Robert, who was sometimes known as Snowy or Bob to his mates, was born in Glasgow, Scotland on 24th July 1921. Bob was nineteen years old and residing in Leichhardt, Sydney when he enlisted at No. 2 Recruiting Centre on the 2nd June 1940. After basic training, Bob was selected to undertake a trade course in armament fitting. Around the time he qualified in this field, there was a strong move within the RAAF to seek volunteers to work as ground crew in the UK as part of the RAF Infiltration Scheme. Bob took up the challenge and joined the group that sailed aboard the Awatea, departing Sydney on Friday the 13th June 1941.
After arriving in Canada, Bob travelled across country on the Canadian Pacific Railway to Halifax, Nova Scotia and from there to Iceland. His group boarded the Belgian ship Leopoldville, which made landfall at Greenock, Scotland, not far from his birth place. The group was sent to No.3 Personnel Receiving Centre at Bournemouth for processing and disbursement to various RAF Units. Eventually, Bob joined 3050 Echelon made up of RAAF and RAF Blue Draft personnel tasked with the responsibility of servicing RAAF Spitfire Squadrons. Initially, the Echelon met up at Henley and then moved to Red Hill, Surry.
Through the early months of 1942, the unit provided ground support for 452 RAAF Squadron which was part of No 11 Group responsible for the defence of South East England. Form March, 457 Squadron replaced 452 which had been relocated to the Isle of Man. Australia was now at war with Japan, and the push was on to send Spitfire Squadrons to Australia in defence of the North West area (The Top End). From the end of May 1942, 457 Squadron ceased operations at Red Hill as part of preparations to transport 452 and and 457 RAAF Squadrons as well as No 54 RAF Squadron to Australia.
Bob was now permanently attached to 457 and left London in June 1942 aboard the Stirling Castle on a voyage to Australia. Thirty eight Spitfires were freighted by the convoy but en route, thirty two were diverted for much-needed replacements in North Africa. And so the Stirling Castle with Bob aboard arrived in Melbourne on the 13th August 1942 with only six Spitfires to share between three squadrons.
After a short period of leave, Bob rejoined his Squadron now located at Richmond, NSW. In October, after the arrival of more Spitfires, the squadrons were formed into No.1 Fighter Wing under the leadership of Wing Commander Clive Caldwell. Throughout January and February, planes and personnel were flown and shipped to the Darwin area.
The photo is of Spitfire “T” on its maiden test flight over Richmond. The pencil sketch was drawn by Bruce N. Read whilst on Livingstone Strip, Northern Territory in 1943.
Initially, 457 Squadron moved to Batchelor Airstrip to await the vacating of Living-stone Airstrip by a Kittyhawk Squadron that had been defending the Darwin area. By March, Bob and the Squadron had established operations out of Livingstone, but it was to prove to be a long and sometimes boring stay in a place about 50 kilometres south of Darwin beside the Stuart Highway with few opportunities to get away or take part in activities that would help to break the monotony. There were 13 raids between March and November 1942 over the North West area providing opportunity for some action, but Bob had to endure the remote conditions until he was posted south to Richmond, NSW in mid-1944. At about this time, he was promoted to Flight Sergeant. He remained at Richmond until the end of the war but, because he was single, he was unable to receive his discharge until March 1946.
It is not known whether Bob’s interest in greyhound breeding and racing developed before the war or what caught his punter’s eye during his RAAF service. However, all became serious post war interests, although his family remained his top priority. Bob is remembered by his fellow Spitfire Association friends as a man of integrity. As Ron Lambert, who served with Bob in 457 Squadron, puts it: “Above all, Bob was a happy model of the best people, loving all and loved by all.”
Updated by Vince Connant
The Spitfire Association