© 2009 454 & 459 RAAF Squadrons


459 RAAF Squadron


Flight Sergeant - Campbell Stephen


Service No. 402888


Date of Birth :     16 April 1921


Place of Birth: Woolahra, NSW


Date Of Enlistment:      11 November 1940


Place Of Enlistment:      Sydney, NSW


Date of Death:  1 June 1942 (age 21)


Buried: El Alamein, Egypt


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Flight Crew – Roll of Honour

Flight/Sergeant Frank Leavey, RAAF

F/Sgt Oliver Osborne, RAAF

F/Sgt Campbell Stephen, RAAF

F/Sgt Stanley Unger, RAAF


Ground Crew – Roll of Honour

F/Sgt Arthur Chirnside, RAAF

LAC Robert Aitken, RAAF

LAC Wallace Reid, RAAF


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The tragic accident as detailed in Professor Leon Kane-Maguire’s

book “Desert Scorpions” – reads as follows:


The honour of flying the Squadron’s first regular operational sortie from LG-40 fell to Don Beaton and his crew; Pilot Officer Norman Pottie (Navigator), Sergeants Ray Heathwood and Doug Maddress (WOP/AGs) in Hudson ‘D’ (V9052). They took off at midday on the 1 June for an anti-submarine patrol along the Cyrenaica coast between Mersa Matruh and Sidi Barrani. The uneventful four and a half hour sortie, together with a similar patrol two hours later by Ian Campbell’s crew in Hudson ‘Ç’(V9187), marked the effective commencement of independent operations by 459 Squadron.


Unfortunately, the squadron’s satisfaction at finally operating from its own airfield was marred by a tragic accident that claimed seven lives. A horrified witness was Syd Wickham who was Acting ‘B’ Flight Commander at the time: “I heard an aircraft on the circuit, picked up the field glasses to read off the identification letters and walked outside the Flight tent. I focused the glasses and in trying to read the letter I realised my body was twisting over sideways. I thought, this is odd, I stood up straight and dropped the glasses in horror, as the aircraft rolled completely over and crashed at the end of the runway. There was no hope for anyone to survive the crash, much less the instantaneous inferno that followed. The pilot was Sergeant Leavey and a good pilot too. In a tight steep turn the aircraft appeared to have done a high-speed stall. The fire tender was slow getting to the scene, but it couldn’t be effective and I was too devastated to complain.”


Sergeant Frank Leavey was returning Hudson (V8997) from No 107 MU at Kasfareet where modifications had been carried out on its Wright Cyclone engines to improve oil consumption. Three of those killed when the aircraft crashed on its return were ground crew fitters who had been taken to 107 MU to assist with the modifications. Understandably, there was considerable concern as to what had caused the tragedy, as it did not appear that an engine had cut. Another fitter, Stan Charington, who had been waiting at the airfield for the return of his friend Bob Aitken who was on board, gave a similar explanation to that of Syd Wickham: “The pilot overshot the strip, then on banking with the large wing flaps extended, turned into the wind for the second approach. According to those watching, at 150 feet that was inviting disaster. The port wing stalled, the nose dropped and it was all over.”

Ray Heathwood described the grim aftermath, “Instantly we knew no one would get out of that alive. Don [Beaton] jumped on one of the trucks racing to the crash site. Later I was told a hand was seen reaching up through the flames. In the afternoon we are grave digging.” Those killed in the accident were buried with full military honours the following day. Present were two very fortunate fitters, ‘Gunner’Gaunt and his friend John Cosgrove, who had also been at Kasfareet and would have been on the fatal flight but for their decision to accept a truck ride back to base. The pathos of the desert burials is captured in Ian Campbell’s diary: “Today at 1000 hours, the usual scene was re-enacted. The grave with freshly-dug earth each side and the Padre wearing his clerical robes standing at the head. One side stand the firing party stiffly, whilst on the other side the officers and airman are lined up in two parties. At the other end of the grave on the ground lie the seven bodies, a pathetic heap covered by the Union Jack. I know the words of the service by heart now. The bodies are lowered reverently into the grave, the firing party’s three volleys ring out across the quietness of the sand and between them you could hear a pin drop. Then the ‘Last Post’, which is the saddest bugle call of all, followed by ‘Stand to’. The latter seems to have a note of challenge and somehow expresses still a spirit of defiance. We file up one by one and salute the grave, so it finishes. Once again the Last Post echoes in my ears and as I walk back my mind goes back to all the other times and all the other fellows. The best chaps one could ever wish to meet and they’re going like flies”. That evening Ray Heathwood sadly noted, “The crew we buried today are missed in the mess tonight. They made up a poker school and were the centre of a lot of bright backchat. Now with the tragedy on everyone’s mind there is a hushed quietness”.







 

Picture of Rick Capel
[Campbell Stephen’s nephew] with his niece Emma, attending the Squadron’s Reunion in 2007 -
Rick is now our Association’s
Honorary Secretary

Campbell STEPHEN