John was born in Adelaide on the 5th April 1919. He completed his Secondary education with a science scholarship in 1935, and was immediately employed by the Adelaide Electric Supply Co as a cadet and commenced an electrical engineering degree at Adelaide University. A year away from completing his degree, he enlisted on the 4th January 1941. Three months initial training was at Summers, Victoria and then in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe.)
He wrote a letter regarding an episode when he was in 453 Spitfire squadron:
Thanks for publishing “High Flight.” The first time I read this, during the war, I wept a bit, and it still has the same effect. Possibly it was particularly applicable to 453’s high flying era with IXs from Hornchurch (I think the original IXs were called IXAs), they were wonderful machines. I remember taking one to over forty thousand feet. Mind you, there was not much “dancing in the skies” at that height, as it was just wallowing. However, we could fairly regularly take the role of top cover at thirty five thousand feet. Glad also to know the origin of the poem.
While on high flying, I’ve been meaning to take some steps to find out whether anyone else has had a “white out.” We were up fairly high, and I was flying No 2 to the CO. He started to make a diving turn to starboard to bounce some aircraft below, realised they were Spits, and pulled back sharply. I had to do some violent skidding to keep behind and below him. The next thing I know was that the canopy went completely opaque. I could only put my head in the office and fly on instruments. Luckily, no-one collected me. I don’t know how long it lasted, but it seemed like minutes, and when it cleared, as suddenly as it had fogged, there was not an aircraft in sight. I am glad to say I never had a repetition.
As I’m at the keyboard, and on the theme of seeking information, I might mention that 453 were involved in, but not perpetrators of, a monumental cock-up. I have had some correspondence with one Aad Neeven, a Dutch historian employed by Fokker Aircraft. He is seeking information on an operation of May 3 1943, and if there are any of 453 or other squadrons who were on the operation, and who have better memories than I or Kel Barclay, who was “A” Flight commander at the time, I would be glad to pass anything onto him. We set off early and landed at Martlesham Heath to refuel for the long flight to Amsterdam, where we were to rendezvous with a squadron of Venturas who were to bomb the power station. Instead of doing what we normally did of flying at zero feet most of the way, then climb rapidly to cover the target, we climbed steadily all the way from Martlesham. We could hear the high-pitched “ping ping” of the German radar in our earphones. Aad has asked some specific questions. Do we remember what was said at the briefing? Neither Kel nor I can remember anything specific and wonder whether this might have been because the intention was to fly low and thought nothing of it. Also, who recalled the squadron before we reached the target? Or was this a decision of the Wing Commander who was leading us. Neither Kel nor I can remember an actual recall. The Wing Commander had been off Ops for some time, and he disappeared soon after. Aad also asks whether there were any investigations. Well I guess there were but we were not privy to them.
The photo, which was taken in July 1942, is of the 453 Squadron pilots in their Operations Room.Left to right: Sergeant James Raymond Furlong 401784 (accidently killed in the UK, 31 October 42), Sergeant G. Whitford 416070, Pilot Officer John Barrien, Sergeant Russell Leith 411790, Sergeant R.C.Ford 403046, Pilot Officer T.A. Swift 408606 and Pilot Officer G. Galway 404811.
Anyway, to round off the story, the bombers got very badly shot up. The Squadron Commander, Squadron Leader L.H. Trent DFC, RNZAF was awarded the VC for pressing on regardless. He and his navigator survived and were made prisoners of war. This was reported in the “Aeroplane” of March 8, 1946, and I pasted a copy in my log book. Aad says that he heard from one of the Dutch pilots of 167 that the controller who recalled 453 killed himself as soon as he heard that all the bombers had been shot down. Well I don’t know. Incidentally this operation was omitted from the 453 book, “From Defeat to Victory.” If anyone can throw any light on, as Aad says, “that dreadful day,” I and he would be glad.
John regarded himself as fortunate to have had the experience of flying Spitfires and they remained a focal point of his life to the end. He was discharged from the RAAF on the 3rd December 1945 in the rank of Flight Lieutenant while serving at No 3 Instrument Flying School. He then completed his BA degree at the end of 1947. He was hospitalised with tuberculosis for 13 months but recovered and resumed what was a very successful career with the electrical utility ETSA.
John died on the 6th January 2007 after a long illness. He regarded himself as fortunate to have had the experience of flying Spitfires, and they remained a focal point of his life to the end.
Written by Bruce Read
Edited by David Hamilton, Mrs Zelda Barren and Paul Carter
Updated by Vince Conant