Cran-Crombie, James

Web Master: James is shown in RAAF records as James Cran Crombie, which was his birth name. However, he changed his surname to Cran-Crombie after visiting his relatives in Scotland during the War. His paternal grandmother was a Cran. It was after meeting members of his family in Scotland that he decided to combine his middle name and surname, thus becoming known as James Cran-Crombie.

James was born on the 28th February 1921 at Ballarat, Victoria, the eldest of five children of Robert and Kathleen Crombie. The family settled firstly at Birchip and then Tutye, between Ouyen and Murrayville, Victoria, where they farmed sheep and grew wheat. As there were no schools in the vicinity of the family farm, the nearest being 25 miles away, James’ father, Robert, became instrumental in organising the building of a school at Tutye North so that his five children, James, Helen, Jennifer, William and Dizney could receive an education close to home. James began school in Tutye North at age nine years.

On completion of Primary school, James attended Box Hill High School in Melbourne until age 16 years, at which time he obtained his Merit Certificate. During his High School years, he lived with his mother’s sister’s family, George and Enid Kerr in East Kew. After leaving school, he worked in Melbourne as an office boy, mail clerk come messenger boy with McIlwraith & McEchern, a shipping company, for some eighteen months, until his father requested that he return home to help on the family farm. This he did for about 12 months until the family sold up and moved to Essendon in Melbourne in 1940.

James enlisted with the RAAF on th 29th April 1940 and after completing training school in Melbourne, he was stationed at Richmond, NSW with 6 Squadron, where he trained in aircraft maintenance and engineering.

In 1941, he travelled to England where he was attached to the 452 and 457 Australian Squadrons as a ground engineer, servicing the famous Spitfires. During his time with these fully operational squadrons, they had many accomplishments and successful wartime achievements.

In late 1942, the squadrons returned to Australia and in 1943 the newly transported Spitfires were once again made into fully operational squadrons flying out of Darwin, where James once again serviced Spitfire aircraft. 

In early 1944, James undertook an air gunner’s course at Sale, Victoria, where he trained on Avro Anson twin-engined bombers. Upon receiving his Air Gunner’s wings he transferred to Rathmines, NSW, where he carried out training as a Flight Engineer on Catalinas.

During the occupation of Japan, he spent three months at an American air base in Kure, Japan, as a member of Catalina Squadron 113 ASR (Air Sea Rescue.) The Catalinas were used in the air sea rescue of a contingent of fighter planes that were based in Japan as part of the Occupation. On his return to Australia, he was stationed at Rathmines, NSW and flew with the Catalinas throughout Australia and to Lord Howe Island. 

James completed his RAAF service on the 19th June, 1946 with the rank of Flight Sergeant.

On returning to civilian life, James completed a training course to become licensed as a civil aircraft engineer, which he passed with flying colours. This enabled him to take up the position of an engineer and crew chief servicing four Avro Ansons on their flight to the UK and also to assist with the purchase of two DH49 aircraft in England and engineer their return to Alice Springs, Australia.

It was on leaving Daly Waters aerodrome in the Northern Territory, bound for Alice Springs, where the aircraft were to join Connellan Airways for freight and passenger services in the Northern Territory, that the plane that James was crewing crashed during take-off. James was instrumental in removing the two female passengers from the plane before it burst into flames. His efforts should have earned him a bravery medal, but none was forthcoming.

James met his wife, Yvonne, during the 1940s at Manly beach, and they married on the 17th July 1948 at St. Clements Church, Marrickville. Yvonne was a highly skilled ticket sign writer who, at the time, worked for Marcus Clark and Company Ltd. In Sydney. After their marriage, James worked for a number of years with his brother-in-law in the motorcycle industry. In 1963, he left to establish his own company known as London Trading Co. Pty. Ltd., which was a successful importer of motorcycle and automotive spare parts. It kept him occupied for many long and fruitful years, and he retiried at age 80. James was a keen and active member of the Dulwich Hill Rotary Club for many years, where he served as President in the early 1970s. He was awarded the Paul Harris Fellow Medal, which is Rotary’s highest award for services to Rotary. In the late 1970s, James took a keen interest in beekeeping and kept many beehives.

Edited by Geoff Litchfield
The Spitfire Association