© 2009 454 & 459 RAAF Squadrons

Our History

The Rededication of the Memorial 'To the Fallen' at Richmond RAAF base - 1992

L-R:  RAAF Padre, George Gray, Fred McKay (Clergyman), Pete Henderson, Pete Matthews, Hank Hayes,

Ken Rimmer & John McKenzie.


The following has been taken from the 2003 454/459 Squadrons Association Reunion Bulletin

The Dedication of the 454 and 459 Memorial Plaques on 31 October 2002 at the Australian War Memorial (AWM)

In the 60th Jubilee of their formation in 1942:-

454 at Aquir in Palestine

459 at Burg El Arab in Egypt

31 October 2003 Dedication Ceremony Western Courtyard of Australian War Memorial

Canberra ACT - George Gray AM DFC - Master of Ceremony

& Air Marshal Angus Houston AM AFC Chief of Airforce

The Preparation

In early 2002, because of efforts by the AWM among others to attract RAAF units not then represented by memorial Plaques fixed to the path, or bordering trees of the developing Memorial Walkway at the AWM in Canberra, the Association began enquiries.  Neither 454-459 had had Memorial flagstones, suitably inscribed on the stone-flagging floor of the RAF Church in The Strand, London (hundreds were in place by the mid-50’s when members visiting London only to be disappointed by our absence.  By the 1980s, efforts to have them installed were over ruled by the RAF – the response was too late!

Further enquiries at the AWM indicated more suitable plaques were being encouraged there.  At an estimated cost of about $550 for each bronze casting and $125 for fixing it by the AWM, memorial plaques with inscriptions approved by the AWM could be installed.  Funding would be the responsibility of the Association; the funding should be paid “up front”.  Accordingly an anonymous benefactor provided a cheque to the Association for $1,350, to cover the total cost.  The AWM approved plaques were produced in August 2002 ready for dedication and placement on a suitable occasion to allow proper public acknowledgement of the planned memorials.

In the meantime the RAAF had had the current RAAF Memorial in Anzac Parade significantly refurbished ready for Re-dedication on 1 November 2002.

The opportunity to have AWM and AAF approval for a 454-459 Dedication of Memorial Plaques Ceremony on the day proceeding the larger ceremony was eagerly canvassed, and agreed.  A programme for the service was developed, a draft Memorial Booklet was very carefully prepared, and efforts were made to have Air Marshal Angus Houston AM AFC (Chief of Air Force) unveil the memorial Plaques and Air Commodore Peter O’Keefe, Director General Chaplaincy Services to dedicate them.  Whilst the proposed dates and the programme were tentatively approved the dovetailing of the larger RAAF Dedication Ceremony and the Squadron Dedication Ceremony was the priority.  Fortunately in mid October the timetable was clearly possible and the Booklet printed.  Fortunately AWM senior staf were able to arrange a programme and the necessary location, but no funding for invitations to selected members, associates, and guests and a wreath was possible.

Invitations were limited by, lateness of approval to print after a date became a problem; availability of members who might be able to attend; geographically handy ie living in NSW, QLD?; physically fit enough, and able to fund their own fares and accommodation?

The ceremony as programmed and published in the Memorial Booklet, proceeded successfully in the Western Courtyard of the AWM.

In retrospect the occasion was very successful and proved to be an emotional experience for all participants.  Altogether approximately 55 attended from 454, 3 from 459 members, associates, widows or children of absent friends and guests were present together with the senior RAAF and AWM participants.  A piper and bugler were involved.

Summary of Ceremony

Order of Service

Unveiling of the Two Memorial Plaques by Air Marshal AG Houston AM AFC Chief of Air Force.

Dedication Service by Air Commodore Peter O’Keefe

Director General Chaplaincy Services Air Force

-         Call to Worship

-         Prayer for the deceased members of 454 and 459 RAAF Squadrons and those who served during 1942-1945

-         Scripture Reading Mr Jack Stacey BEM

-         The Lord’s Prayer

Dedication of the 454 & 459 Squadron Memorial Plaques

Wreath Laying – Piper’s Lament

-         Mr Jack Shipway – 454 Squadron

-         Mr John McKenzie – 459 Squadron

The Ode – Mr Sep Owen – 459 Squadron

The Last Post – Bugler

A Minutes Silence

The National Anthem

1996 Australian War Memorial Presentation of Paintings Ceremony 14 June 1996

The following group of Veterans of 454 & 459 Combined RAAF Squadrons' Association were present at the Presentation of Paintings Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial.  They posed before Desert Air Force Banner in Telstra Theatre Foyer AWM.

Back Row - L-R:  Kevin Blanch -459, Sep Owen - 459, Peter Matthews - 454, Doug Hutchinson - 454, Tom Gaunt - 459, George Gray -454, Frank Cowan - 454, Gerry Grimwade - 454

Front Row - L-R: Bill Abbott - 454, Bob Andrews - 454, Max Coghlan - 454, Ray Rickie - 454 & Jack Stacey - 454


The Paintings

Julie Parsons with Baltimore (454 & 459) and Hudson (459) paintings as presented by Lockheed Martin International to 454 & 459 Combined RAAF Squadrons' Association and thence to the Australian War Memorial at a Ceremony at A.W.M. 14 June 1996.

[Julie Parsons is the daughter of SLdr. Jim McHale -  a 2 tour veteran of 459 Squadron who,

for many years was the mainstay President of the 454 & 459 Combined RAAF Squadrons Association

and who flew both Hudsons and Baltimores with 459]


E.A.T.S. & W.A.G.S.

Empire Air Training Scheme & Wireless Air Gunners

Written by Ken Stone – 36 Course – 3 WAGS – A.C.A. 14673

World War II saw Australia produce 10,434 Wireless Air Gunners, (WAGS) and send to Canada for training as WAGs a further 3,309.  These men were to see service in every major theatre of war, in the Air Forces of several nations, in many types of operations, and in a wide variety of aircraft.

When Australia entered the war on September 3rd, 1939, the personnel strength of the R.A.A.F. was 310 officers, and 3,179 Airmen, including about 900 aircrew, 450 of whom were in the U.K. and Middle East serving in the R.A.F.  Also included were 10 Squadron crews then in the U.K. to take delivery of Sunderland flying boats.  Aircraft strength was 246, including 164 so called operational aircraft, many of which were obsolete types such as Ansons, Demons and Seagulls.

Australia at once offered to make available to Great Britain, an Air Expeditionary Force of six squadrons.  However, the introduction of the Empire Air Training Scheme (E.A.T.S.) necessitated a substantial change to the early role of the R.A.A.F.

On September 26th, 1939, the broad details of a comprehensive E.A.T.S. envisaged by the British Air Ministry were communicated to the Dominions.  The Australian War Cabinet approved the scheme in principle on October 5th 1939 and sent a mission to Canada for a meeting with representatives from Great Britain and the other Dominions to get the scheme under way.  Article XV of the E.A.T.S. agreement made provision for aircrew contingents to retain their Dominion identity while serving under the control of the R.A.F. by the formation of Article XV Squadrons.  Australia could form 18 such Squadrons, and were allocated the Squadron number 450 – 469.

The Four Party Agreement of November 1939 between the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, provided that 7/9th’s of the Australian Personnel should receive full training in Australia and 2/9th’s should receive their advanced training in Canada.  Australia then had to set up a training organisation capable of accepting for training and turning out every four weeks, 280 pilots, 184 Air Observers and 320 W.A.G.S. plus 80 pilot trainees to Canada after E.A.T.S. and 42 Air Observers and 72 Wireless Operator trainees to Canada after initial training.

The role of the R.A.A.F. now became twofold; firstly to proceed as far as possible with the programme of expansion of the Home Defence Force; and secondly to implement the Aircrew Training Scheme.  The requirements of the latter from its very inception made severe inroads on both aircrew and ground staff strengths of the Home Defence.

To meet the requirements of the E.A.T.S. 49 airfields were necessary, plus living quarters, instructional buildings, administrative quarters, hangars, workshops and flight control buildings.  A large recruiting organisation was established.  The Educational Service was expanded to provide education officers for the instruction of aircrew in a wide range of technical subjects.  Pilot instructors were drawn from the Permanent and Citizens Air Force, and from instructors at Aero Clubs, as well as some loaned from the R.A.F. including Air Chief Marshall Burnett R.A.F. who was appointed to the position of Chief of the Air Staff R.A.A.F.

Recruiting then began for aircrew.  In the early days, selection was made on personal characteristics, and the perceived ability to handle technical training; aptitude testing did not begin till April 1941.  Much emphasis was placed on the medical examination which took a full day.  A protracted mercury test was administered to measure lung and breathing capacity.  A1B medical standard was required to qualify for training as pilots, and A3B the minimum for other aircrew duties.  Successful enlistees were then inducted into the R.A.A.F. Reserve to await call-up, which could take months.  In November 1940 a course of 21 lessons was instituted for Reservists to brush up on trigonometry, physics, and some mathematics.  Aircrew trainees had a separate number scheme, a six figure number, the first two digits of which indicated the year of the course intake and a separate initial rank of Aircraftsman II for the period of the initial training.

The first intake, Number 1 Course, began on the 29th April, 1940.  45 of the first call-up were drafted to No. 1 Wireless Air Gunners School Ballarat, and there learned that they would train as W.A.G.S., this was quite unexpected as they, and the next 40,000 to follow all wanted to become pilots, all overlooking the statistic that at the most only 35% of those accepted for aircrew training would have the opportunity to try for pilot; 24% would train as Navigators and 40% as W.A.G.S.  It is believed that for early courses, mustering was based on alphabetical order.  1 Course W.A.G.S. included a gentleman from Perth who was already a licenced pilot.

Those who protested at not being chosen for pilot training were told not to worry, you can re-muster later.  Later turned out to be at least one operational tour later.

Number 1 Course W.A.G.S. did 4 weeks initial training, 24 weeks wireless training, radio theory, D/F loops, radio practical and Morse code to a minimum standard of 22 words per minute – send and receive.  Then 4 weeks air gunner at Number Bombing and Gunnery School (B.A.G.S.) Evans Head, graduating as Sergeant Wireless air Gunners on 11s 6d plus crew pay per day, and sailed for the Middle East via Bombay on February 2nd 1941.  From 3 Course it became the practice to Commission two W.A.G.S. off course as Pilot Officers.

By January 1941 No. 2 W.A.G.S. Parkes was ready to open.  On January 6th, 40 NSW reservists and 40 Queensland reservists reported as 10 Course W.A.G.S. for 4 weeks initial training at Amberley, thence to Parkes as the first course at 2 W.A.G.S. then to 1 B.A.G.S. for Air Gunnery.  No. 1 W.A.G.S. continued to cater for W.A.G. trainees from the other States.

In August 1941 a major change to the scheme was the introduction of 8 weeks initial training (I.T.S.) for all air crew trainees.  At the completion of this 8 week course mustering was decided by an Aircrew Categorisation Board.  Trainees were then posted to a Wireless Air Gunners School, an Air Observers School or to an Elementary Flying School (E.F.T.S.) according to the mustering allotted to them by the Board.  A white flash in the Forage Cap was introduced to denote air crew trainee.

To cater for Queensland trainees and also as part of the planned expansion of the scheme to 978 inductees every 4 weeks, Number 3 I.T.S. Sandgate Queensland opened in January 1941, later moved to Kingaroy November 1942.   Number 3 W.A.G.S. Maryborough Queensland opened in September 1941 to cater for all trainees allocated W.A.G. mustering from 3 I.T.S. plus 3 or 4 W.A.G. trainees from 2 I.T.S. Bradfield Park.  2 W.A.G.S. trained the balance of W.A.G. trainees from 2 I.T.S. and 1 W.A.G.S. Ballarat catered for Southern trainees.

The first course at 3 W.A.G.S. 19 Course commenced training October 16th, 1941.  By now the R.A.A.F. had under the E.A.T.S. 5 Elementary Flying Schools, 3 Air Navigational Schools, 2 Air Observers Schools, 3 bombing and Gunnery Schools and 3 Wireless Air Gunners Schools.

With the entry of Japan into the war in December 1941, and the perceived threat to Australia, War Cabinet required the R.A.A.F. to take stock of the general strategic situation, and of the E.A.T.S. Sailings of E.A.T.S. drafts was unilaterally suspended. 

At this stage Australia had for Home Defence 29 Hudsons and 4 Catalinas, some Wirraways, Fairey Battles and Ansons, plus 4 Squadrons in Singapore and Malaya.  Numbers 1 and 8 Squadrons with Hudsons and 21 and 453 with Brewster Buffaloes.

Fairey "Battle" - Rolls Royce "Merlin" Engine

Lockheed "Hudson" Wright "Cyclone" Engine

At December 1941, the Australian Aircraft Industry was producing Tiger Moths, Wacketts, Wirraways and Beauforts, which were only just starting to come off line, 10 had been produced by the end of 1941.

Training courses in Australia were entirely disrupted and intakes deferred.

On February 24th, 1942, War Cabinet decided to continue to provide the agreed quota of aircrew under the E.A.T.S. agreement with minor modifications, mainly to be allowed to retain in Australia sufficient aircrew to fill R.A.A.F. squadrons at home to get R.A.A.F. Article XV Squadrons into the Pacific theatre, and to return to Australia aircrew with operational experience to R.A.A.F. units at home.

Overseas embarkment resumed, but the practice of sending Pilot Trainees to Rhodesia was discontinued.

It was to be some time before the R.A.A.F. had enough aircraft to retain in Australia reasonable numbers of E.A.T.S. trained aircrew.

In March 1942 the mustering Observer was changed to Navigator and W.A.G.S. began to lose their gunnery function.  Those going to Bomber Command would remuster to Wireless Operator Air, and S wing replacing the AG wing.

By late 1942 E.A.T.S. aircrew were arriving in the U.K. in large numbers, 670 R.A.A.F. Australian trained every 4 weeks, and of course a much larger quantity of Canadian trained R.A.F. and Dominion aircrew.  In October 1942 Number 11 Personnel Despatch and Receiving Centre (PDRC) was set up in Bournemouth U.K. as the receiving station for the R.A.A.F. aircrew arriving in the U.K.  In May 1943 11 P.D.R.C. moved to Brighton taking over the Grand and Metropole Hotels on the waterfront.  By late 1943 pilots would wait at Brighton 3 to 4 months before getting to an A.F.U. and there was no call for single engine pilots.  At this stage Fighter Command had 945 more pilots than they had aircraft, W.A.G.S. would wait 2 months for posting to an A.F.U.  These delays grew longer in early 1944.  Bomber Command had a reserve stock of nearly 7,000 trained aircrew.

Early in 1942 the R.A.F. had decided to dispense with the 2nd pilot in heavy bombers.

On April 22nd 1944 the R.A.F. asked that dispatch of fully trained aircrew for March and April be delayed.  All courses in Australia were then extended by 4 weeks.  This R.A.F. request was then rescinded largely because of big losses by Bomber Command in January, February and March 1944.  In those 3 months 80% of all aircrew on Squadrons at Christmas 1943 did not see the dawn of Good Friday.

Embarkations resumed, but numbers continued to build up, so in late April 1944 the R.A.F. requested no more pilots after June 1944 and no more W.A.G.S. and Navigators after December 1944.  As a result of this the Australian intake of aircrew trainees was reduced in May 1944 to 630 every 4 weeks and in June 1944 the Air Ministry requested the cessation of all overseas drafts.  The R.A.A.F. then started to close down the Empire Air Training Scheme.

Number 2 W.A.G.S. had already closed.  The last course to graduate from Parkes was 41 Course on the 30th December 1943. 42 Course at Parkes moved to 1 W.A.G.S. to complete their training.  Number 3 W.A.G.S. ceased training in July 1944, the last course to graduate being 47 Course.

Some aircrew training continued but not as part of the E.A.T.S.  Then in February 1945 the manpower position in Australia compelled a further reduction in R.A.A.F. new recruits, and virtually brought an end to aircrew training

In all, 17 Article XV Squadrons were formed, 1 short of the agreed 18.  There were 6 Fighter squadrons, two of which, 452 and 457, returned to Australia in January 1943 with 54 Squadron R.A.F. and Spitfires.  There were 3 squadrons in the Middle East and in the U.K. one medium Bomber Squadron, later equipped with Mosquitoes, 1 Coastal Command Squadron joined 10 Squadron, which of course was not Article XV Squadron and 6 squadrons with bomber Command.

In April 1945 the plan was for 2 Article XV Squadrons and 10 R.A.F. squadrons from bomber Command to go to Okinawa to join the offensive against Japan.  The atom bomb ended the “Tiger Force” plan.

By the end of 1941 Australia had 5 R.A.A.F. squadrons, as distinct from Article XV squadrons, serving overseas.  By the end of 1943 the number of squadrons had grown to 37 R.A.A.F. operational in the Pacific area, and two still overseas, two N.E.I. squadrons and 6 R.A.A.F. transport squadrons.  The gradual availability of quality aircraft allowed the R.A.A.F. to steadily build up aircrew numbers at Home so that by August 1945 the R.A.A.F. had 14,500 aircrew in the S.W.P. area, and 15,000 in Europe, plus 1,091 in the India-Burma theatre.

The E.A.T.S. trained in Australia 27,387 aircrew; 10,882 pilots, 6,071 navigators, and 10,434 Wireless Air Gunners and sent to Canada for training 10,351 trainees.  In all some 40,000 Australians enlisted as aircrew, the failure rate was high, and of course many did not complete the course due to the early close-down.

Almost two thirds of all E.A.T.S. aircrew served time in Europe or the Middle East.

There were 3,486 Australians killed while serving in the R.A.F.  Bomber Command, nearly 32% of the total R.A.A.F. aircrew casualties.  The total casualties for Bomber Command at 58,378 represents 60% of the total R.A.F. casualties.

Some 27,000 R.A.A.F.  E.A.T.S. personnel served with the R.A.F. most with R.A.F. squadrons.  In April, 1945 there were 1,488 serving with the R.A.A.F. Article XV squadrons and 10,532 with R.A.F. Squadrons.

Nearly 25% of those who got to squadrons lost their lives, in all 9,874 aircrew were killed or missing, approximately 30% of all Australian war deaths in all services, and in all campaigns of World War II.

The Empire Air Training Scheme was about providing Air Crew for the Royal Air Force.  Air Gunners, Wireless Operators, Navigators, Bomb Aimers, Engineers and Pilots.  During the Battle of Britain, August, September, October 1940, 537 pilots were killed.  Over Nuremberg on 31-3-1944, 545 Aircrew were killed in one night.


A.C.M. Jones           Report to the Minister for Air.

Odger, G                 Pictorial History of the R.A.A.F.

McCarthy, J.           A Last Call of Empire

Others sources         Air Force Office – Department of Defence


Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (Training)

The Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (Training) Branch, often abbreviated to RAFVR(T) is a voluntary element of the British Royal Air Force. Members of the RAFVR(T) have no call-up liability and often operate part time in the local structure of the Air Cadet Organisation - either the RAF sections of the Combined Cadet Force (CCF), or the Air Training Corps (ATC).

Contrary to the requirements for joining the regular armed forces, applicants for RAFVR(T) positions are not required to posses educational or other qualifications. Instead, selection is based upon considerable relevant experience, followed by a number of interviews, then culminating in a Board chaired by retired senior RAF officer, usually a Group Captain serving in the RAFR in the capacity of ATC Regional Commandant. Since RAFVR(T) officers will generally be responsible for running either a CCF(RAF) section or an Air Training Corps squadron/detached flight, successful applicants are required to demonstrate qualities of commitment, motivation, extensive knowledge of the RAF and military/civil aviation, all underpinned by a willingness and aptitude to work with young people in an instructional environment. Candidates for commissions in CCF(RAF) sections are initially selected by the head teacher, although HQAC (Headquarters Air Cadets) has the right to impose a veto. Other members of the RAFVR(T) serve as flying instructors on the Volunteer Gliding Squadrons or as pilots on Air Experience Flights - the latter are often former military pilots who have left the regular service and are commissioned into the RAFVR(T) on appointment to the AEF.