The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (411977) Flying Officer Kemble Russell WOOD, No. 405 Squadron, Royal Canadian Airforce, Second World War.

Accession Number AWM2020.1.1.344
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 9 December 2020
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 (411977) Flying Officer Kemble Russell WOOD, No. 405 Squadron, Royal Canadian Airforce, Second World War.

Speech transcript

411977 Flying Officer Kemble Russell WOOD, No. 405 Squadron, Royal Canadian Airforce
KIA (flying battle): 20 October 1943

Today we remember and pay tribute to Flying Officer Kemble Wood.

Kemble Russell Wood was born on 10 December 1915 in the Sydney suburb of Ryde, the son of Frank and Gwendolen Wood. The eldest of four siblings, Kemble attended Plumpton Primary School, near Blacktown, and later Parramatta High. The family had a poultry farm at Plumpton, which was then on the outskirts of Sydney.

Kemble’s father wanted him to take over the farm one day, but as he grew up Kemble had different ideas. Having done well in school, he took a public accountancy course, which he completed with flying colours. He also had a great love of motorcycle riding and a strong interest in aeroplanes. When the Second World War broke out, Kemble’s mind was set on joining the RAAF. He joined on 21 June 1941, and began training as a pilot under the Empire Air Training Scheme. In September 1941 he attended elementary flying training school, beginning in Link Trainers – an early flight simulator. Real flying was done in DH82 Tiger Moths. It is said that he would sometimes fly over the family farm and that of Ethel Hunter, his fiancée, and waggle his wings. That must have sealed the deal, for on 13 September 1941 they were married.

Kemble then attended service flying training school at Amberley, near Ipswich in Queensland. Progress was slow as he struggled to master the intermediate stage of training, now flying the twin-engine Avro Ansons. On 19 March, Wood had a close call while flying at night, and had to make a forced landing when the starboard motor failed. He handled it well; the only damage was a collapsed tail wheel.

Wood began a diary on 15 May 1942, just before departing Sydney on the ocean liner Ceramic. Arriving in Liverpool, Wood requested assignment to heavy bombers, but soon changed his mind to night fighters. Ultimately, however, Bomber Command is where he would remain.
His next posting was to No. 3 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit, based at South Cerney in Gloucestershire. Here he spent seven weeks getting used to British operating standards and weather conditions over England, this time flying Airspeed Oxfords.

Despite the busy training schedule there was some time for leisure, and Wood took full advantage, visiting nearby towns, going for walks in the countryside, and playing tennis. He often went to the movies and enjoyed dinner and drinks with friends and comrades. On trips to London he would catch up with other Australians at the Boomerang Club. On 13 September 1942, he recorded in his diary: “Anniversary of the best day’s work in my life. Just one year married! How I wish Ethel had been with me today.”

At the end of October, Wood spent two weeks at RAF Cark in Cumbria, where he did further training on Ansons with the Staff Pilot Training Unit before heading further north to Castle Kennedy in Scotland. There he joined No. 3 Air Gunnery School flying Blackburn Bothas. By the end of the year they had relocated to the RAF Base at Mona on the Island of Anglesey, in Wales, where training continued.
On 17 December, Wood received a telegram that Ethel had given birth to a daughter, who they named Gwendolen.
Having been made flight sergeant at the end of 1942, on 27 May 1943 Wood received word that his commission had come through and he was now a pilot officer. Finishing his training with No. 3 Air Gunnery School, he was posted to No. 156 Squadron at Warboys, near Cambridge, but was soon on his way to another unit: No. 1659 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Topcliffe, north of Leeds. There he remained until early July, learning to fly the heavy four-engine Halifax bomber.

On 11 July 1943, Wood was posted to an operational unit: No. 405 (Vancouver) Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force, which was based at Gransden Lodge Airfield, to the west of Cambridge. Wood was impressed with his new comrades. He particularly admired the CO, Wing Commander John Fauquier DFC.

405 Squadron had formed in April 1941 and began combat operations that summer over Germany. In 1942 they participated in the historic thousand-bomber raid on Cologne on the night of 30/31 May 1942. By 1943 this experienced unit had become part of Bomber Command’s elite No. 8 (Pathfinder) Group, and in September 1943 they were re-equipped with the latest Lancaster bombers. The Pathfinders’ job was to go in first and accurately mark targets with flares and incendiary bombs – so the main force of bombers coming behind could use the fires as their aiming point. Pathfinding was especially dangerous work.

By the beginning of August 1943, Wood was captaining his own aircraft and crew. His first combat operation was over Hamburg. Over the next three months they flew sorties over many German towns and cities, plus some closer to home over France. Twice they made long flights – nearly ten hours non-stop to Turin in northern Italy. Then on the night of 17/18 August, Wood and his crew participated in Operation Hydra, the first Allied air raid on Peenemünde, the German scientific research centre where the Nazis were developing their V-weapons.

Wood wrote Ethel nearly one hundred letters while he was away. One of his last mentioned a close call on a raid over Hanover when the plane was badly damaged by flak. A piece hit Wood, bruising his ribs, and another crew member was wounded in the arm. Wood got the plane safely home, but it was riddled with holes. He had now flown 19 missions, but there seemed no end in sight, either for the war, or his tour of duty. Those in Pathfinder squadrons were expected to fly more than the standard 30 missions before being relieved – sometimes 45 or more.

On the evening of 20 October 1943, Kemble Wood’s Lancaster, “R for Robert”, took off on their next raid. Eleven Lancasters from 405 Squadron led a total of 358 aircraft on an attack on the city of Leipzig, deep inside Germany: 16 were shot down that night. The core of Germany’s first-line air defences was the Kammhuber Line. Here a network of radars and searchlights helped night-fighters to pounce on Allied bombers well before they got to their targets. Wood’s Lancaster was just over halfway to Leipzig, about 80 kilometres west of Bremen, when “R for Robert” was hit.

Records show that it was night-fighter ace, Oberleutnant Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer, who shot the plane down. After despatching one plane, his radar operator soon detected another – which they zeroed in on, delivering a heavy burst of fire to the Lancaster’s left wing. The inner engine caught fire immediately. Wood put the aircraft into a steep dive to try to extinguish the flames, but it was no good. The rest of the plane was rapidly engulfed in fire, as it plunged earthwards and crashed into the ground. Only one man got out, the mid-upper gunner, Warrant Officer Johnston. He was captured and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner.

The Lancaster crashed in a wood near the little town of Harrenstätte. Wood and the other six members of the crew were initially buried in the town’s Catholic cemetery. The CO wrote to Ethel, offering his condolences, noting that Kemble was popular with his comrades and would be greatly missed. Missed too by his family at home in Australia, including his daughter, Gwendolen, who he never met.

In December 1947 the remains of the crew were exhumed and reinterred in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery at Kleve. Kemble Wood was retrospectively promoted to Flying Officer. He was 27 years old when he died.

His name is also listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among almost 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 Flying Officer Kemble Russell Wood, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Craig Tibbitts
Historian, Military History Section

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