THE ubiquity of the flying men of Australia is, perhaps, best exemplified in the remarkable history of one of them-Sergeant Pilot George Sayers, now back in Australia after an amazing tour of duty, which took him to five fronts and through many countries.

Almost everywhere there has been air fighting, there Australians have been found. In Australia, and over the islands near it and the seas which girdle it, Australians fly and fight.

They are fighting in Britain, over Germany, Denmark, Holland and France, they are fighting over the Atlantic in the Battle for Ships, and they patrol the seas which gird the British Isles.

They are posted in Iceland and have fought side by side with the pilots of the Red Air Force on the Russian front.

They have fought and are fighting over the Mediterranean and the Bay of Biscay, they are strafing Rommel’s panzer forces in the Western Desert, and are flying in defence of Malta. They have flown in Greece and Crete and in Syria.

Men of the R.A.A.F. are to be found in India and have flown over Burma, Malaya, Sumatra, and Java, and the islands and seas about them.

In Canada and Rhodesia they are training, and every now and again comes news of an Australian pilot having performed some remarkable feat in some out-of-the-way place on the earth’s surface.

Sergeant Pilot Sayers is an Empire air scheme trainee, who enlisted at the same time as Squadron Leader K. W. Truscott, D.F.C. and Bar. They have consecutive regimental numbers. He was educated at Scotch College, Melbourne, and was doing a law course at the University of Melbourne when he decided to enlist in the R.A.A.F. He is now 29 years of age.

At the time of writing, Sayers has more than 900 hours of flying in his log, and has taken part in 43 operations against the enemy.

Leaving Australia in April 1940, Sayers joined a Hurricane squadron in the Middle East, and was later posted to an R.A.F. Blenheim bomber squadron in Abyssinia, where he operated against the Italians. His squadron carried out raids over Addis Ababa after its occupation by the enemy, blockaded the French Somaliland port of Djibuti, and helped to strafe Axis forces when they temporarily occupied part of British Somaliland. Sayers then returned to the Middle East, and went thence to the United Kingdom. Later he went to Russia and then, after a week with the Red fliers, he returned to Britain and was then returned to the Middle East.

Story taken from

These Eagles: Story of the RAAF at War

Prepared by the RAAF Directorate of Public Relations and published by the Australian War Memorial in 1942.

Kittyhawks of No. 3 squadron, R.A.A.F., taking off in a dust storm at Antalet. Flying conditions in the Western Desert arc the world’s worst.

From the Middle East Sayers flew with an R.A.F. bomber squadron to Singapore, going by way of India and Burma. Sayers was in Singapore only a few days before that citadel fell to the Japanese. From Singapore he went to Sumatra, and Sumatra was raided 21 times in the 21 days he was there. From Sumatra he went to Java, where he took part in bomb raids on the Japanese who were occupying the aerodromes which the Allies had just vacated. He was one of the last Australians to fly in Java before the island also fell into the hands of the Japanese.

On one occasion he was shot down 250 miles from his base and landed in a paddy field near Rangas Peiton with an English observer and an Australian gunner. They walked for two or three hours looking for transport, but all they could find were three push bicycles.

From Java, Sayers escaped, with 11 others, in an open boat, and after 44 days at sea, they reached safety in Australia. This amazing voyage is dealt with later.

That which follows in this section will give some indication of the ubiquity of Australian airmen.

Pilot Officer Jeffrey Peter Maurice Haydon, of Canberra, was in command of one of the British aircraft which, on February 27, 1942, took part in the famous commando raid on the Nazi radio location equipment at Bruneval, on the coast of France. Pilot Officer Haydon’s aircraft carried some of the paratroops whose sudden descent on the Germans resulted in the destruction of the radio warning system which was used to tell the Germans of the advance of British raiders. Other Australians serving in the same unit were Sergeants Allan Fletcher Ada, of Sydney, Geoffery Norman Reeve, of Gee­long, and Alfred Bertram Boyle, of Mount Isa. Most of the paratroops were returned safely to Britain, taking prisoners with them, and the undertaking was another example of the smooth working of the three Services when they embarked together on an expedition against the enemy.

The Australians who accompanied the British Hurricane wing to Russia were Flying Officer Selwyn McKenzie Clark, of Perth, Pilot Officer Mark Ernest Sheldon, of Sydney, Sergeants Arthur John Gould, of Roma, and Barton Jodrell Campbell, of Cairns. Clark’s squadron acted as escort for Russian bombers attacking front-line positions, while the other squadron acted as rear cover for the Russians as they returned to their bases. They lost only one pilot during their stay in Russia–he was not an Australian–and in that period of two months of operational flying, their bag was 17 confirmed German aircraft, nine probables, and six damaged. These figures beat those of the Russians in the same period by four to one. On its first operational flight in Russia, the squadron ran into five Messerschmitt 109s and a Henschel, and shot down four of the Messerschmitts and the Henschel. It was in that action that the only casualty was suffered.

All of these men were greatly impressed by the fanatical courage of the Russians, and they related that when a Red pilot had exhausted his ammunition, he would attempt to ram the opposing aircraft, and then bale out–if he could. They were also informed, while in Russia, that there were many women fliers, and that some of them had shot down Nazi pilots in combat. Life at the military outpost on Russia’s northern frontier where these Australians were stationed was very hard, with an average of between 20 and 30 degrees of frost and frequent blizzards, and only five or six hours of daylight each day.

All Australians must get a thrill of pride to know that their sons numbered among the gallant defenders of Malta, most bombed island of the world. Only meagre details have come out of the island of the part they have played, but those details which have emerged have shown that the same dash and verve which have characterized Australians’ aerial performances in other theatres of war, have been maintained over Malta. There, as elsewhere, Australians have been found in all types of aircraft, on all types of operations. Whether in Spitfires, Beaufort torpedo-carrying ships, bombers, or recon­naissance aircraft, they have done and are still doing magnificent work.

An Australian crew in a Hudson reconnaissance squadron in the Malta zone thrilled the world as recently as June 1942, when, in one of the war’s most amazing aerial duels, waged at no time higher than 400 feet above the surface of the Mediterranean, and for a considerable time, only 10 feet above the water, they destroyed two of three­ Junkers 88s which had dived to attack them. At times, the waves of the Mediterranean splashed the Hudson as it manoeuvred for position.

The Hudson was patrolling when the three Junkers cut across its course, and two of them dived to attack. Both came from astern, one of the attackers diving past, and then pulling up steeply to shoot up the Hudson from below. The Hudson’s gunner fired at the first Junkers and saw bullets enter its nose. The Junkers turned away, and the other followed. The Hudson coolly went on with its patrol. Apparently the two remaining Germans thought it was off its guard, for after a period of manoeuvring, they came in to attack again. The Hudson finessed for a time, and then the gunner let go a terrific burst from his machine gun at 600 yards at one of them. As the Hudson charged head-on, with lead still streaming from its guns, one Junkers burst into flames, with dense smoke pouring from its engine. It was last seen losing height, and making in the directi0n of home in the wake of its damaged companion. The third Junkers broke off the engagement also.

The pilot of the Hudson was Pilot Officer James George Cowan-Hunt, formerly of Stanmore, Sydney, who had gained his flying badge a short year before.

Another amazing exploit by a R.A.A.F. pilot–a Sydney man whose name was not released by R.A.F. Headquarters in the Middle East–occurred off Malta on November 8, 1941. With other R.A.A.F. pilots flying Hurricane fighters, the Sydney man attacked a strong formation of enemy aircraft and during the dogfight that ensued, he rammed an enemy machine and baled out to safety. The enemy formation consisted of Cant bombers and 20 escorting Italian Macchi 202 fighters. As the Hurricanes climbed to attack, combats developed with the Macchis and three of the enemy were destroyed, a fourth was probably destroyed, and another was badly damaged.

Describing the engagement as he lay in a Malta hospital, the Sydney pilot said: “As we were going for the bombers, the Macchis dived on us. I counted 16, and as I went after one of them, I saw the rest of the Hurricanes keeping engagements of their own. One of them was among six of the enemy, four of whom were on his tail. I put a few bursts into the one I was after, and his tail began to smoke. Then another attacked me from astern. I turned and saw this chap and flew straight at him. I expected him to turn, as the Italians usually do; but he didn’t, he came straight on. Perhaps the pilot was killed and the Macchi was flying itself; anyway, I flew right into him, and the Macchi broke up in the air. There were pieces all over the place.

“I am told that one of my wings broke off, but I don’t know, for I didn’t see the Hurricane again. I was in a spin and didn’t need to jump, I just opened the lid and fell out. I was about 2000 feet up at the time, and as I came down over the island I saw that I was going to land on a village. I hit the wall of a house, and landed on a flat roof right on top of a dog, which let out a terrific yell, jumped off the roof, and belted up the road.”

A less high note is sounded in the available information of Australians serving in Iceland. This is not because they are doing a less devoted job, but because the work to which they have dedicated their war years is less spectacular-they are on seaward reconnaissance, scouring the sea for enemy raiders and U-boats, and protecting the precious cargoes of war material which are pouring from the United States factories to the front lines in Britain, Russia and the Middle East. Monotonous, cold, and un­ comfortable, this work is an invaluable contribution to the Allies’ offensive and defensive operations, and calls for men with a peculiarly keen and even temperament. The Australians in Iceland include Pilot Officers John R. W. Redman, of Sydney; Terence H. G. Glassford, also of Sydney; Thomas Geoffery Dobbie, of Manly; Donald George Totolos, of North Sydney, and Sergeant Pilots Robert Raynes Royal, of Chats­wood, and Herbert E. Beale, of Sydney. Other Australian airmen in Iceland were formed into two crews under the captaincy of United States pilots. They include Pilot Officer Robert Lewis Charles Stewart, of Melbourne; Sergeant Pilots Ambrose A. Tonkin, of Yorktown, South Australia; Robert Downie, of Kilkenny, South Australia; Robert J. Carrodus, of Essendon; Nathaniel Robert Goudie, of Ballarat; and Wallace B. Hutchinson, of Sydney.

Not the least important part of the work done by these pilots in Iceland is connected with the ferry service between the United States and the United Kingdom, and any account of the work of Australians would be incomplete without a passing reference to the R.A.A.F. men ferrying aircraft across the Atlantic. A remarkable flight was carried out early in 1942 by three Empire air scheme trainees-Pilot Officer George Vivian Syer, formerly a clergyman in Victoria, as pilot; Pilot Officer R. A. Stevenson, of Artarmon, Sydney, as navigator; and a wireless operator of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

The flight, which was made in a Hudson reconnaissance aircraft, occupied 7 hours 40 minutes, and broke the ferry record held by a Liberator bomber, by 30 minutes. Flying at great height, the members of the crew were compelled to use oxygen for more than six hours, and landfall in the United Kingdom was made within a few miles of the point of reckoning–a stirling performance for raw and recent graduates, and a striking commentary on the thoroughness of the training methods of the Empire air training scheme. During the flight, the temperature fell as low as minus 39 degrees Centigrade, the food in the aircraft became uneatable, sandwiches were frozen hard, and coffee in the thermos flasks was stone-cold.

Soon after this Hudson set out for Britain, another, piloted by Pilot Officer Allan William Russell Triggs, of Elwood, took off in its wake, and arrived in the United Kingdom 50 minutes after Syer’s Hudson.

This chapter is a suitable place to chronicle the adventures of H.M.A.S. Sydney’s Seagull amphibian, a slow, cumbersome craft which left her nest high up on the cruiser’s decks to spot for the Sydney’s gunners and generally to be the eyes of the ship. On one occasion, when attacked by three Italian CR42s–ltalian fighters with a speed of about 300 miles an hour–the Seagull was spotting for the first naval bombardment of Bardia. At 9000 feet, it was attacked by the Italians, the first one of which shot away the Seagull’s aileron controls. The second riddled the rudder and after part of the hull, and shot away most of the tailplane struts. The rear gunner of the Seagull went into action, and after a few bursts, the three Italians flew off, while the Seagull spun down dizzily for 7000 feet as the pilot struggled to regain mastery.

At Sollum the pilot found the terrain too rough for a forced landing, and so coolly flew on 120 miles to Mersa Matruh.

On another occasion, the Seagull was responsible for warning H.M.A.S. Sydney and escorting destroyers of the presence of five Italian E-boats during the bombardment of a fighter aerodrome at Scarpanto, in the Dodecanese Islands. Two of the E-boats were sunk by naval action, one was damaged, and the others, in the highest Italian naval tradition, ran for it.