The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (481) Squadron Leader Peter St George Bruce Turnbull, No. 76, Second World War.

Accession Number AWM2017.1.237
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 25 August 2017
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 Copyright restrictions apply. Only personal, non-commercial, research and study use permitted. Permission of copyright holder required for any commercial use and/or reproduction.

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 (481) Squadron Leader Peter St George Bruce Turnbull, No. 76, Second World War.

Film order form
Speech transcript

481 Squadron Leader Peter St George Bruce Turnbull, No. 76 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force
Killed in flying battle 27 August 1942
Photograph: 008318

Story delivered 25 August 2017

Today we pay tribute to Squadron Leader Peter St George Bruce Turnbull.

Born in Armidale in the New England region of New South Wales on 9 February 1917, Peter Turnbull was the son of Archibald and Maud Gwendolen Turnbull.

The Turnbulls were well known graziers in the New England region and Peter grew up on his father’s property “Glenrule” near Glen Innes. The young Peter Turnbull attended New England Grammar School in Glen Innes where he passed his intermediate exams. He represented his school in A grade soccer, and the town in swimming and A grade cricket.

A top horse rider, Turnbull held the Australian championship for bullock riding and bulldogging – a rodeo event where a steer is wrestled to the ground – which he won at the Warwick Show in Queensland. He also won championships at the Sydney Royal Show.

Turnbull worked as an electrician in Glenn Innes. He also served as a trooper in the 12/24th Light Horse Regiment of the Militia.

After enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force in January 1939, Turnbull began training as an Air Cadet at Point Cook, Victoria. While he was undergoing pilot training, the Second World War broke out.

After completing his training in October 1939, Turnbull was posted to No. 3 Squadron – a fighter squadron that specialised in cooperation with ground units. On 15 July 1940 the squadron left Sydney, bound for the Middle East.

The following month, Turnbull arrived in Egypt where No. 3 Squadron was equipped with the Gloster Gladiator aircraft that they flew during the early period of the North African campaign. In early 1941 the squadron converted to Hawker Hurricanes, and on 3 April, Turnbull shot down four Messerschmitt Bf 110s during a single sortie.

Not long afterwards, No. 3 squadron moved to Palestine and was re-equipped with P-40 Tomahawks. Turnbull served with the squadron with great distinction through the Syrian campaign of June and July 1941, and in October he was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross. His medal citation read that throughout his service Turnbull had “shown a magnificent fighting spirit and great skill”.

In November 1941, Turnbull returned to Australia where he was posted first to No. 24 Squadron, and then 3 Service Flying Training School in Amberley, Queensland.

In March 1942, he joined No. 75 Squadron which was based at Port Moresby and engaged in the defence of the city. In May, Turnbull was posted as the commanding officer of No. 76 Squadron. He was promoted to Squadron Leader the following month.

Equipped with P-40 Kittyhawks, No. 76 Squadron was sent to Papua at the end of July to defend Milne Bay.

Following the landing by Japanese Marines at Milne Bay on 25 August, the RAAF Kittyhawks of No. 75 and No. 76 Squadrons played a crucial role. They destroyed Japanese landing barges and stores, and flying at tree-top level they strafed enemy positions and supressed enemy movement.

On 27 August Turnbull was on a mission to spot and attack two Japanese tanks that had been causing heavy casualties on the ground. He spotted his target and dove in to attack, but failed to pull up in time, crashing into the jungle.

Eight days later a patrol from the 2/12th Battalion discovered the crash site near K.B. Mission and recovered Turnbull’s body. He was buried in
a temporary cemetery at Milne Bay and later interred at the larger Bomana War Cemetery in Port Moresby.

Such was the regard which Turnbull was held amongst pilots and troops on the ground, the Official Historian of the campaign wrote:
soldiers much admired and appreciated the work of the two RAAF squadrons and, for them, the gallant Turnbull had epitomised the courage and skill of all the airmen.

Australia’s defeat of the Japanese at Milne Bay owed much to the Royal Australian Air Force, whose Kittyhawks sank enemy landing craft and shipping, destroyed stockpiles of supplies, and supressed enemy troop movements. Such was the importance of Nos 75 and 76 Squadron that Major General Cyril Clowes specifically praised the RAAF’s “untiring and courageous work which has earned the admiration of all”. Commander of New Guinea Force, Lieutenant General Sydney Rowell, likewise noted that the actions of the two RAAF fighter squadrons were the battle’s “decisive factor”. After Turnbull’s death in battle, Milne Bay’s No. 3 airstrip was renamed Turnbull Field in his honour.

His name is listed here on the Roll of Honour on my left, among some 40,000 Australians who died while serving in the Second World War.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Squadron Leader Peter St George Bruce Turnbull, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Lachlan Grant
Historian, Military History Section

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