Fl/Lt. Desmond Ronald McFadden AUS/432538 RAAF
Born: December 04th 1923 at Haberfield, New South Wales. Died: 24th October 2016 Age 92.
Page compiled for Aircrew Remembered by his son, John McFadden October 2018
John welcomes contact from other relatives who served with his father - as do we.
My father, Desmond Ronald McFadden, was still at school (St. Gregory's Agricultural High School, Campbelltown NSW Australia) when he completed an "application for air crew form" on the 28th May, 1942. His mother gave written permission on the proviso that my father should turn 19 years of age, which he did on the 4th December that year (after completing his high school education).
On the 15th September in the same year he took the Oath of Service "to our sovereign Lord the King as a member of the Air Force Reserve" and "to resist His Majesty's enemies". On the 2nd January, 1943 he undertook his formal medical examination and immediately commenced his initial training as a "wireless air gunner". On attending his course in Maryborough, Queensland he "flunked out" on morse code and continued as a straight gunner with a noted "above average hand eye coordination" (years of shooting and trapping rabbits and foxes in the Upper Hunter region of NSW paying off).
It was there that he met up with Athol "Bluey" Webber who had undertaken a much more worldly education at the Teachers' College in Maitland before joining up still as a very young man. By September 1943 my father, and I believe Athol Webber, were continuing their training at Evans Head, NSW where they were introduced to the Fairey Battle aircraft and took to shooting up drogues. My father qualified as an air gunner on the 15th October, 1943 with a total of 11 hours fifty minutes flying time.
He and Bluey sailed on the Mariposa leaving Sydney on the 4th November, 1943 finally arriving in Brighton on the 15th December, 1943. Dad also teamed up with another gunner, Kelvin McLeod Girle. It was then off to OTU at RAF Edgehill. Dad's log book discloses training in Wellingtons where he sat in the tail. It is likely that Bluey went his separate way during this period, however dad continued his friendship with Kel.
(Webmaster note: Athol Grant Webber was listed as missing whilst flying as a rear gunner whilst with 115 Squadron. Lancaster HK556 A4-F see further details here)
At the same time (between February and early April 1944) Dad met Syd Stewart, a pilot and flew with him as tail gunner on 15 out of 38 flights. Syd and dad and Kel were to team up for their tour. It was then on to the (Heavy) Conversion Unit flying in Short Stirlings at Chedburgh and the rest of the tour crew came together. The next posting was to No 3 Lancaster Finishing School at RAF Feltwell where on the 6th June ("D" Day) the crew took its first flight in a Lanc. (ED376 which subsequently crashed after colliding with Lanc W4851 killing all on board both aircraft on the 17th June, 1944 - just one of the many "training" losses)
On the 10th June, 1944 with 9 hours and 21 minutes flying time in the Lancaster, the crew was posted to its first operational unit, 15 Squadron at RAF Mildenhall. On the 12th June, the pilot took his first operation as a second pilot flying a Mark 3 Lanc PB112 LS-K "K King" to Gelsenkirchen and thereafter the crew commenced their tour together (flying many sorties in PB112). Two a/c were lost from the squadron on that raid.
Thereafter, as I have my father's log book and a copy of the pilot's log book I am aware of the details fo the various operations undertaken by the crew. Right at the beginning of dad's tour he met my mother, Ruby Ellen, a land army girl from Wakefield, Yorkshire, while visiting the Bell Inn at Lakenheath. They dated throughout dad's tour and when it ended in early December 1944 got engaged and were married in Wakefield on the 17th March, 1945. My mother came to Australia as a "war bride" and as an only child her parents subsequently came to Australia to live in 1947 and spent their lives here, as did my mother, of course.
Above photo shows three aircraft including the lead aircraft LS-K PB112 being flown by Syd with the famous "J-Jigg" LL806 (134 ops) top right. Both LS-K and the particular LS-L in the photo were subsequently lost on raids.
Above photo is the full squadron and this photo as taken in July 1944, I believe. I can identify my father and his crew. The CO Wing Commander "Lofty" Gordon D. Watkins DSO DFC DFM (a four tour man with more ops than were recorded against his name due to his penchant for sitting in on anyone who was too ill to fly etc.) sits at the front with his dog. He was shot down on the November 1944 but survived the war as a PoW. A truly great leader. (Available at a higher resolution for relatives of other crews)
(Webmaster note: W/Cdr. Watkins DSO. DFC. DFM. Flying Lancaster III PB137 LS-U on an operation to Heinsburg, he the sole survivor)
Above the crew, you will note there are two Englishmen and five Australians from the colour of their uniforms. Four of the crew received DFCs. From left to right - can't recall all their final ranks - a) W/O Norm "Herbie" Herbert - wireless operator aged 20 RAAF, Flying Officer John Raynor Burrett DFC, Navigator, RAFVR service number 184628, the pilot Flight Lieutenant Sydney William Stewart DFC aged 21, AUS/418018 RAAF (and officer commanding "A" Flight as Acting Squadron Leader from about the end of August, 1944), Jim Bax, Flight Engineer (an English London bobby before the war) aged in his 30s, Flying Officer Kelvin McLeod Girle, AUS/429186 RAAF aged 20, tail gunner, Flight Lieutenant Will "Grim" Turner DFC aged 20, Bomb Aimer and Flying Officer Desmond Ronald McFadden, DFC AUS.432538 aged 20 Mid Upper Gunner.
Above a relaxed crew photo, Jim, Kel, Syd, Grim left to right at the rear and Normie, Johnny and Des at the front. As Dad was commissioned about August, 1944 it looks like the photo was taken early in their tour.
"CITATION: Pilot Officer McFadden has taken part in many successful attacks against the enemy. In August, 1944, when detailed to attack Rocque Court his aircraft was attacked by a Messerschmidt 210. This officer's accurate fire forced the attacker to break off the engagement. Throughout his tour of duty, Pilot Officer McFadden has displayed outstanding enthusiasm and courage. His vigilance and skill has inspired his crew with confidence." Syd's DFC Citation and his log book notes supports the assessment that in fact the enemy plane was destroyed. Syd's citation went on to say that with "....skilful manoeuvres and co-operation with his gunners the enemy plane was destroyed." Syd's citation also referred to Syd having completed "a very successful tour of operations during which he has attacked such important targets as Stuttgart, Essen and Frankfurt. On three occasions his aircraft was damaged by A/A fire". The Stuttgart ops were particularly dangerous being over three nights 24, 25 and 28 July, 1944 and the last night in particular when 39 aircraft were lost - 39% of the force.
I remain in awe of the men who flew in Bomber Command. Dad did not speak of his experiences until his early 80s when he met up with his old pilot, then a retired grazier from Victoria, who contacted him out of the blue. Along with "Grim" Turner, the bomb aimer, they attended the opening of the Bomber Command Memorial in Canberra at the War Memorial with their wives and I first got to listen to some of their stories. Dad survived to receive the Legion of Honour from the French as he was involved in several major sorties in support of the post 'D Day' invasion. A truly tremendous award given by the French Government to all surviving members of the forces who had taken part in the liberation of France on 'D Day'.
Above: Dad taken with his Legion of Honour in 2015 and the other photo was taken by a photographer from the Australian War Museum in Canberra and is on display there with several thousand other former service men and women from WW2. He was last man standing out of his crew. Right: With Ruby.
Dad passed away peacefully aged 92 years on 24 October, 2016 following a fall about six weeks earlier. Until then he had been an active daily volunteer at a local nursing home reading to dementia sufferers and assisting where he could. He was still driving a motor vehicle up until early 2016 but his vision was deteriorating. He was a bright, intelligent man, a great talker and well read and a great lover of poetry (Keats etc.).
After the war he attended Sydney University funded by the commonwealth Rehabilitation Training Scheme and subsequently became a high school teacher - English and history master - teaching in several Sydney suburban high schools over his working life. He rejoined the RAF Reserves in 1957 and was heavily involved with Air Training Corp cadet flights receiving the Cadet Services Medal. In the 1960s, there being a shortage of officers in the RAAF as a result of the Vietnam War, he applied for a three month posting and returned to active service in the Special Duties Administration Branch of the RAAF effective from 1 November, 1968. He served with RAAF 38 Squadron operating DHC-4 Caribous in the Trobriand Islands off the New Guinea coast providing transport support for the PNG Defence Force. On his return to teaching he continued his work with the cadets retiring from the RAAF Reserves in 1974 with the rank of Flight Lieutenant.
My mother, Ruby Ellen Clayton was born in Belle Vue, Wakefield, England on 30th August, 1924. As I said, my parents married at Wakefield on 17 March, 1945. They honeymooned in Cornwall at the rectory of Canon Andrews in Stoke, Climsland. Canon Andrews was a friend to many Australian airmen having served as a chaplain with the Australian Flying Corps in WW1. My mother, who had joined the Women's Land Army left the Army on 30 June, 1945 and returned home. My father, following leave, had returned to base as an air gunner instructor.
My parents spent a brief time together in Brighton before my father left to return to Australia departing 17 September, 1945. My mother, who was pregnant, left England on the Rangitiki with another 145 war brides and she finally arrived in Melbourne on 11 February, 1946 and next day headed for Sydney by train. My parents were reunited on Central Railway Station, Sydney, mum observably pregnant and dad in "civvies" and no longer the dashing airman. It was a shock for both of them however they went on to have a long, happy marriage with four children (my brother Michael (deceased), and me then my two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary). My mother was eventually diagnosed with dementia in about 2006 and went into care in about 2010 and passed away peacefully in 2014. My father had cared for her at home and visited her daily in the nursing home with great devotion.
Dad had some thoughts on his service encapsulated in the following: "Suffolk: bomber country - night and day, the air pulsating - RAF by night, USAF by day - bombers coming in, bombers going out...staggering losses. "Enemy Coast Ahead", fighters, flack, searchlights, stricken aircraft. Infernos of bomb-shattered cities, incendiaries igniting the very air; firestorms, "Intruders" following the bombers home. Fear always present and danger. Peaceful and beautiful the countryside, friendly the villages, warm and cosy the pubs." As I recall my father when I was very young, he had what I understand to be an "operations twitch". He would be sitting quietly in the lounge room and suddenly and violently perform a whole body "twitch" such that his paper, if he was reading, would scatter everywhere or his pipe and its contents scatter. He would then apologise and get on with it. This eventually subsided.
I only ever saw him get excited once about flying when he was watching "The Dambusters" on TV and the scenes where the tail gunners were firing (they had removed the MUG position for these specialist raids). He had had a couple of beers and was sitting in his seat, bolt upright, animated, mesmerised as if no one else was in the room and "ratter tatting" away.
It was an extraordinary sight and completely out of character.
My parents always got up early on Anzac Day 25 April each year and toddled off to the local dawn service but dad had no one to march with as there was no recognised Bomber Command group despite some 4050 Australians dying on active service in Bomber Command. In later years he marched as ranks thinned out and allowed for men and women of all services to march together. He was a man who regarded himself as extremely lucky to have survived his service and able to go on and have a rich and enjoyable life. He put his "luck" down to flying with a great pilot and navigator in particular and a great team around him. He could never understand why he and three others of the crew and not all the crew received a DFC and refused to receive his DFC officially. It came in the mail, he told me.
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