard of him for three months. Advice then came through that he was prisoner of war in Italy. He had been sent to hospital at Caserta. There he remained for five months. He had been wounded and burnt in the leg and burnt in one arm. Accepting life as he found it, he cheerfully played the doctor's accordion. Back in Australia he had been known as "Nicky Squeeze Box."
Twelve months after his capture he was back in hospital again after three escape attempts. Meantime, through official channels, he was notified of the award of the Bar to his D.F.C., "for outstanding qualities of leadership and devotion to duty."
Little was heard of Nicky then, until, in April 1944, the cables announced his escape. He was under movement from the Italian Riviera in a German train. This didn't suit the indomitable Nicky. It was time he was back in the fighting line to victory. He made his dash. Joined the Partisans. Days in the snow, dodging reminiscent of the desert nights, incredible hardship and battles with malaria brought him to the British lines ....
There is an organisation of airmen known as the Late Arrivals, or Flying Boot Club. It comprises those who reach their bases after forced landings behind enemy lines. Its chief and most exalted member for all time will surely be Andrew William Barr, called Nicky.
And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day...
High-Quality Action Animation of Nicky's Exploits - THE DESERT DOGFIGHTER...
(Access the movie on Youtube: Part 1, Part 2.)
An exciting new video is available (free of charge) online - "THE DESERT DOGFIGHTER". It's a spectacular "animation" produced to a very high standard by "Wolf" - an aviation enthusiast from the UK. Wolf used "IL2 Flight Simulator" software to generate engrossing action sequences backed by a gripping soundtrack...
It tells the story of Nicky Barr, 3 Squadron's leader and top-scoring ace in the desperate days of mid-1942. The video re-creates many scenes from Nicky's combat career, both in the air and on the ground.
- HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
(Access the movie here: Part 1, Part 2.)
3 Squadron STORIES
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