The following page is a series of air and ground crew stories, and biographies, based on items of memorabilia I have, or once had, in my personal collection.






Awarded to



 ''The Great Escape''

Began his operational career as a Major with the 301st Bomb group 8th Air Force, flying B-17's from England in July 1942. By November he was a Lt. Colonel and took command of the 319th Bomb Group in North Africa. A mission to bomb the port facilities at Bizerte, Tunisia, on December 2nd  would limit his command of the group to less than a week. Flying as co-pilot to "Doolittle raider" David .M Jones their B-26 Marauder was struck by ground fire and crashed. All the crew survived but were taken prisoner shortly after. In 1943 he escaped by jumping from a moving train in Northern Italy while being transported by his German captors, and walked back to allied lines around Monte Cassino. David Jones was transported to Stalag Luft III where he was responsible for one of the escape tunnels planned for the "Great Escape". Steve McQueen's character of Virgil Hills in the movie of the same name is said to be loosely based on Jones. Agee held several high posts after the war including being responsible for marshalling available U.S air forces during the Cuban missile crisis. 













Biography and Gallery page

Over 90 images from Harry Edmunds personal album featuring 3 Squadron RAAF in the Middle East.







Awarded to



"The Reich Wreckers"

On February 1944, 553 Eighth Air Force Flying Fortresses attacked the port facilities at Wilhelmshaven, Germany. Walter Kells, a tail gunner in a 369 Bomb Squadron B-17-G (42-31056), was greeted by solid cloud cover as his crew approached the target. 30 miles out their mission began to unravel badly when their number four engine began revving wildly and had to be shut down. Unable to maintain speed they began to fall out of formation. They were peppered by flak, with the number two engine taking a hit and failing just after bombs away. Within minutes their number three engine had a cylinder head explosion, and the bomber began losing height.



B-17-G (42-31056) after it suffered a belly landing at Thurleigh on 17 November 1943. It was repaired but was lost on the Wilhelmshaven mission.

The pilot, 2Lt. Richard S. "Calais" Wong, gave the order to bail out. Reports from the crew exiting the rear of the aircraft stated that Walter was last seen crawling from his rear hatch, however it appears that he never made the jump for reasons which will never be known, and it appears that he was killed in the crash of the Fortress. The nine remaining crew all bailed out 3 miles from the coast, although no trace of Sgt. Robert Sykes was ever found, and it was feared that he drowned or was shot by the ground fire which all the crew came under during their descent.

The remaining crew were captured and became POW's. Nearly 3 months later, with his arms held up in a gesture of surrender, top turret gunner S/Sgt. George Walker was shot dead at point blank range by a German guard after being caught during an escape attempt from Stalag Luft VI.










 Attributable to


 611 Squadron RAF & 453 Squadron RAAF


Vern Lancaster was born in East Melbourne on 21 September, 1918. He worked as a tiler and spent three months in the Militia as a 29th Battalion Universal Trainee before enlisting in the RAAF on 19 July, 1941. He was sent to 1 ITS, Somers, and then to 11 EFTS, Benalla, on 15 October, and finalised his training in Australia attending the course at 7 SFTS, Deniliquin, from 13 December. Lancaster embarked from Sydney to the UK on 17 June, 1942, and on arrival was posted to 53 OTU, Heston, where he carried out advanced training on Supermarine Spitfires.

His first operational posting was to 611 'West Lancashire' Squadron on 18 January, 1943. The Squadron undertook offensive operations from Biggin Hill in Mk IX Spitfires, and Lancaster claimed his first victory on 17 May, ten miles northeast of Caen, when he downed a Bf109. He was to claim a FW190 destroyed ten miles southeast of Trouville on 30 May. Lancaster was flying Mk IX Spitfire EN570 during both engagements. On 3 November he was posted to 1472 Flight RAF, Catterick. The unit was an experimental bombing unit employing Hawker Hurricanes in an Anti-Aircraft cooperation role. He was to return to 611 Squadron 21 January, 1944. The Squadron had moved to Malask in July, 1943, and was now flying LF Vb Spitfires. This version employed clipped wings to increase roll rate and airspeed at low altitudes and had a higher rate of climb. It was designed to counter the German Focke Wulf FW190.



 611 Squadron pilots at Biggin Hill, May 1943. Vernon Lancaster is 9th from the left. Other notable pilots near the center include S/Ldr EFJ Charles DFC (15+1sh victories), W/C Al Deer DSO, DFC & Bar (17+1sh victories) & G/Capt 'Sailor' Malan DSO, DFC & Bar (27+7Sh victories). 341 Free French Squadron pilots are to the right of the picture.

On 12 April he was transferred to 453 Squadron RAAF (Mk IXb Spitfires) then based at Ford. He became a flight leader and on 8 June Lancaster was Mentioned in Dispatches. 453 Squadron carried out pre-invasion operations and later air superiority patrols over the Normandy beachhead. It was one of the earlier squadrons to arrive in France. During one such 12 aircraft beachhead patrol on 16 June the squadron met a similar number of Bf109s over Caen. Lancaster shared in the destruction of one fighter with F/O C.A Rice, and a second BF109 was destroyed by other pilots without loss to the squadron. Both fighters were seen to go down in flames. In the morning of 27 June, Lancaster led his section into eight FW-190s west of Martinville. During the engagement he probably destroyed one fighter and damaged another. Later that day while flying west of Caen his patrol was bounced by six FW190s. It was an action which contributed to Lancaster being awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross with the following citation.

"Flight Lieutenant Lancaster has shown great keenness to engage the enemy. He has taken part in a large number of sorties including attacks on such targets as railway objectives, radio installations and enemy positions in Northern France, Belgium and Holland. In June, 1944, this officer took part in an engagement against 6 enemy fighters over the battle area in Normandy. Although wounded in the head, he fought with great tenacity and assisted in the destruction of one of the enemy force. Flight Lieutenant Lancaster has destroyed three hostile aircraft."


 The regular 453 Squadron Spitfire Mk IXb MK355 (FU-H) of Vernon Lancaster shown after application of invasion stripes. Lancaster made all his 453 Squadron claims in this aircraft.

During the action a well directed burst from an FW190 had smashed Lancaster's canopy showering him with shrapnel and Perspex. However he managed to hit another which was seen to burst into flames and dive vertically through the clouds. Lancaster claimed the fighter as probably destroyed. He was hospitalized for a short time before returning to his squadron. He continued flying operations until his last flight on 18 September, logging 150 operational sorties during his tour. Lancaster returned to Australia, disembarking at Brisbane on 16 January, 1945, and later instructed at 8 OTU, Parkes. He was discharged on 1 July 1947.



 Two views of Vernon Lancaster's Flying Boots.









Awarded to



Harry Larsen was born on 7 August 1919 in Anaconda, Montana, and enlisted in the air force in April 1942. After training he was posted to 338 Squadron,55th Fighter Group, and flew P-38 Lightnings on sweeps and bomber escorts across Western Europe upon the squadron's deployment to England in April 1943. He shot down a Focke Wulf FW190 over Frankfurt on 29 January 1944. And claimed another on 20 May, when the group was intercepted by over 30 German fighters over Sens. By July the group had converted to P-51D Mustangs, and was earning an envied reputation as airfield strafers, and locomotive busters. On 11 December 1944, he and his squadron had conducted a sweep near Frankfurt, Germany. After hitting the target, the fighters dropped to the ground to search for targets-of-opportunity to strafe on the flight back to base. Larson who was now a Flight Leader, in Mustang "Harvest Moon" (CL-W) was in the company of his wingman 1Lt Kenneth Griffith who submitted the following report on Larson's final minutes.

"On 11 December we were on a sweep in the Frankfurt area.  After the target was hit we dropped down to the deck and strafed. We reformed and climbed back up to 18-19,000 feet and were driving home when several bursts of flak broke within our flight. I believe Capt. Larsen was hit by one of the bursts because he said his oil pressure dropped to zero immediately after. I pulled back up beside him and observed jagged holes in the belly of his ship. He stayed on course (265) and about two minutes later he said his engine had quit completely and he continued in a glide. We saw him jettison the canopy, and when he reached 5000 feet he said he was going out.  It looked like he tried to roll the ship on its back to get out but only got it partially over when the nose dropped and he disappeared in the overcast at between 3,500 and 4,000 feet going straight down.  This was between 1300 and 1305. I did not see him leave the plane but he might have done so in the overcast. The ground was covered with snow so I couldn't have seen the chute.  My altitude showed the ground to be 1500 to 2000 feet high in this area. Lt. Col. Righetti and Lt. Wright had tried to get a fix while at a higher altitude but couldn't.  Because of the 10/10ths cloud coverage I was unable to tell where the flak came from or where Capt. Larsen went down but from the heading we were on I believe he was in the vicinity of Cologne, Germany."

Larson failed to escape his plummeting Mustang, the crash killing him instantly. His body was recovered by the Germans near Padula, Germany. Larsen was known to be awarded the DFC with OLC, the Purple Heart with OLC and the Air Medal with 5 OLC's.



 Mustang P-51D  44-72227 "Katydid" of Lt.Col. Righetti in typical 55th Fighter Group colours. (Unkown artist)

1Lt Griffith was killed when hit by flak less than 2 weeks later. Lt Col. Righetti who was known as "The King of the Strafers" after destroying 7 aircraft in aerial combat and a record 27 destroyed on the ground, crash landed behind enemy lines in April 1945. He was not heard from again, and it is believed that he was killed by angry civilians.











Born March 26, 1918 in Estherville Iowa. Ernie Osher attended Iowa State College before enlisting on March 15, 1941. He was rated a pilot on 31 October 1941 and joined the 55PG, 37PS, as a 2Lt. On 4 May 1942 he transferred to 1PG, and then on 18 May to the 82FG, 95FS. It was with this unit that he entered combat, flying P-38s on bomber escorts from North African bases. His first victory was a Me-109 from Goering's famous White Nose Squadron over Tunis, in January 1943. On 1 May he was appointed as commander of 95 Squadron, and four days later he shot down an Italian SM-82, a Machi 200 and scored another probable. However he did not escape unscathed. A 20mm cannon shell exploded in his forward armour plate, knocking out many of his instruments and all his guns. By the end of his tour on 26 July, 1943, he had amassed a total of 5 victories, 4 probables and 4 damaged. He was awarded a DFC and Air Medal with 12 oak leaf clusters. He remained with the military post WWII. Retiring as a Colonel in 1970, and dying in September 1980.





 Earnest Osher (right) stands next to his regular mount "Sad Sack". Osher is thought to have claimed all of his victories in this P-38 Lightning. It was considered to be the most decorated of its type, with 11 victories, 86 missions and 280 combat hours amassed by the various pilots who flew it.







Attributable to


 Service Number 30


Group Captain ''Wig'' Wight was the highest ranking RAAF officer to lose his life in an operational area in WWII. He was born on 3 August 1905, and was a regular air force officer at the outbreak of the war. He commanded 1EFTS before being posted to England where he served with 59 Squadron RAF, flying coastal patrols in Bristol Blenheim and Boston bombers. Wight then returned to Australia, taking command of 3SFTS during 1942, and 8SFTS during 1942-43. He then took on a new role as Senior Administrative Officer with 10 Operations Group HQ at Nadzab, New Guinea. However on 30 January 1944, he took off from Port Moresby in his Avro Anson (LT-294) with Wing Commander W.L. Hammond towards Nadzab, ignoring advice not to fly in the developing poor weather conditions. They were never to arrive at their destination, and were to remain missing until his aircraft was found stuck like a dart in a cliff face on Mt Kenevi in 1961. The wreck was finally reached in 1964 after five failed expeditions. One item recovered from the wreck was an intact bottle of scotch whisky, which was intended as present from Wight to his new commander, Air Commodore Scherger at Nadzab. It was presented to the now Chief of the air force, and no doubt very surprised, Air Vice Marshall Sir R.R.W Scherger sometime later. 

See Also:

 RAAF Casualty Database