Flight Lieutenant Donald Ernest Cameron (Don) Charlwood

Donald Ernest Cameron (Don) Charlwood
P03239.018

Date of birth: 06 September 1915
Place of birth: Melbourne, VIC
Date of death: 18 June 2012
Place of death: Wantirna, VIC 

Don Charlwood served in Bomber Command during the Second World War and later wrote several books about his experiences in the RAAF. He was born in Hawthorn, Victoria, on 6 September 1915. Charlwood's family moved to Frankston when he was eight and it was there that he completed his schooling in 1932.

Charlwood decided to be a writer and, to that end, sought work on a newspaper, once approaching Keith Murdoch, who lived nearby, at his home. Offered only the distant possibility of a job as a messenger boy, Charlwood instead found work in a local market and estate agency. Shortly afterwards, in 1934, he moved to Nareen in rural Victoria where he found work as a farm hand and made a little extra money selling short stories. He was still working at Nareen when the Second World War began and, in 1940, realising that the war would be long, he joined the RAAF.

In 1941 he sailed for Canada under the Empire Air Training Scheme to learn the navigators' trade. He was 26 years old, older than most of his fellow airmen, when he began operational training in England before being posted to 103 Squadron at Elsham Wolds. Shortly after Charlwood's arrival, the squadron converted from Halifaxes to Lancasters and he flew most of his tour of 30 operations in the latter type of aircraft over the winter of 1942-43. In April 1943 Charlwood's crew, under pilot Geoff Maddern, became the first 103 Squadron crew to survive a tour in nine months.

A deeply thoughtful and reflective man, Charlwood knew very well how fortunate he was to have survived his 30 operations. His later writings reveal that, of the 20 men who had qualified as navigators with him, only five were still alive at the end of the war. In two of his books, No Moon Tonight and Journeys into Night, Charlwood described his own experience and chronicled the fate of his friends. His vivid, moving records of those months are among the finest autobiographical works on Bomber Command.

During his training in Canada, Charlwood had met Nell East, a primary school teacher. His intuition told him he would marry her. With his tour complete, Charlwood left England for the United States and training on Liberators, but back problems ended his flying career. Before returning to Australia from San Francisco, Charlwood travelled to Edmonton where he did indeed marry Nell East. They were lucky enough to be able to travel to Australia together.

After the war, Charlwood worked as an air traffic controller and wrote eleven books, some autobiographical, and others - works of history. He became Vice President of the Victorian branch of the Fellowship of Australian writers in 1975 and held the position for 15 years. He was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 1992 and has contributed to the Memorial's collection, having been interviewed in 1989 about his wartime experiences. He died in Wantirna, Victoria, on 18 June 2012.

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