James, or Jim as he was known to his friends, was born on the 27th September 1917 in Hurstville in New South Wales. He was educated at South Hurstville Pubic School, Sutherland Intermediate School and Canterbury Boys High School, where his name appears on the Honour Roll of Service Men 1939-1945.
After he finished school, he began work at Holland & Son as a junior Insurance Clerk. He was an avid tennis player and musician, and his harmonica, ukulele and Dobro Guitar are considered as family treasures.
Jim joined the Naval Reserve and served as a “Writer” on the HMAS Kuttabul, spending time at sea during training. When war broke out in 1939, having made the acquaintance of “Nobby” Clark a former RAAF pilot, he volunteered for the RAAF and was accepted, enlisting in Sydney on the 27th May 1940. He trained first in Sydney in the basics; Morse Code, the theory of flight etc. and then at Narromine, flying Tiger Moths. He became a member of the first contingent of young pilots to leave Australia under the Empire Air Training Scheme. Such famous names as Keith “Bluey” Truscott, Ray Thorold-Smith and Kenneth Grey were in the same group. He became engaged to Betty Hartley of Hurstville before he sailed.
After training on multi-engine aircraft in Calgary, Canada, Jim eventually went to England to join 452 Squadron under the command of Squadron Leader Paddy Finucane. There he was to fly Spitfires in sorties over France – his sole ambition had been realized. He was apopular man and was later nicknamed by the Squadron as “Spanish George”.
Jim would have been a founding member of 452 Squadron, which was the first RAAF fighter unit to be formed in Britain when it came into being at Kirton-in-Lindsey on the 8th April 1941. Initially, the only Australians were the pilots. The OC, Flight Commanders and ground staff were RAF personnel, but within two months the unit was wholly Australian. Becoming operational in May, the Squadron then moved to Kenley in July 1941 and took part in the usual round of Circus, Rhubarb and Ramrod missions.
On one occasion, he wrote of returning with just enough fuel left to make an emergency landing in a field, not far from where a school fete was in progress. After organizing an Army guard over the machine, he was welcomed to the fete, as the “The Airman from Australia”, by the Schoolmaster. They made quite a fuss over him, and later he was flown back to base in a Lysander.
James Hanigan was killed on the 7th September 1941 as the result of a mid-air collision, whilst training a new pilot in close combat. The other aircraft was flown by Sergeant K.V.Williams. James and Sergeant Williams are buried side by side at Whyteleafe (St Luke) Churchyard in Surrey, England. The churchyard is very near to where RAF Kenley was located.
He was posthumously awarded the 1939-1945 Star, Aircrew Europe Star, War Medal 1939-1945 and the Australian Service Medal 1939-1945.
The group photo is of some of the pilots of 452 Squadron. It was taken at RAF Station Kirton-in-Lindsey. Identified left to right: 287473 Sergeant Paul St John Makin; 400141 Flying Officer Keith Kipling Cox (accidentally killed in the UK on the 23 January 1944); possibly Archie Stuart; Flight Lieutenant Brendan Eamonn Fergus “Paddy” Finucane RAF, DSO, DFC & two Bars (killed during operations over Etaples, France, on the 15th July 1942, aged 21 years); 407078 Ian Arthur Lace Milne; 402120 Sergeant James Neate Hanigan; 402129 Frederick Revis McCann; 402144 Squadron Leader Raymond Edward Thorold-Smith (killed during operations over the Timor Sea on the 15th March 1943, aged 24 years); 257414 Squadron Leader Robert Wilton Bungey, DFC (killed in a ground accident in South Australia on the 10th June 1943, aged 28 years); 400166 Flying Officer William Douglas Willis (killed during operations near Rouen, France, on the 18th September 1941, aged 24 years); possibly 402007 Flight Lieutenant Alex Roberts; 400148 Flying Officer Donald Edwin Lewis (accidentally killed over the English Channel on the 21st January 1942, aged 19 years); possibly Flight Lieutenant Dougas; 404086 Sergeant Andrew Gordon Costello (killed during operations over the UK on the 5th July 1941, aged 23 years); 400213 Squadron Leader Keith William “Bluey” Truscott, DFC & bar (killed in an accident near Exmouth Gulf, WA, on the 28th March 1943); 402115 Sergeant Richard George Gazzard (killed during operations over Belgium on the 19th August 1941, aged 21 years). Absent: 404087 Pilot Officer Raife James Cowan; 408022 Justin O’Byrne (later POW); 402232 Pilot Officer William Davies Eccleton (killed in action in France on the 19th August 1941, aged 25 years); Pilot Officer R.T Holt.
In 2013, Graeme Hanigan, who contributed to this story on his uncle, also wrote that he had just returned from the UK where he visited Jim’s grave at Whyteleaf, Squadron 452’s airfield at Kenley and the nearby Wattenden Arms, which still has memorabilia from both WW1 and WW2, including photos of Bluey Truscott, Paddy Finucane, aircraft and crews. (Editor: It is pleasing to see that the Hanigan family is still remembering and honouring this brave man.)
The final photos are of a rather poignant letter written by a bereaved mother, and Spitfires at Kirton-in-Lindsey.
Thanks to John “Jack” Broughton Hanigan (brother) and Graeme Hanigan (nephew.)
Updated by Vince Conant
The Spitfire Association