Downes, David Frederick Kirk

David was born on the 5th June 1919 in Camden in New South Wales and he died in October 2009.

This is David’s story as told by Wing Commander Ron Elliott (Retd), a members of the Spitfire Association:

I had arrived in Henry Kendall “Bellbird” country near Gosford to meet with David Downes, a former Spitfire pilot with 452 and 79 Squadrons RAAF during WWII. I would arrive as a visitor, but leave as a friend. In the interim, many things were learned about this fine Australian who served his country well in time of war.

A dairy farmer, keen horseman and polo player, he would transfer his earthbound skills to become a “rider in the sky” aboard the legendary Supermarine Spitfire. Here was an aircraft that had won the admiration of all who flew it.

But first there would be new heights to be reached courtesy of elementary flying training on Tiger Moths at Tamworth. This would be followed by advanced flying training on Wirraways at Amberley in Queensland. Upon graduating from this service flying training school, a boat journey to the other side of the world would unfold. Portion of that sea journey would encompass being a part of an Atlantic convoy sailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada across hostile U boat infested Atlantic waters to England.

Spitfire training would have its dangerous moments, but slowly this Australian horseman would “break in” this powerful beast that could take him to heaven or hell! Thus, wartime years would see this man and machine etch a further chapter into the proud history of 452 and 79 Squadrons, plus a time at Mildura and Parkes Operational Training Units as a Spitfire instructor.

With a devilish grin he said, “I loved to fly the Spitfire low and fast.” Somehow those early horse riding years were never too far from the surface of this man’s psyche.

Following the war years, David and Patricia would wed in Parkes before making their home at Cobbitty. They had met prior to David going north on operational duties. Both had decided not to write during this time, so that the tasks at hand could be given total concentration.

Four children, two sons and two daughters would be born. Thus a man of the skies had returned to the soil. A war had been fought. Many close friends had paid the supreme sacrifice.

Lasting memories would never be too far away. A garage would become not just a vehicle retreat centre, but also a labyrinth of those yesterdays when the Spitfire reigned supreme. A picture of a Mk1 Spitfire would also encompass the history of the complete Spitfire family of 24 different Marks, inclusive of armament, engine, weight, speed, range and production numbers.

Further along the garage wall, a large coloured poster of a Spitfire Mk Vb of David’s England flying days invoked memories of a forced landing through engine failure during a formation training flight with two other aircraft, a few miles south of Chester. This young “learner” pilot had seen what looked like a field to put the Spitfire down, but had misjudged the distance. Instead of a safe landing he was heading towards a row of tall elm trees. The fact that he had been able to lift the aircraft over these unwelcome dangers, brushing the tops of the trees as he went, just as the Spitfire had stalled and dropped suddenly, showed skills of airmanship that would  auger well throughout his wartime flying days, even though on this occasion it was only David’s eighth flight in a Spitfire.

The force of the impact had resulted in some back troubles, which has stayed with him throughout his life. Yet he still smiles at the little old lady who brought him some rabbit pie to eat as he waited for help to arrive. In spite of his predicament and condition, he reckoned the pie tasted beautiful. 

As you moved around the garage depicting those far off days, one could almost hear the sweet sound of the Rolls Royce Merlin engine, whilst just near the garage door a black and white photograph captured the 452 Squadron crew readiness room in England.  Sitting around it were numerous pilots including Keith “Bluey” Truscott who would later become a household name to all Australians. 

The photo shows Sergeant Pilot David Doenes on the extreme left with “Bluey” Truscott at arms length on his left. They would become good friends. Sadly, “Bluey” would lose his life in a flying accident off the West Australian coastline whilst flying a Kittyhawk fighter. War was no respecter of anyone.

The loss of Bob Bungey of Adelaide, in sad, personal circumstances would also leave an indelible impression and bring back memories of David’s first operational mission with 452 Squadron in England escorting A20 Havoc aircraft to attack railway yards at Lille in France. Bob Bungey had been Flight Leader and David had great respect for him as a man and also as a superb leader.

Thus a log book would be filled with numerous missions whilst stationed in England, Australia and Moratai. Mark Vb Spitfires would make way for MkVc Spitfires and ultimately Mk.V111 Spitfires. 

The group photo has David in the front row, third left with pilots and officers of 79 Squadron Moratai in 1945.

Farm paddocks had given way to the patrolling of hostile skies as the call of the land had made way for the challenge of the air. The milking of cows had been replaced by the “milking” of his Spitfire’s Merlin engine, seeking to extract the very last drop of performance to enable pilot and machine to return safely from each flight.

The familiar sounds of farm animals had been replaced by instructions over the intercom as this 452 Spitfire pilot “did his bit” for King, country and empire. He would never want to be lauded, he simply had a job to do and he did it to the best of his abilities.

Flying in close formation with him is his life’s partner, Pat. For 62 years theirs has been a special journey of love shared, family raisedn and farming accomplished.

By channels of coolness, the echoes had really been calling. In leafy boughs, I think that even the bellbirds would be smiling their warm endorsement?

As I drove up the hill to where I live at Raymond Terrace, a beautiful sunset was casting a special tapestry of colour across grey skies. Somehow it seemed to epitomise the colour these two folk have added to life’s grand stage.

My cup runneth over.
Wing Commander Ron Elliott (Retd)

The following is David’s Summary of Service:  
Enlisted 18 September 1940

September 1940
Transferred from Camden Troop of Light Horse Machine Gun Regiment of the Royal NSW Lancers (operating .33 Vickers) to RAAF Empire Air Training Scheme.

16 September 1940 – 10 November 1940
No.2 Initial Training School, Bradfield Park – No.5 Course

16 November 1940 – 12 January 1941
No.6 Elementary Flying Training School, Tamworth – No.6 Course: Flying Tiger Moths.

12 January – 30 April 1941
No.3 Service Flying Training School, Amberley: Flying Wirraways.

4 June 1941 – 31 July 1941
Aboard SS Largs Bay en route for England. Sydney via Wellington-Panama-Caracao-Halifax-Glasgow.

1 August 1941 – 9 August 1941
Personnel Depot, Bournemouth

10 August 1941 – 21 September 1941.
No.57 Operational Training Unit, Hawarden, near Chester

24 September 1941 – 18 March 1942
452 Squadron RAAF, Kenley and Redhill. Flying Spitfire  Mk.5bs

25 March 1942 – 22 May 1942
452 Squadron RAAF, Andreas, Isle of Man: Flying Spitfire Vbs

20 June 1942 – 13 August 1942
Aboard SS Stirling Castle en route to Australia. Liverpool via Freetown-Durban-Melbourne.

6 September 1942 – 15 January 1943
Richmond and Bankstown, NSW (Refitting)

17 January 1943 – 15 October 1943
452 Squadron RAAF, Batchelor and Strauss, Northern Territory: Flying Spitfire Mk VC’s

28 November 1943 – 8 July 1944
Instructor at No.2 Operational Training Unit (OTU), Mildura, Victoria.

12 July 1944 – 31 July 1944
Instructor at No.8 OTU Narromine, NSW.

1 August 1944 – 23 August 1944
Instructor at Central Flying Training School, Parkes, NSW.

! September 1944 – 28 November 1944
Instructor at No.8 Operational Training Unit (OTU ) Parkes,  NSW.

11 January 1945 – 29 October 1945
79 Squadron RAAF, Sattler, Northern Territory and Morotai: Flying Spitfire Mk V111s) including:

12 April 1945 – 28 April 1945 
US Technical Air Intelligence Unit, Clark Field, Luzon, Philippines: Testing Spitfire Mk V111 against captured Japanese Zeros.

7 January 1946 
Discharged.

His service statistics were as follows:
Overseas – 671 days
Australia – 1266 days.
Total in RAAF – 1,937 days.

The Spitfire Association