© 2009 454 & 459 RAAF Squadrons
459 RAAF Squadron Middle East Command
Flying Officer John Ross Singleton
The following information was supplied by Ross Singleton in an email dated 14th January 2006.
Toby Nicholls - Pilot (Australia)
J Ross Singleton - Navigator (Canada)
Clem Burrel - WAG (NZ)
Pat Gallagher - WAG (Canada) - deceased
George Lalor - WAG (Canada)
I joined 459 Squadron in early 1942 somewhere west of Alexandria. My crew were all Sergeants. Toby Nicholls was an Aussie Pilot, I was the Navigator, Clem Burrel was our Wireless Air Gunner and was a Kiwi, so was the fourth member of our crew, I have forgotten his name, he was sent back to N.Z. because he did not recover from malaria like the rest of us did.
Several Hudson Aircraft took off from the abovementioned area and flew to our Squadron Headquarters near Tobruk, Libya. It consisted of a large number of tents in the desert about two miles from the Mediterranean.
As part of Coastal Command we flew over the ocean, mostly at night on anti-submarine and shipping patrols. George Lalor, a Canadian who lives close to me in Winnipeg became our second WAG. George was one of five Canadian WAG'S sent to 459 from Alexandria. Three were killed during their first week on the Squadron on training exercises. Pat Gallagher from Winnipeg was the fifth, he died here a few years later.
I thought the story of the enclosed picture would be of interest. It is the bar in the Sergeant's Mess Tent. We had discovered a beautiful sandy bay north of the Squadron. Parts of one of our Hudson's was in this bay, it had been shot down in an attack on the enemy when they were located there. There was a building that had been occupied by both Germans and Italians. They had drawn pictures on the walls , I thought I could tell the origins of the artists. There was a supply of cement, metal and other materials, it was decided to use this material to build our bar in our mess. We were proud of our bar! it was well stocked (better than the cook's larder).
Early 1942 somewhere west of Alexandria - near a beautiful sandy bay north of the Squadron - was the hand built bar in the Sergeant's Mess Tent
Because we flew off the sand our planes had special filters for the engines, but we still had to fly them to Cairo, while on leave, for a thorough cleaning and repairs after every 300 hours of flying.
Just prior to Christmas 1942 one of our crews returning from Cairo bought back some live pigs and geese, we slaughtered them for our Christmas dinner. We didn't do a very good job! For example pig carcasses need to be scalded to scrap the hair and debris off the skin. Our "scalding" was more like a hot bath in a canvas lined hole in the desert. Our pork ended up with poorly shaved skin , but the meal from them and the geese made a wonderful Christmas dinner, the most memorable in my life. One of the geese escaped and became a mascot of sorts, it used to wait for the cook to empty the dishwater then it would rush into the water and paddle about till the water disappeared into the sand.
The following story - written by Ross Singleton - is from the 2002 Bulletin - Combined 454/459 Squadrons Association Reunion
"When in doubt...
A Little Luck Helps"
The Spring of 1942 saw me at Silloth O.T.U.
Silloth is on the north-west coast of England. A bay, near the airport, was called Hudson Bay, because so many inexperienced pilots had plunged Hudson aircraft into it!
In our group, all the pilots were Australians; all the Observers were Canadian, and all the Wireless Op. Air Gunners were from New Zealand. More than 90% of us were Sergeants.
My crew was composed of Toby Nichols - Pilot, Clem Burrel and Johnny Ryan - WAG's and me, the Observer.
After graduation, six crews, including ours, were assigned Hudsons, to fly from Lands End, England to the Far East via Africa. Our aircraft had extra fuel tanks in the bomb bay and in the cabins. We had enough .303 ammunition for our turret guns to fire for 30 seconds.
The first leg of our journey was from Lands End to Gibraltar. We flew separately. One of our group was shot down in the Bay of Biscay, and one pranged on landing in Gibraltar.
The next leg was from Gibraltar to the Gold Coast. Another aircraft and its crew disappeared off the west coast of Africa, and another landing on metal mesh plates over a boggy runway.
We stayed a few days on the Gold Coast, and then the two remaining crews headed north-east across Africa. I was fascinated by the terrain and map read for an hour or so. Taking a drift, I discovered, to my horror, that we were drifting 17 Deg. to port, whereas I had calculated 2 degs. starboard. I confessed I was lost. The skipper was justifiably angry. Clem was able to locate a weather station by radio, and we homed on it. Then I navigated as if over water, and we arrived a our destination, Maiduguri, Nigeria. During the two-day stop over there, I hunted guinea hens with my revolver, but even with the assistance of a native tribesman from a nearby grass hut camp, I had no success.
We took off for Khartoum only to discover that we had zero airspeed. After circling the airport and jettisoning fuel, to prevent tire blow out on landing, we made the slowest approach ever seen, by the ground crew. After removing the pitot head covering and re-fuelling we took off again. Sitting in the co-pilot's seat, I noted that even with Toby using both hands and both feet pushing the control column, we were climbing at a very hazardous rate.
I thought of landing trim and spun it down. We just missed the deck as we recovered airspeed. Toby had thought it unnecessary to do a second cockpit check. My crew mates were a pale green colour. I descended to the nose where my navigator's table was located. I discovered that I could not write the time of take-off because my hands were shaking.
We arrived at Khartoum and were directed to fly to Heliopolis, near Cairo, instead of carrying on to the Far East.
In a military tent camp near Alexandria, we all developed malaria and dysentery. Three of us recovered, but Johnny had to be sent home to New Zealand.
We were posted to 459 Squadron RAAF to fly Hudsons, and later Venturas, in Coast Command, in support of the Eight Army.
Both crews finished tours, the last trips being in support of the invasion of Sicily. George Lalor, a member of W.P.O.A. replaced Johnny in our crew.
R 75157 and J 85577 Flying Officer John Ross Singleton RCAF 459
RAAF Squadron 201 RAF Naval Co-operational Group Middle East
Toby Nicholls - Pilot
Ross Singleton - Observer
Clem Burrel - WAG
George Lalor - WAG
Note; Post-war Veterinarian after University of Toronto - worked in Manitoba; UK (foot and mouth disease); France.
I have included a recent picture (above) of me (far left with beard) as a Member of The Wartime Pilots and Observers Assoc. It was formed in 1919 in Winnipeg after the First World War. The picture was taken in the Officers Mess in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, about 50 miles west of Winnipeg. Our hosts are staff and students if the Air force flying school at a T.G.I.F. (Thank God it's Friday). Many Aussie navigators trained there during WW2.
Our records show we have four Australians members.
Donal W Black, Bangara, QLD.
Francis A Drake, Gosford, NSW
Frank E Pushee, Tuncurry ,NSW
Len F. Spooner, Birkdale, QLD.
A recent picture of me and my lovely wife, Beryl on her 84th birthday, we will have been married 64 years in November 2006
All the best
Dr. J Ross Singleton.
Contact Penny Griffiths, Hon. Secretary, 454/459
R.A.A.F Squadrons Association -
should you wish to contact Ross Singleton
as she has his email and home contact details.
John Ross SINGLETON
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