30.07.1942 No. 37 Squadron Wellington 1c HF833 ?-A F/O. Christopher Edwin Lawrence Hare
Operation: Tobruk, Libya
Date: 30/31 July 1942 (Thursday/Friday)
Unit: No. 37 Squadron - Motto: "Wise without eyes".
Badge: A hawk hooded, belled and fessed, wings elevated and addorsed. This badge is indicative of the duties of blind flying.
Type: Vickers Wellington 1c
Code: Call sign A
Base: RAF Abu Sueir (Landing Ground 205), Egypt
Location: near Tobruk, Libya
Pilot: F/O. Christopher Edwin Lawrence Hare J15232 (Post-war No. 19798) RCAF Age 20 - PoW - Campo 78, Abruzzo, Italy (1)
2nd Pilot: Sgt. Alexander Edward Owen Barras Aus/406222 RAAF Age 28 - Safe and uninjured, returned to squadron (2)
Obs/Air/Bmr: Fl/Lt. Clifford Daniel Robert Chappell J4693 RCAF Age 21 - PoW (3)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. James Shirra RAF (VR?) Age 22 - Safe and uninjured, returned to squadron (4)
Air/Gnr: Sgt. A I (?L) Jones RAF(VR?) (possibly 639739) Age 20 - Safe and uninjured, returned to squadron (5)
Air/Gnr: F/Sgt. Charles Raymond Warwick Aus/407086 RAAF Age 29 - Safe and uninjured, returned to squadron (6)
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REASON FOR LOSS
Took off from RAF Abu Sueir between 21:16 hours and 22:15 hours to bomb Tobruk harbour and shipping. Over Tobruk the starboard engine failed so they bombed the aerodrome but when the other engine seized they crashed 48 km from Tobruk. (Crash location as per Bomber Losses in the Middle East and Mediterranean by David Gunby and Pelham Temple)
The Australian War Memorial records state that the Wellington crashed 17 miles west of Tobruck but in the light of later events the difference between the two records of some 13 miles was to prove a matter of comparative insignificance.
The crew of Wellington HF833 were all serving members of No. 458 RAAF Squadron but after the squadron was transferred to the Middle East they were attached to No. 37 Squadron on 13 July 1942.
Scale: 1" = 100 miles
The following account has been compiled from various contemporary newspaper reports, records of the Australian War Memorial and National Archives of Australia.
Despite the crash landing all six crew members were remarkably uninjured but rather than take the easy option of heading towards nearby enemy lines and captivity they chose to attempt to get back to the allied lines, a mere 450 miles east of their position. After destroying all secret equipment on the aircraft the crew gathered together their rations, water and navigational equipment; the 10 gallon water tank being strapped to the little aircraft ladder so that two crew members could carry it.
They walked for four hours covering 7 miles before dawn and when they came across a burnt out truck they rested there for the night. The following morning the sun was blazing: walking in such conditions was impossible so they resolved to rest during the day and walk at night. With limited rations and water the crew knew that they must find more of each if they were to survive.
They continued walking by night, hiding/sleeping during the day and surviving on malted milk tablets. On the fourth day they met an Arab who gave them rice and army biscuits promising to return that night and act as their guide. He did not return so they trudged on in the same south easterly direction as before for the next two nights. Sergeant Barras said later that he had wanted to go north as it was unlikely that there would be much water in the sandy wastes to the south and after a good deal of argument they turned north the same night. Two more nights went by and when they found only dry wells tempers became frayed and they began bickering but the country here looked more promising; at least there was green stubble here and there.
On day 9 [some sources it was on day 5] they were near Buq Buq and the crew decided to split up with the two Canadian officers F/O. Hare and Fl/Lt. Chappell staying together and Sgt. Barras leading the others. The food and water was divided up and the two groups parted company, the Canadians saying that they intended to try to steal a lorry and drive to the allied lines.
THE FOUR SERGEANTS WHO WENT ON ALONE.
Two nights later Sgt. Barras' group almost walked into some enemy trucks whilst crossing a road, the risk of being seen increasing with practically every step they took towards the allied lines.
They set out again that night and seeing an Italian wagon decided to search it for food and water. On approaching the wagon an Italian soldier jumped out and challenged them but they immediately turned tail and ran off. He seemed even more afraid than they were and did not give chase.
Several nights later whilst looking for abandoned vehicles they were chased by some more Italian soldiers. With their feet bound in rags and boots cut away to ease their blisters the airmen were handicapped in trying to outrun the Italians who, after gaining on them, opened fire. Fortunately, two days earlier one of the airmen had found a rifle which although a little rusty was serviceable; he returned fire and their pursuers ran off; the four airmen did likewise.
Now with all their food and water gone they were desperately thirsty and hungry. Mid way through the oppressively hot morning they came across another burned out vehicle and made their way to it to gain shelter from the sun and to search it for food and water. Alas they found nothing, even the radiator was empty.
Flight Sergeant Warwick however, in making a thorough search of the vicinity, discovered a disused camp. Here he found several tins of bully beef and potatoes and about two gallons of rusty water in a tin. The food was rancid but the crew were so hungry they hardly noticed and fell upon it.
Somewhat refreshed they pushed on for another two nights having resorted to eating desert snails and even enjoying them.
Another day passed and as Alec Barras later recalled they were by now in a "pretty appalling" condition and so weak that they felt they could go no farther. But just as they were about to give up they encountered two Arab shepherds who gave them biscuits and goats milk. They also warned them that there were German and Italian soldiers nearby and directed them to an Arab village a few miles away. Despite their exhausted condition Sgt. Barras led them to the village where the Arabs then took them into some thick shrubs about 3 miles away. They were fed curried rice, more army biscuits and black highly sweetened tea. Later they were taken to another Arab village where the hospitality was renewed.
It was now 14 nights since the crash as it transpired, the turning point in their journey back to base.
Sergeant Barras engaged in negotiations with the Arabs and in exchange for handing over all their money and making further promises persuaded them to supply guides, Arab clothing, food, water and a camel to carry it all.
They continued on their journey now travelling about 20 miles each night until finally in one big effort, walking day and night for two days with the minimum of rest, made a "forced march" of some 65 miles.
On the 22nd day, almost totally exhausted, footsore, suffering from sickness and stomach troubles they met members of the 11th Hussars a few miles from their own lines. After spending the night with them they completed their epic journey in relative style and comfort, driven by armoured car to Royal Air Force Headquarters at Borg-el-Arab, 30 miles south west of Alexandria.
After separating from the group, F/O. Hare and Fl/Lt. Chappell had been captured by Italian forces and sent to prisoner of war camps in Italy. In 1943, after Italy had signed an armistice, they escaped and rejoined Allied forces.
Sergeant Barras was recommended for and was awarded the Military Medal for his action. He was the first RAAF aircrew member to receive the award.
The recommendation for the award was a précis of the story of the trek across the desert and concluded:
"Sergeant Barras, despite great hardship and suffering, displayed fine ability as a leader and his initiative and great determination contributed largely to the safe return of his party."
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) W/C. Christopher Edwin Lawrence Hare DFC, AFC, CD, was born on 4 October 1922 at Westmount, Montreal, Québec, Canada the son of Thomas and Alice Hare. The family later moved to Toronto where Christopher Hare was educated at the Scarborough Collegiate. After leaving college he worked briefly as an Office Clerk before enlisting in the RCAF at Toronto on 22 April 1940 at the age of 18. He graduated from No. 2 Initial Training School at Regina, Saskatchewan on 27 July 1940 and No. 10 Elementary Flying Training School at Hamilton, Ontario on 11 November 1940. He graduated as a Pilot from No. 5 Service Flying Training School at Brantford, Ontario on 28 January 1941 and was commissioned in 1942.
After arriving in the UK he was first posted to 103 Squadron and later to 458 RAAF Squadron. In January 1942 458 Squadron was despatched to Malta and later to Egypt where he was attached to No. 37 Squadron on 13 July 1942. (See biography of Sergeant Barras for details of 458 Squadron's move to the Middle East).
After being shot down in Tobruk and taken prisoner he was sent to Campo 78 Sulmona and after the Armistice with Italy of 8 September 1943 rejoined British Forces.
He was Mentioned in Despatches on 1 June 1943 (London Gazette 2 June 1943).
After a period of leave in Canada he returned to the UK and in October 1944 was posted to 150 Squadron Bomber Command.
On 13 March 1945 having flown 49 sorties (357 hours) he was recommended for the Distinguished Flying Cross. It was noted that in his first tour from 31 May 1941 to 30 July 1942 [when shot down over Tobruk] he had flown 31 sorties with Nos. 103 and 458 Squadrons against the Ruhr, German ports and warships and with No. 37 Squadron against Tobruk and related targets. His second tour consisted of 18 sorties, including 3 daylight operations, between 27 November 1944 and 16 March 1945.
The recommendation for the DFC was as follows:
"Acting Squadron Leader Hare, a Canadian Flight Commander, has completed eighteen operational missions comprising 128 hours on his second tour of operations. His first tour of operations was terminated by his capture in the Middle East after a forced landing on an operational flight. Since the commencement of his second tour he has led his flight with grim determination and steadfast resolution against the enemy, setting a very fine example to the pilots in his flight. These sorties include attacks on the heavily defended targets of Dortmund (twice), Munich, Politz, Merseburg-Leuna, Mannheim and Dessau.
Squadron Leader Hare's leadership has contributed in a large measure to the success of this squadron and is worthy of the highest praise. His outstanding ability as a Flight Commander and his strong sense of duty are only excelled by his fine offensive spirit."
The award "in recognition of gallantry and devotion to duty in the execution of air operations against the enemy" was made on 5 July 1945 (London Gazette 17 July 1945).
After the end of the war he remained with the RAF and in 1946 married Gwendolyn Holgate in Kensington, London. In August 1946 the couple went to live in Canada where Squadron Leader Hare served at Trenton, Edmonton and Centralia, Lachine and Moose Jaw before being posted to North Bay, Ontario as Commanding Officer of the all-jet 414 Squadron.
In 1951 he was awarded the Air Force Cross, the citation reads:
The announcement is made of the award of the Air Force Cross to S/L. C.E.L. Hare, DFC of the RCAF. S/L. Hare had been serving with the RAF on exchange and the two incidents mentioned in this citation occurred during this period.
The first of these took place in April 1949, when he was flying a Halifax adapted to carry a paratechnicon, or special cargo-carrying device, which could be dropped by parachute. Little was known about how this device would affect the handling characteristics of the aircraft. On the first flight one engine failed. S/L. Hare could have jettisoned the paratechnicon, which was not equipped with parachutes on the initial flight, and then made a three-engine landing with little danger. Having regard to the setback the project would suffer and the danger to people on the ground, he continued to fly the aircraft on three engines until familiar with its performance, and then made a successful three-engine landing, without damage to the aircraft or special equipment.
The second item in the citation refers to his conduct while in charge of a Lancaster aircraft equipped with prototype cloud-warning equipment. During the spring of 1950 this aircraft was despatched to Singapore for trials. More than 100 flights were made through cumulo-nimbus cloud and 30 flights through thunder-storms where lightening was present. The information obtained is described as invaluable. The citation says "there is no doubt that the example set by S/L. Hare and his determination to fulfil the task to the utmost of his ability contributed largely to the success of the expedition and his investigations have helped to tear down some of the veils of ignorance which cloud man's knowledge of flying conditions in cumulo-nimbus cloud and thunderstorms."
He was also a recipient of the Canadian Forces Decoration (CD) awarded for 12 years service and was later promoted to Wing Commander
On 14 November 1960 he was killed when his Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck V 18596 fighter crashed into hydro wires north east of North Bay airport during heavy rain and overcast weather. He was 38 and had 5000 hours of flying experience.
Also on board the aircraft and killed in the crash was Flying Officer Jean Marie Dawson aged 27.
Wing Commander C.E.L. Hare and Flying Officer J.M. Dawson are commemorated on the AWF Memorial Cairn at the RCAF Memorial Museum, 8 Wing, Trenton, Ontario, Canada and
(2) F/O. Alexander Edward Owen Barras MM was born at Auburn, Melbourne, Victoria on 26 January 1914. He was a prominent cricketer and a good baseballer with Fitzroy, a member of the advertising staff of West Australian Newspapers Ltd and contributed items on sport to the Western Mail. After moving to Perth he played interstate cricket for Western Australia in season 1938/39. He enlisted with the RAAF in October 1940 and after some training in Australia was sent to Canada for further Pilot training at No. 2 Service Flying Training School at Uplands, Ottawa, Ontario where he qualified as a pilot in 1941. Later that year he was sent, via Iceland, to the UK where he was posted to No. 21 Operational Training Unit at RAF Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire where his instructors considered that his flying ability was above average. After training at 21 OTU he was posted to the recently formed No. 458 RAAF Squadron at RAF Holme-on-Spalding Moor in the East Riding of Yorkshire where he flew Vickers Wellingtons in bombing raids over France and Germany.
In January 1942 the squadron was reallocated to Middle East Command. Its relocation was a chaotic affair. Air and ground crews were separated as the latter went by sea, while the aircraft were flown out to the Middle East by their crews. While refuelling in Malta, many of the squadron's aircraft were re-allocated to other squadrons, and as a result many crews had to wait in Malta for transport on to Egypt. It was May by the time that the ground crew reached Egypt, and when they arrived many were re-allocated to other squadrons, servicing a variety of aircraft from the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Force. Many of the aircrews suffered similarly, being temporarily detached to various squadrons including Nos. 37, 70, 104, 108, and 148 Squadrons RAF. 458 Squadron was not reunited until 1 September 1942.
Sergeant Barras was attached to 37 Squadron on 13 July 1942.
While he had been in England Alec Barras had not neglected his love of cricket, playing at every opportunity in inter-unit matches. Even during the four weeks he spent in Malta en route to the Middle East, he managed to "keep his eye in on the cricket field in between raids".
He was awarded the Military Medal on 26 January 1943 (London Gazette 26 January 1943).
By February 1943 he was back on operations. In a letter to a friend in Melbourne published in the West Australian of 11 February 1943, he gave this account of a recent mission:
"I took my new crew on its first operation 4 nights ago flying altogether 1400 miles to attack a convoy. We had a lot of luck being in a splendid position to bomb an oil tanker. In a dive bombing attack we scored several hits. These stopped the ship and allowed submarines to sink it next morning".
Later in 1943 he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer and posted to ECFS (Empire Central Flying School) at Hulavington in Wiltshire and then appointed Public Relations Officer at RAAF Overseas Headquarters and promoted to Flying Officer.
On 20 July 1943 he was presented with his Military Medal by King George VI at an investiture at Buckingham Palace.
During the summer of 1943 he had indulged his love affair with cricket and captained various RAAF teams in inter-service games. He had realised a lifelong ambition to play at Lord's cricket ground when he was included in an RAAF side against Sir Pelham (Plum) Warner's eleven. He also played at Sussex County cricket ground for the RAAF against the South of England and played against Les Ames the English wicketkeeper besides meeting other notable players in London.
In the latter part of 1943 he returned to Australia where he was posted to the Central Flying School at Parkes, New South Wales as an instructor and in 1944 to No. 7 EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School) at RAAF Western Junction, Tasmania also as an instructor. Whilst at Western Junction he was involved in a serious incident whilst flying a Tiger Moth that resulted in his arrest. The Confirmatory Memorandum from No. 7 EFTS to the Air Board at Melbourne of 1 July 1944 stated that:
On the morning of 28 June 1944 F/O. Barras was carrying out authorised duel instruction and had landed at the Nile Satellite Aerodrome.
At approximately 09:30 hours F/O. Barras took over control and made a take off, heading for the Hut on this Satellite. The aircraft left the ground but the pilot did not attempt to climb the aircraft, holding it down and heading for the Hut. At approximately 15 feet from the Hut the pilot commenced and executed a climbing turn to the left. As this turn was commenced the port bottom mainplane struck a trainee who was sitting on a table about 15 feet from the buildings. The wing struck the trainee, AC2 Tilley, breaking his collarbone and later it was found necessary to operate on him for internal haemorrhage. His condition is now satisfactory.
The aircraft was quite serviceable at the time of the accident, weather conditions were good and the Instructor was correctly authorised to carry out ab initio training.
The pilot, F/O. Barras is now under arrest whilst a Summary of Evidence is being taken against him, the proceedings of which will be forwarded as soon as possible.
The probable cause of the accident was recorded as "Disobedience of orders".
F/O. Alec Barras was Court Martialled on 3 August 1944. Alas the outcome of the Court Martial is not known but whatever the result Flying Officer Barras was in action again the following year when on 18 March 1945 he was the pilot of De Havilland Mosquito HR506 of No 1 Squadron flying from RAAF Kingaroy in Queensland to the Indonesian Island of Moratai for detachment to Manilla in the Philippines for testing against captured Japanese aircraft. En route F/O Barras strafed a barge and huts in New Guinea becoming the first South West Pacific Mosquito to fire its guns in anger.
4 July 1946 Western Mail reported that Alec Barras had recently returned from active service and was resuming his contribution of cricket reports.
He also resumed his cricket career and was again selected to play interstate cricket for Western Australia in 1947/48.
He retained his love of all things cricket and baseball for the rest of his life both as player and sports reporter.
Alexander Edward Owen Barras died at Mount Lawley, Western Australia on 15 August 1986 aged 72.
(3) Fl/Lt. Clifford Daniel Robert Chappell was born on 21 November 1920 at Ontario, Canada the son of Charles Henry Chappell and Rosetta Lavinia Mary Chappell nee Palmer. The family live at Windsor, Ontario and Clifford enlisted there on 1 July 1940. He graduated from No. 1 Initial Training School, Toronto, Ontario on 13 September 1940, No. 3 Air Observer School at Regina, Saskatchewan on 8 December 1940, No. 2 Bombing and Gunnery School at Mossbank, Saskatchewan on 19 January 1941 and No. 1 Central Navigation School at Rivers, Manitoba on 15 February 1941.
After crashing in Tobruk he was capture by Italian forces along with Flying Officer Hare.
He was Mentioned in Despatches effective 1 June 1943 (London Gazette 2 June 1943)
He married Winnifred Mary Liddell (date unknown)
Clifford Chappell died on 20 May 1989 aged 68.
(4) Sgt. James Shirra was born in 1919 at Larbert, Scotland. He was a member of Torwood Boy Scouts. Nothing further known - can you help?
(5) Sgt. A I (?L) Jones was born c 1922 and from Codicote, Hertfordshire. Nothing further known - can you help?
(6) F/Sgt. Charles Raymond Warwick was born on 18 October 1912 at Neutral Bay, New South Wales. He had worked as a Pasturalist on his own Sheep Station but at the time of his enlistment at Adelaide on 27 May 1940 he gave his occupation as an Electrical Traveller and his residence as Prospect, South Australia. He was described as being 5'5"" tall, weighing 134 lbs., having a fresh complexion, hazel eyes and auburn hair. He named his next of kin as his sister Mrs. A.M. Freestun of 17 Rheims Street, Collinswood, Adelaide.
He trained at No. 1 Initial Training School at Somers, Victoria to 1 July 1940 then No. 1 Wireless and Gunnery School at Ballarat, Victoria to 21 October 1940 when he was posted to No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School at Evans Head, New South Wales until 16 December 1940 when he was posted to No. 4 ED at Adelaide.
On 25 January 1941 he embarked for the UK where he disembarked on 23 April. After 8 weeks at 23 Operational Training Unit at RAF Pershore, Throckmorton, Worcestershire he was posted to 103 Squadron at RAF Newton near Nottingham on 22 June; the squadron later moving to RAF Elsham Wolds in Lincolnshire. On 14 September 1941 he was posted to the newly formed 458 RAAF Squadron at RAF Holme-on-Spalding Moor, in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Equipped with Vickers Wellington Bombers the squadron commenced operations over German-occupied Europe on 20 October 1941.
In January 1942 the squadron was reallocated to Middle East Command (see details in above biography of Alec Barras)
F/Sgt Warwick was attached to 37 Squadron on 13 July 1942.
In March 1943 he was posted to No. 6 (Coastal) Operational Training Unit for 6 months after which he went to No. 152 Operational Training Unit before being posted to 281 Squadron on 11 December 1943. 281 squadron was engaged on air sea rescue operations around the British Isles.
He was Mentioned in Despatches announced in the London Gazette 2 June 1943.
He was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on 2 August 1944 and promoted to Flying Officer on 2 May 1945. He returned to Australia disembarking at Melbourne on 17 October 1945 and was discharged from the RAAF on 5 December 1945.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - March 2016
With thanks to the sources quoted below.