More wings for the Raj: RAAF in India during Second World War
Although outside main combat areas during the Second World War, India became an important region for the RAAF, and for many RAAF personnel attached to RAF units. In some RAF squadrons, ten percent of the crews were Australians, many of them transferred from training or bomber units based in England.
Most RAAF and RAF activity happened in the northern half of India. The Eastern division of Bomber Command used various bases in Bengal (now Bangladesh) for raids against Japanese forces in Burma and Thailand. RAF Ferry Command units kept busy delivering new planes. For troops and supplies, Bombay was a major port between Australia, the Middle East and Europe. Intelligence work, general administration and advanced hospital facilities were centred in New Delhi. At the end of the war, Bhopal in central India became the base area for a huge transit/demobilisation camp.
The Australian War Memorial holds approximately 300 collections directly relating to experiences of RAAF personnel serving in India during the Second World War. Collection items include: letters, diaries, medals, news clippings, photos, films, drawings, log books, official correspondence and pay books. The Collection Highlights feature includes specific examples. Among the general variety, the Private Records collections include individuals' records of what they did and how they felt about their experiences. Melbourne man Flight Sergeant Stuart David Black was a RAAF Navigator attached to RAF units. He regularly wrote letters to family while in India, during late 1943 to September 1945, and kept a diary for most of 1945. His collection (accession number: PR01808) provides many insights into one serviceman's time in India, including: life in various RAF squadron camps, long-range bombing missions to Burma, frustrations with RAAF and RAF administration, people he met and sightseeing in various parts of India.
Along with hundreds of other RAAF and RAF personnel, Black discovered that the high-altitude northern tea-growing area of Darjeeling offered a welcome relief from the heat and enforced closeness of cities and camp life. It also catered for many popular holiday activities and was home to potential new English-speaking friends, so he visited at every chance. A diary entry for a first day on leave clearly shows how much he enjoyed "Darj":
As a Navigator, Sergeant Black was also a member of RAF bombing crews who flew long missions to Burma and Thailand. From the Bengal bases, crews committed to at least twice the flying distance and duration of missions across the English Channel. Black collected news cuttings about the RAAF/RAF crews and what they bombed. After one long mission in mid-March 1943, he recorded his own flying experience:
After working more than his required operational hours, Sergeant Black was extremely lucky to become one of the less than ten percent of RAAF navigators who returned to Australia. He enjoyed many decades of post-war life.