Fred, or Darky as he was known to his mates, was born on the 4th February 1917 in Waverley, New South Wales. He enlisted in the RAAF in Sydney on the 9th December 1940.
Darky completed his initial training in Australia and then embarked for England via Canada. After further training at No.61 Operational Training Unit (OTU) he was posted to 457 Squadron and served withe Squadron both in the UK and in the Northern territory.
We did know much more about Darky until we caught up with his mate, Roy “Gus” Paton. Darky and Gus were close and dear friends during their Air Force days and served together in 457 Spitfire Squadron. Roy was a Leading Aircraftsman and Darky was a Pilot Officer. They were in Darwin during the period when it was continually bombed by enemy forces. Roy kept a diary from which we have been able to piece together some facts about Darky and their time up North.
In an entry dated the 6th July 1943, Roy records that 25 enemy bombers and 23 fighters raided Millingimbi where 457 Squadron was stationed. Officially, it was referred to as Raid No.58. The last part of the entry reads:
“Three of our pilots are still missing,
P/O Darky McDowell
F/O Bush Hamilton
P/O Robbo Robinson”
Roy always had an immaculate and distinctive hand, and this entry was written in his familiar hand writing. There are no more entries until Friday 16th July 1943, where he wrote:
“Darky, Bush and Robbo have been gazetted dead. They’ve had it!”
It’s easy to see from the change in handwriting in this entry and future entries how upsetting this news was for Roy. The final two entries relating to Darky were as follows:
Tuesday 20th July 1943 – “Found Darky’s body today – All burnt up – shot up too.”
Wednesday 21st July 1943 – “Bury Darky today – I helped lower the coffin into the grave. Still two missing.”
Again, both of these entries reveal from the handwriting just how upset Roy was at the death of his very close friend and comrade. We’re not sure if Roy ever got over Darky’s death. We do know for sure that he never ever forgot him.
An ADF Serial’s (edited) report recorded the incident as folloows:
Operational loss 12.20 hrs 06/07/43 when part of an 11 aircraft interception made by 457 Squadron RAAF on enemy formation approaching Darwin from the west. Blue Section (four aircraft) made its interception (with the exception of Blue 4) at 22,000 feet approximately some 35 miles east of Anson Bay. All three of the remaining attacking Blue Flight failed to return. (Blue 1 (Flying Officer D. Hamilton Serv#403050) Blue 2 (Pilot Officer F.R.J.”Darky” McDowell Serv#403070, later found on the 20th July 1943 in aircraft wreck) and Blue 3 (Pilot Officer N.F. Robinson Serv#401284) all missing). Pilot of BS197: Pilot Officer N.F. Robertson Serv#4016284 missing, believed killed.
The photo is a copy of the official version of the incident. The other photos are of Darky in the UK; he is smoking a pipe and is with Kim Edwards. (Thanks to LAC Bill Conant’s photo album, in which Darky was referred to as “Jack.”) The iconic photo of Darky was taken somewhere at some time.
Frederick Richard John McDowell is buried at the Adelaide River War Cemetery. He was buried with full Service honours in the presence of six officers and 40 airmen, and was conducted by padre A.H. Mitchell. Darky, we honour your memory and acknowledge with sincere gratitude the ultimate sacrifice made by you in the defence of our country.
Thanks to AWM for Darky’s portrait (in uniform)
The Spitfire Association