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Flt/Lt. Don Charlwood

Flt/Lt. Don Charlwood
Born: September 6th 1915, Melbourne, Australia. Died: June 18th 2012. Age 96

Flew as a navigator in Lancaster bombers and wrote a classic account of the experiences of the young men serving with a Bomber Command squadron.

After training in Canada, Charlwood joined No 103 Squadron at Elsham Wolds in Lincolnshire in the autumn of 1942. The squadron had just re-equipped with the Lancaster and on one of his first sorties, a mining operation to the Baltic, his aircraft was badly damaged by anti-aircraft fire over Denmark.

As the pace of operations increased, Charlwood and his crew attacked many major industrial cities, including Turin, Munich, Essen and Berlin. Opposition was intense, and on almost every occasion at least one crew from No 103 failed to return. Over Wilhelmshaven, a fighter attacked Charlwood’s Lancaster and was beaten off by his gunners. A few nights later he and his crew met intense anti-aircraft fire over Bremen, and the wireless operator was badly wounded.

March 1943 saw the start of the Battle of the Ruhr. With the aid of the recently created Pathfinder Force, bombing accuracy had improved, and Charlwood flew to Essen, when his aircraft was again attacked by fighters, and to Berlin and Kiel. It was a period of very heavy losses, and Charlwood’s crew became the first on No 103 Squadron in nine months to survive a tour of 30 operational sorties. On April 7 1943 he and his crew flew their final operation; the target was Duisberg.

A thoughtful man, Charlwood knew how fortunate he was to have survived his tour of operations. Of the 20 men who had qualified as navigators with him, only five survived the war. To describe his own experience and the fate of his friends, he later wrote two outstanding accounts of the bomber war — No Moon Tonight and Journeys into Night. Together, these vivid and moving accounts are considered among the finest works of the genre.

Donald Ernest Cameron Charlwood was born on September 6 1915 near Melbourne, and spent his childhood in the seaside town of Frankston, Victoria, attending the local high school. Aiming to be a writer, he unsuccessfully sought a job on a newspaper, once approaching one Keith Murdoch, who lived nearby. Instead he worked as a farmhand, earning extra money by writing short stories. In 1941 he joined the RAAF and sailed for Canada, where he trained as a navigator.

At the end of his tour with No 103, Charlwood was commissioned and became an instructor at a bomber training unit. In February 1944 he was repatriated to Australia, where he served for the rest of the war.

On his return to civilian life, Charlwood worked for 30 years as an air traffic controller, first at Melbourne airport, then as a selection and training officer. He published a popular book that went to several reprints, Take-off to Touchdown: The Story of Air Traffic Control.

Among Charlwood’s best-known books is All the Green Year, which for two decades was a text in Australian high school English classes. First published in 1965, and subsequently made into a popular television series, it is the story of a boy’s journey towards adulthood. Despite its success, Charlwood’s favourite among his own works was No Moon Tonight, because “it is a book of sorrow and companionship”.

He was vice-president of the Victorian branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers from 1975 to 1990, and won a number of literary awards. In 1992 he was appointed as a Member of the Order of Australia.

Bomber Command Memorial, London

For many years Charlwood was an active advocate for a memorial to the 55,500 men who died in Bomber Command, and he asked a friend to represent him at the recent dedication by the Queen of the Bomber Command Memorial in London. He died 10 days before the ceremony.

Don Charlwood married Nell East, a Canadian schoolteacher, in 1944; she survives him with their son and three daughters.

Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.

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