Wawn, Clive Newton “Bardie” DFC

Clive Newton Wawn who was better known as Bardie was born on the 5th November 1910 in Melbourne. He was the son of a well known Doctor in Melbourne, and was the middle of three boys. He went to Wesley College and when he finished his schooling, he did a short course at the RMIT and then went off farming on his father’s farm. A very practical person, he loved breeding and working his horses, Walers, which are now known as the Australian Stock Horse. Apparently, he was a very dab hand at polo, and also popular with the ladies! He gained his Flying Licence and, to bring in extra cash, he’d fly a Tiger Moth over homesteads, and one of the brothers took photos of the homestead to sell back to the owners, framed “to hang over the mantelpiece.” It was a novelty then and people were keen to buy the photos.

His initial join-up application was refused based on his “reserved occupation” of farmer/grazier. Eventually, because of his age (too old for the Air Force) he was accepted to go into the Army. Paperwork flowed and eventually a letter arrived from Harold Holt (which I still have) on behalf of James Fairburn[1], the Minister for Air (killed shortly after in the Canberra Air Disaster), re-directing his enrolment into the Air Force. This was based on the fact he already had his flying licence. He joined up on the 23rd June 1940.

Following the initial training pre-deployment, the story goes that he was on the train about to depart Melbourne when Jock Ross introduced him to Bluey Truscott. They hit it off as if they’d known each other forever. It was a great friendship and Bluey’s eventual death had a more profound effect on Bardie than anyone ever realised. Between the two of them, they got up to a lot of mischief, one way or another. For about 6 weeks, they were on the RMS Awatea heading to Canada, via NZ for the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS), Course No. 14 on the 4th December 1940 at Camp Borden, Canada.

When commencing the EATS course, no one knew what their final recommendation would be: Fighter Pilot, Bomber Pilot, Gunner, Navigator or Fail … It all depended on their aptitude and attitude. I believe that the 16 Aussies (seven Officers and nine Sergeants) on this course all went on to fighters, commencing at 57 OTU Hawarden on the 10th March 1941, where they first came into contact with the Spitfire. From there, Bardie went to 111 Squadron, Aberdeen on the 6th May 1941 and then 92 Squadron at Biggin Hill on the 30th June 1941, where he pranged a Spitty after running out of fuel over France and after a long glide across the Channel, crash-landed at Hurstmonceaux Castle, Beachy Head. He sustained some minor injuries and the Spitty was quite knocked about also, but both were flying a week later.

August 16th 1941 saw him start with the famous 452 Squadron at Kenley and reunited with all his mates. He already had numerous “Scrambles” and 24 “Operational flights” to his credit, which was far more than any of his mates at the time in 452 Squadron. He often liked to talk about the day of the 31th August 1941 when he was doing a low, slow-roll in a Spitfire when a washer dislodged and jammed his controls. Fortunately, he realised what the possible cause was, probably from his background of farming mechanical experience, and during the next uncommanded slow roll, instead of fighting the stick, he went with the stick and the washer fell out. By this time he was far too low to bale out, but he gained full control again and landed safely. It was one of the scariest moments he had in his time and slow rolls close to ground were not part of his routine anymore.

On 18th September 1941 he had his first taste of success and was credited with two “Damaged” Me109s in quick succession. It was a one hell-of-a-dog-fight that saw 452 Squadron lose four pilots (P/O Willis, Seargeants Ken Try and Archie Stuart and Charlie Manning missing). Two days later he shot down an Me109 and ws credited with a “Kill”. The Squadron lost Ian Milne in this scrap. Over the next few weeks he flew numerous patrols with little serious enemy contact.

He could never, understandably, become used to losing colleagues – Happy Jackson, Eric Schrader, who had a premonition on the morning he was killed, Geissman, and a number of others, but one had to accept it and keep going. A number of close calls, both Bardie’s and friend’s, was also a constant stressor. Bluey bailed out with his chute opening just as he contacted the water, and he’d also had a “feeling” that day. Dunstan ditched the same day, Tainton crash-landed, Chisholm shot down (epic story on its own. He made it back through enemy lines to allied lines), Johnny Elphick baled out into the Channel after being hit by flak, etc. Bardie often used to mention “an unidentified brown stain in cockpit” after some pretty hairy incidents.

One of the most impressive operational flights would have to be the attack the Squadron made on the pocket German battleships, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prince Eugene. These ships were keenly sought after by the British Navy and Air Force with little luck. The British sent six Fairy Swordfish on a virtual suicide mission and every one of them was shot down without delivering a torpedo. The Flight Commander won a VC for this effort. Fate led 452 Squadron over the top of these ships. Unable to find the aircraft they were to escort due to a solid layer of cloud, a hole in the cloud let the Squadron sight the ships. Bluey led them down in single file and despite intense firepower from the ships, strafed the ships. By the time the last plane had made its run, the gunfire from the ships was virtually non-existent. The only damage to any 452 aircraft was a hole in the plexiglass hood of one Spitfire. Soon after, the ships were hunted down and sunk (One was scuttled). This event was recognised by the British and American Forces as being the decisive incident that led to the battleship’s demise. Bluey won a Bar to his DFC for this and I believe they all should have been awarded a DFC as well. A rather intense dog-fight occurred on the 1st March 1942 over Marzengarbe where he scored one Me109 destroyed and one Me109 probable. Sergeant Hamilton was posted as missing.

By the end of November 1941 he had 222 hours in Spitfires of which 135 hours were operational flights. 97 operational flights were logged and numerous non-operational flights logged. His UK tally was three destroyed, a part claim in a fourth and one probable. His recommendation in 1942 for the DFC was for “Completing many flying operations against the enemy”.

On the 26th March 1942, they embarked for Australia, due to the threat of the Japanese against Australia. Commencing with 76 Squadron, they familiarised on the Kittyhawk, which was generally not very popular with pilots after flying the Spitfire but was certainly recognised as being a serious workhorse. A very rugged machine. They flew to New Guinea on the 3rd June 1942, but not without some mishaps. Bluey, taking off, crashed into a fuel dump, which fortunately didn’t catch fire. Others weren’t so fortunate in other incidents and were killed, or their planes badly damaged.

Milne Bay was the antithesis of the UK, hot and steamy, huge mosquitoes, living in tents, mud and constant rain, and where everybody had to pitch in to complete tasks as a team effort. The rank structure basically was non-functional. Dysentery and malaria was rife and affected all, including the Japanese forces. Apparently, Bluey made a rather rapid dash to the “long-drops” (dunnies with a canvas privacy tent around them). Bardie grabbed a Verey pistol and fired it at the dunny Bluey was on, with result that Bluey came bursting from the dunny yelling his head off, much to the amusement of everyone. Bluey never found out who did it!

Dad would often talk about the role the cooks played and how they made quite palatable meals from stuff they nabbed from “who knows where.” It was everybody’s job to keep a look out for anything that looked as if it could be edible and give it to the cooks. It was one of the rare times in the War that Unit Cooks were “Mentioned in Dispatches”. 76 Squadron soon became known as “The Hydraulic Squadron” – They could and would “lift anything” especially from the Americans. Apparently the American Forces knew who the culprits were but turned a blind eye and actually left food and beer in obvious spots for them. It was a sort of payment in gratitude for the work the Squadrons (75 and 76) were doing protecting their ground troops. The Aussie AIF were in the same situation with supply shortages.

The Milne Bay Campaign went for approximately 11 weeks with an intense period in August 1942. This period is now recognised by the “Battle for Australia Day” which is commemorated on the first Wednesday in September. It was recognised by everyone that if the Japs got past Milne Bay they would have swept around to Port Moresby, trapping the Militia and Army units on the Kokoda Track and advancing into Australia. It was a daunting task because the Japanese Army had not been defeated for some 800 years. But they all did it.

At one stage, because of the proximity of the Japs, 75 & 76 Squadrons were ordered to fly the Kittyhawks out and leave the ground staff to fend for themselves. Squadron Leader Bluey Truscott refused to leave his ground staff and disobeyed orders and stayed. Despite being ordered by Bluey to go, Bardie refused and told him, “Someone’s got to look after ya bloody ugly mug”, to which Bluey simply said, “Thanks Bardie”. The Japs were literally at the end of the airstrip and when taking off, the pilots were firing their guns at them. The gun barrels at this stage were so worn out, they literally sprayed the bullets out. The pilots with their Kittyhawks returned the next day.

He flew a further 21 operational sorties in Milne Bay, although he said that at times they didn’t record all their flights simply because there was no time to do so and he felt he probably did as many again. Officially though, he was credited with 21 operational flights, bringing his total operational flights to 118. He was eligible to return to Australia, I believe, after 30 flights. He elected to stay with his mates.

He was offered the job of Squadron Leader of 76 Squadron, but unfortunately he couldn’t accept due to a bout of hepatitis, which saw him spend a considerable time in Heidelberg Hospital in Melbourne. He was one of the first decorated RAAF pilots to return to Australia after service.

Due to his illness, he remained a flying instructor and transferred to the RAAF Reserve in July 1944. In January 1944, he married a WRAN, Miss Nancy Alderton. Two daughters arrived over two years and a son (Me!) about four years later. Nan looked after him, and supported him, through thick and thin, until his death.

He was discharged from the RAAF on the 1st July 1947. Eventually, he applied for and got a soldier settlement allotment near Dunkeld in 1948. He, despite his illness, managed to work the property, with me joining him late in 1967 until 1984 when it was unfortunately sold. He died on the 1st July 1990.

I wished I could have sat him down and tape recorded his story, as I did with Raife Cowan. Knowing what I know now, it would have been a fascinating piece of history. He was very out-spoken during the Vietnam Conflict, especially when my marble was drawn for conscription in 1971, the second last draw. He was a member of the RSL then and was very critical of their blind following of the Government’s support of troops in Vietnam. One RSL member accused him of being a “Commo” by not “following the line”. He was told, as a member of the RSL, to either “Be quiet or resign” so he wrote out his resignation literally on the spot on the back of an envelope. This put the RSL in an embarrassing position by losing a decorated serviceman in such a manner. About the mid 2000s, the RSL admitted that they were wrong to support the Vietnam Conflict giving many reasons, all of them were the reasons Dad stood up for.

I am hoping to portray his story one day as a factual and accurate movie depicting the era 1940 to 1942 as a tribute to, not only to what he went through, but as so many others did as well, with many not surviving. It is not a tribute to War by any means. George Orwell, the author, stated, “Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defence against a homicidal maniac”.

Author’s Note: When I was growing up on the Soldier Settlement property that Dad was allocated post WWII, I remember as a young kid often rummaging through the camphor wood box (filled with moth-balls) playing with his uniforms and other nick-nacks contained within, having a wonderful time pretending I was a fighter pilot. I used to spend hours, many times, looking at his scrap book and all the photos and newspaper cuttings in it, most relating to the RAAF 452 and 76 Squadron’s activities, with some unrelated, yet interesting photos of other areas of wartime activities. This scrap-book, long since fallen apart, is in the process of restoration, as I have done to his Flying Log Book. Even when older, and eventually running the farm for 15 years and knowing him quite well, I still didn’t realise the extent that that period of his life was like for him. I had read the book, “Bluey Truscott” by Ivan Southall, so many times and still find it hard to grasp just how it really was then. I would often hear him chattering away to himself about the friends he’d lost, how they’d died and so on. In retrospect, knowing what he went through, and indeed many others, it must have been tough.

Over the last 10 years or so, especially with the rich pickings of the internet for information, I have been graciously been given the film rights to Bluey Truscott by Ivan Southall (dec) and have been researching considerably to get the story recorded as it was, and as accurately as possible. It is slowly dawning on me, what it must have been like as I am collating it. I see Raife Cowan of 452 & 75 Squadrons occasionally and he has passed on many stories during that period which helps me to put it all into some perspective

Clive Wawn & The Spitfire Association (2013). Wawn, Clive Newton “Bardie” DFC. Retrieved March 09, 2015, from http://www.spitfireassociation.com.au/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=656:wawn-clive-newton-bardie&Itemid=283

Advertisements

76 Squadron Group Photo

I am actually unsure of the exact names of the men in this image but I have managed to remove a lot of the aging and the creases out of the original print in order to restore the image back to how it would’ve look originally (or as close as I personally can get it). I’ve estimated this image to be taken around sometime around June to possibly August 1942 as this is when the Squadron was based at Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea. The aircraft the men are posing in front one is a Kittyhawk fighter which at the time was one of the RAAF’s leading fighter aircraft.

76 squadron at Milne Bay (circa 1942)
76 squadron at Milne Bay (circa 1942)