© 2009 454 & 459 RAAF Squadrons

459 RAAF Squadron

 Warrant Officer John "Jack" H Simmonds – RAF

Service Number 1394466 - RAF

14th June 1924 – 3rd April 2008

Warrant officer

Wireless Operator/Air Gunner ASV Operator 459 RAAF Squadron

Place of birth: Walthamstow, London, England

Date of enlistment: July 1941 (age 17)

Date of discharge: July 1946

Died : 3rd April 2008 [advised by Joe Aitken]

Served with 459 RAAF Squadron in Baltimores 1944 – 1945


Dad flew with Bob Norman, Bill East and Ken Aitken. He kept in contact with them through the years by post and also in person when Bob and Ken came to London.  He had arranged to meet Ken in July this year but sadly died too soon.  He spoke to Ken on the telephone shortly before he died.

Beirut 1944


From : A Memoir “Someone is Trying to Kill Me”

Baltimore Crew:

Pilot:    Bob Norman RAAF

Navigator/Observer:    Ken Aitken RAAF

Wireless Operator/Air Gunner : Jack Simmonds RAF

Wireless Operator/Air Gunner :  W “Bill” East RAAF

A Very General Summary

WAG Training.  Enlisted at 17 years and one month, Jack completed all his WAG training in the UK: Morse, wireless ground/air; maintenance; experience in DH 89 Dragon Rapid; Log keeping; Air gunnery and ASV operating.

Operational Training Unit Course at No. 75 RAF OUT at Gianaclis, Egypt, after the long voyage via Capetown.  He crewed with 3 RAAF members (see above).  His crew qualified on Ventura twin-engined coastal command aircraft.

Possibly at Ramat David Palestine April 1944

459 RAAF Squadron – Operational Service : A General Overview

Gambut was a short posting; then Ramut David Palestine – a more comfortable base – introduced to formation flying and fighter affiliation.  At St Jean he flew his first bombing sortie on Rhodes [the first of many on that target).  Shortly the Squadron converted to Baltimores.  Any qualms about their safety were quickly dispelled.  There were the common “cock-ups” including burst tyres on landing and resultant damaged aircraft etc., and a runaway turret 5 gun was an unexpected hazard, Squadron moves (often long road hauls were involved) from the Levant to Cyrenaica were the lot of such a mobile tented unit.

The operational emphasis was on the Aegean, convoy escort, anti-sub patrols; bombing practice and close formation manoeuvres.

“Shakey” experiences provided by the first class defensive gunners at Melos (always a “hot spot” to the very end) enlivened a never dull operational manoeuvre.

Bob Norman’s crew became a leader of formation bombing “boxes”.

Berka III, without running water, and a 4 gallon Jerry-can daily water issue per 4 man tent was managed grudgingly.

Fruitless attempts to silence the heavy gun batteries on Melos were frustrating – it seemed to be a chosen island for a last stand.

From Jack Simmonds memoirs - "Raid on German Headquarters Crete":

Jack recalled many “hairy” experiences.  Among them were his responsibilities taking high quality rear-under-hatch bomb-strike pictures, using the hand held F24 camera – a very heavy instrument indeed; and when buffeted by the slip stream during continual evasive formation manoeuvres it was very, very difficult to aim and hold steady on target.

Jack remembered from his memoirs and vital attack on German HQ's in central Rhodes.  German military intelligence reports indicated that is was a German HQ for the whole of the Dodecanese. The Baltimore crews were briefed at Berka base, they staged to Mersa Matruh from where they flew in 2 formations, 11 planes led by Bob Norman and 'Hoot' Gibson. 

Bob Norman led the first formation - returning safely - 11.20 am to 15.40 pm (from Mersa Matruh) - there were 5 planes following Norman's crew (all up 24 souls).

Crew - - F/L R.H. Norman (RAAF); F/Off J.K. Aitken, (RAAF); F/Off W.W. East (RAAF) and F/Sgt J.H. Simmonds (RAF)

Baltimore Mk V



Jack 'Hoot' Gibson led the second formation - returning safely - 11.20 am to 15.40 pm (from Mersa Matruh) - there were 3 planes following Gibson's crew (all up 16 souls).

Crew - F/Off J.B. Gibson (RAAF); P/Off S.J. Gorman (RAAF); W/Off L.A. Alen, (RAAF) & WO D.N. Hurlstone (RAAF

Baltimore Mk V



It was very successful with bomb hits covering the entire target area and there were several direct hits seen on the main HQ building.  There were only 20 rounds of inaccurate opposition flak encountered.

Jack Simmonds photographed the scene from Bob Norman's aircraft and later recalled:

"We couldn't find the target at first because of cloud and were wheeling over the island in impeccable formation for some minutes.  bob was the flight commander and although a mild sort of bloke, he insisted on everybody being nicely tucked in...  Suddenly through a gap in the clouds, we spotted the barracks down below and whilst we were on the turn our navigator, Ken Aitken, dropped his bombs and the rest of the formation did likewise.

I was leaning out the back through the bottom hatch, kneeling to take a photograph.  I got such a shock when the bombs hit the target building, that I almost dropped the heavy camera.  Fortunately I had my finger on the (camera) trigger and there was no foul up.  It was the first time I had seen the bombs actually hit the target smack on.  I saw no one down below and presumably the inhabitants were in their shelter but if they weren't then casualties must have been heavy."

Jack's actual photos of the bombs exploding on the German Headquarters at Cochinisu Rhodes 16 January 1945 (AWM: RC01647)

The AOC in Chief, RAF Middle East, Air Marshal Sir Keith Park, was also impressed with the Squadron's handiwork, telegramming the below congratulatory message.  Copies of this signal were made for each of the participating crews to insert in their log books. 

“Nickelling” (leaflet dropping) became a late tour expectation from the crew, indicating that 459 had fulfilled the whole range of operational sortie types.

(Editor: as the Allies rapidly forced German forces on all fronts towards home defence so 459’s Baltimores stepped up their operational efforts in the Aegean.  Crete was slowly shrinking as a base.  In fact Reg Calvert’s forced landing on Eastern Crete has a somewhat premature partisan celebration).

In early 1945 Jack was posted home on the HMT “Orian” and promoted, to Warrant Officer, still only 22 years of age, and was discharged in July 1946.  459 had been earmarked for “Leighlight Wellingtons” (Wimpeys’) to go to the Far East but instead was disbanded at Chivenon, England.


'A' Flight Benghazi 1944 - crew members

(underlined below - to the right of the photo)

in front of a Baltimore

Bill East,

Joe Aitkin,

Ransley & Bob Norman

Britz & Jack Simmonds

The following is a story from Bob Norman's book "Bush Pilot"

"Eastern Command decided to give the ground crews of 459 a rest as they had been fighting backwards and forwards along the North African coast for nearly 3 years, and although they had individual leave they needed a break in the "green belt" ----- a few months in the lush fields of Palestine would work wonders for them.  We packed up and within the hour we were on our way to Ramat David. 

The North African desert is absolutely amazing.  One can spend months out there and not see a soul other than one's own people, but decide to move and within minutes the place is swarming with desert nomads.  They seemed to pop up out of the ground.  It would have been alright if they had waited until we had packed up all we wanted and then helped themselves.  But they couldn't bear to wait and started carrying away items we intended to take with us. -----"

That being said, Bob went on to describe a funny story of Bill and Jack Simmonds with some 'left-behind German' goods...

"Bill and Jack found a perfectly good German BMW motor-bike in the desert which they rode about the compound.  Joe Aitken and Arnold Jones, another new pilot, found a German desert car in which they used to drive to the Mediterranean for swims.  They couldn't use any of our fuel, but that didn't matter;  there were plenty of dumps of Italian fuel.  Joe and Arnold knew they couldn't take the desert car to Ramat David, so they left it in the bundu for the next mob to use.

But Bill and Jack were determined to take the BMW with us,  they tried the aircraft door but it wouldn't go through, so they asked me could they use the bomb bay.  I said yes, provided they could sling it on the bomb racks and clear of the bomb doors.  "I'll give you ten minutes," I said.  I knew the Chief didn't want his record of "up and away within the hour" spoiled.

They were still trying to sling the motorbike up when time ran out.  The other aircraft were starting their motors so I had to order them away while I closed the bomb doors before starting up.  They were like little boys losing a toy.  I'm sure I saw tears in their eyes as we taxied away leaving the bike behind."


L-R: Ross Smith, Jack & Jimmy Gee

(Linda - Jack's daughter writes regarding the above photo)

"Jimmy Gee was from Manchester and he, dad and Ross were together at Hooton Park Radio school in Cheshire.  Dad was making plans for a reunion with him in Devon when he got a letter to say he had been killed just weeks before the end of the war in Europe.

Ross Smith was one of dad's great Aussie pals.  He stayed with my Gran and Grandad in London quite often and they were very fond of him.  I went to the house today and found lots of correspondence between dad and Ross. He lived in Cowes, Vic.  His wife was Dorothy and he had four daughters and ten grandchildren."

Tribute to dad

[written by his daughter Linda Butcher)

John Henry Simmonds known as Jack was born on 14th June 1924 in Myrtle Road Walthamstow.  His parents were Arthur and Ellen and he had two brothers Len and Stan.  Len sadly died in 1980 at the tender age of 62.

As a boy he loved playing football and cricket and he and his brothers often suffered minor injuries as a result.

When World War 2 started he and his friends helped the air raid wardens by watching for fires but as soon as he was 17 he signed up for the RAF and trained as a wireless operator and air gunner.  He should of course have been 18 but he was so keen to go he told a slight untruth about his age.

He travelled to such places as Capetown, Durban, Egypt, Gaza and Palestine before joining an Australian crew who became lifelong friends. At 22 he was made a warrant officer.

Jack and Joan on their wedding day

After the war he married Joan, his teenage sweetheart and they had two daughters, Jacqueline and Linda.  He worked in the timber trade, first for city companies and then running his own business until his retirement.

All his life he retained a keen interest in cricket and football and his old squadron.  He wrote a book called ‘Someone is trying to kill me’ about his wartime experiences which was read and enjoyed by family and friends both here and in Australia. Jack loved books.  His favourite author was Dickens and he had read the complete works several times.  He also loved Trollope, Arnold Bennett and P.G. Wodehouse.

Gardening was one of his great passions and his garden was always lovely.

He remained close to his brother Stan and his good friend Terry. He was a devoted husband, a loving father and grandfather.  He was a very good and lovely man.

Jack and Joan on their 50th Wedding Anniversary

A recent photo of Joan and Jack

Jack with Sir Bob Norman and Lady Betty Norman