Eric was born on the 14th March 1920 in Sydney, New South Wales, and he enlisted in the RAAF in Sydney on the 6th January 1941.
Joining so early in the War, Eric went though the Empire Air Training Scheme. He completed his initial training in Australia, and then embarked for Canada for further training before arriving in England where he learnt to fly the Spitfire before being posted to 452 Squadron.
452 Squadron was the first Australian Squadron to be formed in Britain during the Second World War. Its first personnel gathered at RAF Kirton-in-Lindsey on the 8th of April 1941 and the Squadron became operational there on the 22nd of May of that year, flying early model Supermarine Spitfires. In July, the squadron moved to RAF Kenley, where they became part of No.11 Group RAF and rapidly developed a formidable reputation in operations against German forces.
The photo is of some of the pilots of the Squadron, somewhere in the UK. Left to right: 402218 Sergeant B.H. Bevan; 404558 Sergeant K.D. Bassett; 404724 Pilot Officer B.F. Evans; 403357 Sergeant E.M. Moore; 407881 Sergeant W.H. Stockley; 404998 Sergeant P.D. Tulley; 407915 Sergeant R.S. Stagg.
In March 1942, 452 Squadron replaced its sister, 457 Squadron, at RAF Andreas, Isle of Man, where it remained until it withdrew from operations in Britain in June of that year to return to Australia. It sailed for home on the 21st of June, arriving in Melbourne on the 13th of August and re-assembled at RAAF Base Richmond, New South Wales on the 6th of September. The Squadron began refresher training at Richmond, using a varied collection of aircraft because the Royal Air Force in the Middle East had commandeered its Spitfires in transit.
452 Squadron returned to front-line service on 17 January 1943. Re-equipped with Spitfires, it was based at Batchelor in the Northern Territory and joined 1 Fighter Group, defending Darwin. Eric was posted back to the Squadron after it had been relocated to Strauss on the 1st February 1943.
Tragically, Eric was killed in an accident on the 6th March 1943. He was conducting a test flight over Strauss Strip and was accompanied by another Spitfire. The aircraft had just arrived at the Squadron and as it had not been flown by any member of the unit, it was considered expedient for someone to fly it so as to ascertain its performance.
Eric was at 25,000 ft when he noticed that his engine was overheating. He deduced that he had a glycol leak and radioed his Section Leader. The other Spitfire, BS162, piloted by Flying Officer R.H. Whillans, Service No. 404693, noticed the glycol leak on Eric’s aircraft. The engine started emitting smoke and then failed. They were above multiple layers of cloud which had started at 1,000 ft above the ground. Flying Officer Whillians led him down to 1,000 ft about seven miles from Strauss Strip. Eric wanted to bale out, but Whillians advised him that he was too low, and that he should make a “forced landing.” The aircraft hit the ground, almost vertically. Eric died from injuries on impact.
The official report has been copied and as one can see, the first page is hard to read, but the gist of it is that the Spitfire had been fully serviced and fuelled for the test flight. Note that “Capstan” was the code name for the Spitfire at the time as the authorities did not want to alert the enemy that the Spitfire had arrived in Australia. Glycol leaks were caused by corrosion in the aluminium cooling pipes and was to become a common and major problem as there were no readily-available spares.
Eric was a very experienced pilot, but was only 22 when he was killed. He lies with the other boys, who lost their lives fighting the enemy, in Adelaide River War Cemetery (see photo). His headstone has the folllowing inscription: “We have him in our hearts.”
The Spitfire Association