The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (421932) Pilot Officer Donald Richard Patterson, No. 635 Squadron, RAF, Second World War

Place Europe: Germany, Dusseldorf
Accession Number PAFU2015/150.01
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 10 April 2015
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 each 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 Richard Cruise, the story for this day was on (421932) Pilot Officer Donald Richard Patterson, No. 635 Squadron, RAF, Second World War.

Speech transcript

421932 Pilot Officer Donald Richard Patterson, No. 635 Squadron, RAF
KIA 24 December 1944
Photograph: P11389.001

Story delivered 10 April 2015

Today we remember and pay tribute to Pilot Officer Donald Richard Patterson, who was killed in action during the Second World War.

Donald Patterson was born on 3 December 1923 in the Sydney suburb of Neutral Bay, the eldest child and only son of Walter Thomas and Ethel Winnifred Patterson. The Pattersons moved to Richmond when Donald was young, and he attended the Richmond Rural School. A keen writer, he became a cadet reporter at the Hawkesbury Herald newspaper, but had moved to Goulburn and was working as a clerk for the New South Wales Railways when the Second World War broke out.

Donald enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force on 24 April 1942, aged 18. He underwent an extended period of training first in Australia and later in Canada and the United Kingdom under the Empire Air Training Scheme. The purpose of this scheme was to provide additional aircrew to the British Royal Air Force, and upon completion of his training Donald was assigned to No. 635 Squadron of the Royal Air Force.

Donald was made pilot officer in August 1944 and became an accomplished navigator, flying in Lancaster bombers. He enjoyed his time in Britain, and between flying operations he visited family and joined fellow Australians at concerts and sporting events. Donald’s commanding officer described him as “a keen and reliable navigator and a first class member of [his] aircrew with a very high sense of duty”. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for completing “numerous operations against the enemy” while displaying “the utmost fortitude, courage and devotion to duty”.

This award was to be posthumous. On Christmas Eve 1944 Patterson’s aircraft flew a bombing run against the German city of Dusseldorf. As it passed over the city on a camera run the aircraft was hit by heavy flak. It returned for a second run but was again hit, and the pilot was wounded. Witnesses saw two parachutes exit the aircraft – the rear tail gunner, Flight Sergeant Womble, and the wireless operator, Flying Officer Hebblethwaite, managed to get out in time. They were taken prisoner and survived the war. Womble later told Donald’s mother that her son and the other navigator had been so busy giving first aid to the pilot that they could not bail out in time. Donald had just turned 21.

The Lancaster crashed near the village of Zons. A Red Cross nurse and a German Army doctor were on the scene within minutes, but found no survivors. The six dead were buried in a cemetery two miles from the site of the crash. After the war the bodies were exhumed, and Pilot Officer Patterson was identified from some of his clothing. The men were reburied in the Rheinberg British Military Cemetery, and an officer of the investigation team ordered that fresh flowers be regularly placed on their graves.

Donald’s father had died a month after his enlistment, and it took years for his mother to hear the full story of her son’s death. In 1947 she finally received a photograph of his distant grave.

Donald Patterson’s name is listed on the Roll of Honour to my left, along with around 40,000 other Australians who died serving in the Second World War. His photograph is displayed today beside the Pool of Reflection.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Pilot Officer Donald Richard Patterson, and all those Australians who have given their lives in the service of our nation.

Dr Meleah Hampton/Dr Kate Ariotti
Historians, Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (421932) Pilot Officer Donald Richard Patterson, No. 635 Squadron, RAF, Second World War (video)