The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (402823) Flight Lieutenant John William Yarra, 453 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, Second World War

Accession Number PAFU2013/031.01
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 4 September 2013
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial every day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Robyn Siers, the story for this day was on (402823) Flight Lieutenant John William Yarra, 453 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, Second World War.

**Due to technical issues this recording is of poor quality and not for public display.**

Speech transcript

402823 Flight Lieutenant John William Yarra DFM, No. 453 Squadron, RAAF
KIA 10 December 1942
Photograph: P00943.007

Story delivered 4 September 2013

Today we remember Flight Lieutenant John William Yarra, DFM, who was killed over Malta on 10 December 1942.

Jack 'Slim' Yarra was born in Stanthorpe, Queensland, and went to Grafton High School in New South Wales before working as an apprentice printer for Grafton's Daily Examiner newspaper. He was 19 when he enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force in October 1940.

After initial training in Australia in April 1941, he was sent to Canada where he qualified as a pilot. Promoted to sergeant, he was sent to Britain where he joined No. 232 Squadron, Royal Air Force in October and then No. 64 Squadron, RAF, the following month. Flying Supermarine Spitfires, Yarra's first operational flights were fighter sweeps over German-occupied northern France. In January 1942, he was promoted to flight sergeant and posted to No. 249 Squadron, RAF, destined for Malta.

Malta was a vital British base in the Mediterranean. Between 1940 and 1943, the small island was subjected to a siege and bombing from Italian and German aircraft. In March 1942, Yarra was among the first Spitfire pilots who flew off the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle to reinforce the island's hard-pressed defenders. A few weeks later he was posted to No. 185 Squadron, RAF, flying Hawker Hurricanes and then Spitfires.

The air war over Malta was relentless; Yarra was often in the thick of the fighting. He claimed his first victory on the night of the first of May; the first of a series of victories. In just over three months, Yarra destroyed 12 enemy aircraft and damaged six others. In early June he was commissioned as pilot officer and a few days later he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal.

In mid-July, Yarra was posted back to Britain and joined No. 453 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force in September. He had "a fine reputation" and was one of the most experienced pilots in the squadron. His younger brother Sergeant Robert Yarra was also in the squadron. Their time together was brief. On the 10th of December, John Yarra was shot down and crashed into the sea off the coast of Holland while attacking a small convoy of German merchant vessels and a flak ship. His body was not recovered. He was 21 years old.

In mid-1942, John Yarra wrote a letter to his mother, to be sent in the event of his death. It read:

"I entered this war with the knowledge that I had a rather small chance of coming out of it alive. I was under no false impression I knew I had to kill and perhaps be killed. Since I commenced flying I have spent probably the happiest time of my life ... Above all, Mother dear, I have proved to my satisfaction that I was, at least, a man."

Flight Lieutenant John Yarra, DFM, is commemorated on the Roll of Honour on my left, along with some 40,000 Australians who died during the Second World War, and his photograph is displayed by the Pool of Reflection.

This is but one of the many stories of courage and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Flight Lieutenant John Yarra, DFM, and all those Australians who have given their lives in the service of our nation.