Amazing 149 Squadron ‘reunion’ – after 72 years
On Sunday 4 June, the RAAF Association (SA Division) held its annual Air Force Memorials and Bomber Command Service at Torrens Parade Ground in Adelaide.
CAPTION: Leading Cadet Sean Fry from No 605 Squadron with former RAAF Warrant Officer Doug Leak, Bomber command veteran and recipient of the French Légion d’honneur. Image by Pilot Officer (AAFC) Paul Rosenzweig
No 6 Wing AAFC, as the official custodian of these Adelaide Air Force Memorials, once again provided the Catafalque Party for the ceremony of commemoration – see Part 1 of this story here:
In particular, this was a Bomber Command 75th Anniversary Commemorative Service. Some 10,000 Australian airmen served with RAF Bomber Command, of whom 3486 were killed in action, representing about 20% of Australia’s combat deaths during World War 2. Many served in Australian squadrons, but many more served as individuals in RAF squadrons.
One member of the Catafalque Party was Leading Cadet Sean Fry from No 605 (City of Onkaparinga) Squadron. He mounted duty in remembrance of his grandfather, Mark Lewis Fry, an Australian who had served with No 149 (East India) Squadron RAF.
Mark Fry was born in Cowell, SA, on 18 February 1923. He was an early volunteer for the RAAF but a broken hip saw him in recovery for 12 months before he could enlist – in Adelaide on 12 September 1942. He then underwent the lengthy training required for Bomber Command aircrew, at Victor Harbour, Ballarat and East Sale, and then in the UK.
He qualified as an Air Gunner, and was ultimately assigned to 149 Squadron. He attained the rank of Warrant Officer, and was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on 18 March 1945. He was discharged from the RAAF on 12 September 1945 holding the rank of Flying Officer.
His son Rick, Leading Cadet Fry’s father, attended the Bomber Command ceremony on 4 June and commented that he had never met another veteran of 149 Squadron. Pilot Officer (AAFC) Paul Rosenzweig, 6 Wing Public Affairs & Communication Officer, had the pleasure of introducing Rick and his son to one of Adelaide’s last surviving Bomber Command veterans – former Warrant Officer Doug Leak. Doug had served in the RAAF in 1942-45, and last year was made a Knight of the French Legion of Honour.
Doug Leak, born in Medindie, SA, had applied for RAAF aircrew entry on 8 December 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbour. But because of the rush of volunteers he was ordered to attend training in Grote Street two nights a week (unpaid) to prepare for enlistment. He was enlisted in Adelaide as RAAF aircrew entry on 12 September 1942 – coincidentally, the same day as Mark Fry.
Doug and Mark then followed the same training progression: they both attended No 4 Initial Training School (4ITS) at Victor Harbour, SA (Wackett trainer) and then No 1 Wireless & Air Gunner’s School (1WAGS) at Ballarat, Victoria at the end of 1942 (Avro Anson) to qualify as a Wireless/Telegraph Operator. They then went to No 3 Bombing & Air Gunnery School (3BAGS) at West Sale, Victoria from May 1943 (Airspeed Oxford advanced trainer and Fairey Battle) to qualify as an Air Gunner and gain promotion to Sergeant.
Here their paths separated because of Doug’s proficiency with Morse Code. Mark Fry eventually joined No 149 (East India) Squadron at Mettwold in 1944, where he was an Air Gunner in Stirling and Lancaster bombers (12 and 22 operational sorties respectively). He was one of 121 Australians who served in No.149 Squadron: of these, 24 were killed and 5 became prisoners of war.
Doug joined the same squadron later, as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner (WAG) in Lancaster II and III long-range heavy bombers. In 1945 he participated in five operational bombing sorties as part of Operation ‘Pointblank’ (the Allied Combined Bomber Offensive against Germany).
Doug noted that when he was serving in 149 Squadron, he was the only Australian – after coming home he had no mates to march with on Anzac Day and in fact, he too had never met another veteran who had served in the squadron.
Meeting the late Mark Fry’s son and grandson, they quickly established that their service in No 149 (East India) Squadron RAF did not overlap. Their respective log books confirm: Fry had served from 28 February 1944 as a Flight Sergeant (promoted to Warrant Officer on 24 December 1944) until 18 January 1945, whereas Doug Leak was there from 9 March 1945 as a Flight Sergeant (promoted to Warrant Officer on 14 April 1945).
Pilot Officer (AAFC) Paul Rosenzweig said “This was a great opportunity for 6 Wing Air Force Cadets to meet one of South Australia’s living legends, especially once we established that Leading Cadet Fry’s grandfather and Mr Leak had trained together and then served in the same squadron of the RAF”.
– Read Doug Leak’s story here.
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