One of the most remarkable features of Australia’s involvement in the Second World War is the number of young men from normal backgrounds who became accomplished fighter pilots.
Most of them had never even travelled on aeroplane before the war, but their education and enthusiasm helped them on a steep learning curve so that the RAAF played a crucial role in both the European and Asian battles.
The dangers they faced are underlined by the deaths in training of many of the youngsters who took on the task, and several more were to be killed in action in the various theatres of the war.
Those that perished included St George’s Johnny Holliday (Timor 1942), Balmain lock Maurice Fitzgerald (Belgium 1942), Newcastle Wests’ Sidney Welshmen (Italy 1943), Harrie Irwin Pinkerton from Tamworth (Mediterranean 1945) and former Sydney Uni, Balmain and NSW star Jack Redman (Borneo July 1945).
Several former Rugby League players had distinguished careers during the war and beyond. Former Newtown lower grade half Arthur Kell flew in some of the most famous raids from the war, including the attack on the German battleship “Bismarck”. He returned with a Distinguished Flying Cross (TFC) and a bar, and was feted as a celebrity in both the USA and England.
Mick Mather (pictured top) had been a forward with South Sydney before enlisting and earned himself a DFC for his efforts at Tobruk before serving in Asia until 1945. After the war he re-entered the RAAF and rose to become Air Commodore, as well as gathering an AE and AFC awards in a long and glittering period of service before he retired in 1973.
Apart from the pilots and those in the air there were thousands of ground staff and support crew who did their bit getting the men and their machines ready for combat, as well as instructors such as international forward Herb Narvo.
On this Anzac Day we remember all those who served.