Seven Australian World War II heroes honoured by France
On May 22, the President of the French Republic, Mr. François Hollande officially appointed as Knight of the national Order of the Legion of Honour Mr. Stuart Davis, Mr. Phillip Elger, Mr. Francis Evans, Mr. Billy Purdy DFC, Dr. Ronald Houghton DFC and Mr. Frederick Riley.
Mr. Robert Cowper DFC & Bar, OAM who was among the Australia delegation which travelled to France, had already received the Legion of Honour in 2004.
These veterans were among the Australia delegation which travelled to France last June to take part in the 70th anniversary of D-Day commemorations.
Mr. Thomas Lofthouse, who was not able to attend the ceremonie in France, will be decorated by the Ambassador of France, H.E. Mr Lecourtier at a later date.
Mr. Robert Cowper DFC & Bar, OAM enlisted in Adelaide with the RAAF in June 1940. He flew Beaufighters in Malta with No. 89 Squadron RAF in 1943, before joining No. 456 Night Fighter Squadron RAAF as a Mosquito Pilot operating from Ford in Sussex. Bob directly supported D-Day, flying on the first day of the invasion. In the weeks that followed, he shot down four German aircraft in twelve night sorties over the invasion beaches. The squadron had already destroyed some fifteen enemy aircraft in the lead up to D-Day. In May 1945, following the death of his Wing Commander in a flying accident, Bob became Acting Commanding Officer of the squadron, continuing in the role until it was disbanded in mid-June. He was discharged at the rank of Squadron Leader in December 1945.
Mr. Stuart Davis enlisted in August 1941, in Sydney. Stuart was posted to serve as a RAAF pilot with the RAF. First he served in No. 231 Squadron, then No. 16 Squadron and lastly with No. 122 Squadron. With No. 122 Squadron he was based in Sussex, Normandy and Belgium. In his initial post, Stuart began his operations flying Spitfires on reconnaissance missions over the French coast. With No. 122 Squadron, from June 1944, he flew Mustangs over Normandy in support of D-Day. His squadron was then posted to Belgium, covering airborne landings at Arnhem and the bridges over the Rhine. In October, the squadron returned to England to provide fighter support of heavy bombers over the Netherlands and Germany. In 1945, after completing his tour of operations, Stuart was sent on ‘rest’, where he ferried aircraft to Italy and Egypt.
Mr. Phillip Elger enlisted with the RAAF in June 1942 in Sydney. Based at Mildenhall in Suffolk, Phillip flew on Lancasters as a Wireless Operator with No. 15 Squadron RAF. He remembers undertaking a diversionary mission on D-Day, successfully deflecting German attention from the landing sites. Phillip recalls a near escape when, while flying over German fortifications in Antwerp, the rear end of his plane was badly damaged by German fire, resulting in the loss of his rear gunner. The plane managed to make it back to England, which Phillip attributes to the calm and skill of his pilot, Bill Mason. Phillip was discharged in September 1945 with the rank of Flying Officer.
Mr. Francis Evans enlisted in Adelaide in August 1942 when he was just shy of nineteen years old. Bill joined No. 625 Squadron RAF based in Kelstern, Lincolnshire, as a Wireless Operator Air Gunner on a Lancaster bomber. Shot down in the middle of the night on his twentieth operation in July 1944, he landed in a forest clearing, relatively unharmed but missing one boot. Bill then attempted to walk the 600km to Spain, but was intercepted by two friendly women who put him in touch with the French Resistance. Reunited with two members of his crew, Bill was one of thirty airmen living in a Resistance camp in the middle of a forest while awaiting pickup by forces over in England. After two months in the forest, a group of American troops stumbled across the camp and assisted Bill’s return to friendly soil. He was discharged at the rank of Warrant Officer in August 1945.
Dr. Ronald Houghton DFC joined the RAAF Reserve in 1941 and enlisted in May 1942. After training in Australia he was posted to an Advanced Flying Unit (AFU) in the UK. Following this was a posting to an Operational Training Unit (OTU). Ron particularly recalls the significance of forming a crew at the OTU. The crew built a tight bond, as all members had to ensure they could completely rely on each other in a combat situation. This bond was further intensified on operations. Ron flew Halifax bombers with No.102 Squadron RAF. On completion of Bomber Command operations, Ron was posted to Fighter Command and flew Spitfires/Hurricanes. Ron continued flying until the end of the war, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in May 1945 for ‘skill and fortitude in operations against the enemy’.
Mr. Thomas Lofthouse joined the Citizen Military Forces in 1941, Tom transferred to the RAAF in June 1942 in Claremont, Western Australia, attracted by the overseas travel opportunities it promised. Tom flew a thirty-six operation tour as an Air Gunner in No. 466 Squadron RAAF, later completing ten operations of a second tour as a Rear Gunner with No. 77 Squadron RAF. Originally on draft to serve in North Africa, heavy losses necessitated his transfer to Bomber Command. As a Rear Gunner, he provided direct support to the D-Day landings, targeting coastal guns and railway yards. His crew flew three missions in the 48 hours surrounding D-Day, which included bombing the railway marshalling yards at Château Dun on the evening of the landings, only to find that the area had already been taken over by British paratroopers the very same day. Tom was discharged in March 1946 at the rank of Flying Officer.
Mr. Billy Purdy DFC joined the RAAF in 1941. After completing his training at Point Cook, he was posted to England as a Pilot Officer, flying Lancasters with No. 463 Squadron RAAF, in Bomber Command. Between April and August 1944, he completed thirty-seven missions, including participating in the famous bombing of Pointe du Hoc on D-Day. Although on that day the weather was so poor they would not usually have flown, Bill recalls descending through the cloud cover to witness ‘the greatest armada in human history’ stretching as far as the eye could see. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service, but notes the contributions made by the dedicated aircrews and the exceptional ground crews. Bill was posted back to Australia in March 1945 to serve in the Pacific against the Japanese.
Mr. Fred Riley enlisted with the Australian Army in June 1941, transferring to the RAAF in September of that year. He served with No. 130 Squadron RAF as a Spitfire pilot. Fred was stationed at Redhill in southern England during the D-Day campaigns. He undertook two flights on D-Day itself, providing cover for the invasion forces over Utah Beach. In the days that followed, his squadron shot down several enemy aircraft, before being transferred to Lympne in the UK and then to the Netherlands. He was privileged to be selected to escort General Eisenhower, Admiral Ramsay and Robert Benchley on their first trip to France after D-Day, in July 1944. Close to the end of the war he was shot down, fracturing his back and later having to undergo six months of rehabilitation. Fred discharged at the rank of Flying Officer in November 1945.