Friday 27 February 2009 by Tim Roberts. 6 comments
Personal Stories, Collection, 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.

/collection/SEA0139 Agra, India. 6 February 1945. Outside the Taj Mahal, Leading Aircraftman (LAC) J. A. (Snow) Wardlaw, RAAF of Hornsby, NSW (left) and LAC H. K. (Johnno) Johnston, RAAF of Broken Hill, NSW, sit for Captain W. A. (Bill) Dargie, Australian Official War Artist.

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":


Sgt Black's diary entry for Darjeeling holiday, PR01808 Sgt Black's diary entry for Darjeeling holiday, PR01808

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:


Sgt Black's diary entry- Burma mission, PR01808 Sgt Black's diary entry- Burma mission, PR01808

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.


John Scott Palmer

A very interesting article! We are honoured in having a former Liberator pilot as our neighbour. He was one of the lucky few to survive 2 years of operational flying. A true gentleman, he has some fascinating stories to tell about his service in the Pacific. I understand the survival rate for aircrew in Europe was on a par or even lower than subalterns on the Somme in 1916.

Tim Roberts

Hi John, and thanks for your very positive feedback. The Liberator pilots in various theatres of war certainly lived through many experiences that have made for great and harrowing stories. Getting through two years of that service makes your neighbour an extremely lucky man. Survival rates: I don't have the exact figures at hand just now, but my own impression is similar to yours. The collection material I looked through for the blog post included some pretty full newspaper lists of names of those not returning from service. As an extension of the story: Stuart Black's own older brother, Gregory, was flying in missions over Europe when he was killed in action during 1943. Stuart, who had followed his brother into the RAAF, didn't find out the official sad news until he and his own unit were already in India. Regards Tim Roberts, Private Records

Greg Hayes

Tim Good to see some recognition for RAAF personnel who served in India, particularly those attached to RAF units. They are often forgotten, as is the Burma campaign. My late father John Frederick (Arthur) Hayes served in India during 1944 and 1945, mostly with Ferry Command, and mostly based at Allahabad. He was a navigigator (originally Bomb Aimer/Observer). Dad left Australia in early 1943 and went via Canada, like many under the Empire Air Training Scheme, to the UK where he was posted to Coastal Command Operational Training Units in Northern Ireland and Scotland. He then flew with his Beaufort Crew all the way from the UK to India in early 1944, where he was transferred to Ferry Command. Like Flight Sargeant Black, Dad kept a diary of his time away from Australia, which I have. Ferry work often involved lots of short flights around Indian airfields, picking up and dropping off all sorts of aircraft. I also have his log book, and a number of photos. Dad was a bit of a magpie and kept little things such as theatre tickets, bus tickets, and mess 'chits', all of which tell a story.

Tim Roberts

Hi Greg, and many thanks for your reply. The RAAF-RAF guys in India and Burma did amazing work in a set of very demanding conditions, some of which were noticeably different from both Europe and the Far East. For me, doing this particular topic was a very unusual way to make use of my long-term general interest in India and combine it with AWM collections. From what you describe, you certainly have an interesting variety of records and souvenirs of your dad's service in India. I encourage you to keep them all together, along with any records of stories he might have shared with family. You might find this page (/aboutus/conservation/) useful if you need any information on conservation or specialist archival supplies to help store you collection. It could also be handy to keep a copy of his personnel file with the collected items, to give a bit of official service history as a context for what he did and where he served. If you have a copy already, that's great; if not, you can go online to: Cheers Tim Roberts Private Records

Anne Black

How appropriate the first comment posted above was on 11 March - my faher's (Stuat Black) birthday.

Tim Roberts

Hi Anne, Thanks for your note on the coincidence about the first blog comment being on your father's birthday. :) It was a real pleasure to have the chance to read your father's very interesting diary records as part of the research process for the blog article, and also to show just a small sample of them. Cheers, Tim Roberts Private Records