Wednesday, 24 March 2021

The Great Escape - An Australian Perspective.

Memorial to the Fifty. Photo courtesy of Geoff Swallow.

Before North Compound was constructed, kriegies volunteered to help clear away tree stumps. Their labour was not, however, altruistic. Justin O’Byrne was one of those ‘busy studying the layout and pacing off distances with the idea of eventually constructing tunnels for escape’. O’Byrne, who had a long history of joining escape enterprises – he contacted the escape organisation almost as soon as he arrived at his first camp – ‘was transferred over into the north compound’ in 1944, ‘and then became associated with the tunnel called “The Great Escape”’. After months of digging, ‘eventually it was time to go. And we were allocated by drawing lots, and where we’d be in the line. It was like a giant crocodile’. The grand scheme, he assessed, was ‘a classic of perseverance, of ingenuity, of bravery and everything combined’.

Stalag Luft III is renowned for two escapes. Some, like O’Byrne, participated in both. The first, in October 1943, was the so-called Wooden Horse effort where three men from East Compound made a ‘home run’ to Britain. When O’Byrne wasn’t playing the harmonica to distract the guards, he disposed of spoil. John ‘Jock’ McKechnie’s hands were scarred from the ‘crude tools’ he used when helping to fabricate the vaulting horse. Richard Winn took turns jumping over it while tunnellers worked underneath. Winn also joined the digging roster and took his turn removing the soil. Some of it ended up in bunkers on the golf course they had constructed themselves. If the escape route hadn’t been discovered, George Archer (one of those who enjoyed a good game of golf) was in the next batch of prisoners hoping to use it. ‘You do get disheartened’, Archer stated after the escape was blown. Reflecting his own sense of community however, he conceded that ‘it was a great thing’ that three airmen got out.

The second, more notorious scheme, was the mass attempt which has come to be known as the Great Escape. Organised by Roger Bushell, plans were implemented shortly after North Compound opened in April 1942. The kriegies dug three tunnels known as ‘Tom’, ‘Dick’, and ‘Harry’. One was discovered by the Germans, another was decommissioned, and ‘Harry’ remained the focus of the tunnellers’ attention. Two hundred men tried to exit the camp on the night of 24–25 March 1944. Six Australians were among the 76 who escaped. Bill Fordyce was still in the tunnel when the attempt was discovered. Only three airmen made it back to Britain. Seventy-three were recaptured.

When the sirens went off, Fordyce and the others still in the tunnel made their way back to the hut. Those awaiting their turn, including Justin O’Byrne and Albert Comber, ‘sneaked back to our bunks’. For Comber, it was another foiled escape attempt. ‘Failure again!’ Alan Righetti, who had been one of the ‘X’ Organisation’s ‘stooges’ logging German movements in and around the huts, remembered hearing shots fired. It ‘was pandemonium’. All traces of the escape were covered up or destroyed as the Germans searched for signs of a tunnel. Righetti recalled that ‘we were bitterly disappointed’ that all the men had not escaped ‘but at the same time, very proud of the fact that we had the whole of the area and the German Army rushing all over the place looking for our fellas’, including Paul Royle who was fifteenth out of the tunnel.

Royle was what the airmen termed a ‘hard-arser’ – he had to travel on foot. Captured within 24 hours, he was later sent back to Stalag Luft III. James Catanach, who had been assailed by the ‘the futility of the existence’, was 23rd out of the tunnel. Travelling by train, he had put about 530 kilometres between him and the camp before he was captured at Flensburg on Germany’s border with Denmark. He had been on the run for 45 hours. John Williams, number 32 from the tunnel and Reg Kierath, the 35th, travelled some of the way together by train, and partly by foot. They covered about 80 kilometres and had been out for maybe 16 hours before they were recaptured. Albert Hake was number 70. Following close behind was Thomas ‘Tom’ Leigh, who was 73rd. Hake and Leigh, like Royle were hard-arsers; they knew they had no chance of success. It is thought that Hake, who suffered excruciating frost bite, travelled perhaps less than 65 kilometres and had been free for about 72 hours before he was captured. No one knows for sure, but it seems Leigh had trudged no more than 24 kilometres from the camp, and that he had been free for less than 48 hours. Along with 45 other airmen, including the escape’s instigator, Roger Bushell, the five young Australians were shot on Hitler’s order. They were all in their twenties. Kierath, the oldest, was 29. The youngest at 22 was Catanach; he had been only 20 when captured in September 1942.


The ‘X’ organisation contributed to some men’s psychological problems. A handful discovered they had claustrophobia. Albert Comber found underground work ‘terrifying’; he, like others continually battled the ‘panicky feeling that accompanied fears of being entrapped by a cave-in in the confined space’. Robin Sumner traded-in tunnelling for other tasks because of his claustrophobia. No matter how important they were, he felt ashamed. Returning time and again to captivity in memory and nightmare, he experienced serious late-life anxieties. ‘I am back in a POW camp somewhere in Europe’, Robin Sumner explained. ‘Sometimes I’ll be taking part in an escape attempt under enemy fire the circumstances are always hopeless and consequently frightening. In another dream I’m being buried alive in a collapsing escape tunnel (equally hopeless and frightening).’ The tension of escape work may also have contributed to a collective mental strain.

Protecting Powers’ delegates had visited Stalag Luft III a month before the Great Escape. They reported that George Matthews and his fellow medical staff were concerned about the airmen. ‘An increasing number of prisoners and particularly among those who have been in captivity for a long time, (3 or 4 years) are gradually losing their peace of mind, becoming more and more mentally unbalanced.’ ‘Psychosis cases’ were also increasing, perhaps emanating from fear of possible discovery after the ‘“blitz” campaign’ to finish off tunnel ‘Harry’ began in early 1944. The situation was ‘extremely grave’ and the ‘effect on some of the prisoners may be a lasting one unless some serious steps [are] taken soon’. Rather than transfer the complex cases to a specialist facility, such as at Stalag VIII-B, Lamsdorf, because it ‘might do more harm than good’, several men were moved to the Belaria compound ‘as this would secure a change of surroundings for them’. This helped some ‘in a very small way’.

The airmen did not know why some of their complement had been relocated. Perhaps reflecting the social stigma of mental illness, their medical and senior officers failed to tell them. The airmen, however, constructed their own narrative which reflected their continuing status as elite airmen on duty behind barbed wire. While some of them, Paul Brickhill recounted, ‘were completely harmless types who had nothing to do with “X”’, a group of critical operatives in the escape organisation and ‘fairly important workers’ numbered among the transfers. Accordingly, the airmen inferred that the Germans were aware that something big was afoot, especially as it followed an upsurge in camp security checks. As time passed, the ‘harmless types’ were elided from the story to emphasise the purge’s connection to escape work. Author and journalist Guy Walters, for example, states that all the Belaria transferees were part of the escape organisation. Shifting the focus from mental strain reinforced the airmen’s wellness and near-universal escape narratives. There was no place for mental disturbance in their expressions of martial masculinity.

Given the increase in escape work in the early months of 1944 and the collective strain of keeping it secret, it is likely that the advancing plans for a mass escape underpinned the medical staff’s concerns. But how did the lead-up to the Great Escape affect the mental well-being of those preparing to escape? Reg Kierath’s last letter to his mother indicates nothing other than his usual high spirits, tiredness of the domestic regime, and annoyance at the continual blaring of the camp loudspeaker. When he wrote ‘I fear I shall be doing the goose step, or else going crazy in the near future’, Ada Kierath would have held no doubts about her lively son’s sanity, or entertained any suspicion that he was planning to escape. It seems, however, that James Catanach could barely suppress his excitement. ‘Get my suit pressed’, he told his friend Malcolm McEachern.

Albert Hake’s correspondence indicates a build-up of emotional turmoil. The tone of his earlier letters had been bright and positive, and despite his separation from Noela, he continued to look to the future: ‘tomorrow is another day [where] one’s spirit rises with the sun’. Reading between the lines, Hake’s letters indicate he was busy with his work for the ‘X’ organisation as a compass-maker, as well as his pride in it. As time passed, Hake became more morose. He continually expressed how much he missed Noela, his desperation to return to her, his fears that she was in love with someone else, his regret about not starting a family, and his sense that he would be too old by the time he returned home. He was shocked by the news of Mrs Rob’s death. His grief was acute. ‘She was a great friend and mother to me. Her kindness and understanding sympathy helped me through many a physical and mental hurt. I have lost my adopted mother.’ Hake’s psychological state was exacerbated by the breakup of his close-knit room when two of the members were transferred to Belaria. ‘Well after almost two years together our old room (called “Anzac Cove”) has finally split.’ Close relations were not established with the non-Australian new arrivals. ‘The list of names on our door now contains five names under “Anzac Cove” with the latters under the heading of “Some Other Cove”’. By his third wedding anniversary – his second in captivity – Hake’s mental state had deteriorated further. ‘Living through that happy day of three years ago’ appeared to galvanise him towards participation in the ill-fated escape attempted. ‘Well damn it all I’ll be home for our next anniversary darling’, he wrote on 1 March 1944. His last letter, written four days before the mass breakout, concluded, ‘I hope I can justify your faith in me dearest one of these days. Remember me’.


The names of the dead were announced a few days after the escape. Their comrades felt ‘deep personal loss’. ‘We were stunned’, Justin O’Byrne recalled, ‘so grieved at such a tragedy happening to people who were young, virile lads in the prime of life, and to be shot down, murdered like dogs, it was beyond our comprehension.’ It could just as easily have happened to him if he had made it through the tunnel. In addition to deep grief, the escape emotionally and psychologically affected the airmen. The Protecting Powers’ observers detected ‘a great nervousness in the whole camp’ after the Great Escape. Both British and American senior officers were concerned ‘about the deplorable effect’ on ‘the mental state of the prisoners’ of the ensuing reprisals on the recaptured escapers. The situation did not improve. ‘The state of mind of the prisoners at this Camp is, naturally, very bad as a result of the death of the 50 officers who were shot’, observed the Protecting Powers’ representatives after their 22 May 1944 inspection. The prevailing feeling of ‘insecurity felt by the prisoners of war’, lingered. Indeed, the memory of that time stayed with Julian Macpherson for many decades, detracting from his long-term well-being. ‘We were not treated well after that episode.’

Even as the airmen personally dealt with their shock and grief, they altruistically looked outwards. Many of ‘the Fifty’ were married; some, like Albert Hake, had paid allotments to their wives or mothers. Recognising that the deceased airmen’s next of kin might need financial assistance, North Compound personnel each subscribed an average of £5 to a special fund. A ‘committee of adjustment’ was formed to gather the men’s personal effects which were then auctioned off. ‘Some of the camp leading lights were invited to act as “guest auctioneers”’, Laurie Simpson reported. Although the men were still grieving, ‘the whole thing was carried out … in a very light hearted spirit’. The ‘bidding was generally very high, some prices being fantastic’. As a result, ‘a substantial sum’ was raised. Noela Hake received two payments totalling £283. 4. 11d. After the war, profits of £450 from the ex-prisoner produced book, Spotlight on Stalag Luft III, were donated to the RAF Benevolent fund.

Not all personal possessions were auctioned and two examples illustrate the extent of the kriegies’ altruistic impulses. Personal parcels arriving after the men’s deaths were considered communal property and divided up. RAF airman Vivian Kelly, ‘one of the few who have suffered a particular dearth of clothes’, benefited from Ada Kierath’s last parcel. Despite the charitable efforts of his friends in camp who shared what they could spare, Kelly ‘was beginning to feel very much in need’. He was touchingly grateful to Ada: ‘I may tell you that the contents were never more welcome because it has been over two years since any clothing parcel had come my way’. Before exiting the escape tunnel, Alan Righetti’s roommate, George Wiley had charged him with returning his wristwatch and personal photos to his family in Canada if anything happened to him. After liberation, Righetti displayed ‘an intimate chivalry’ by taking the long way home via America and Canada to fulfil his promise. ‘That was a very hard thing to do’, he recalled, as he encountered the Wiley family’s stark, uncomprehending grief. Their fears for his safely had subsided when they heard he had been captured, ‘so relieved to hear that he was safe in prison camp, only then to have the news that he was murdered’. Their anguish was so profound that they had little comprehension that Righetti had delayed his return to Australia, and driven to Ontario from Washington DC (a trip which would take over 13 hours today) to deliver his friend’s belongings, and that he had been fulfilling Wiley’s final, personal request.


‘I shall never forget the day when our SBO … gathered us together in the camp and told us the tragic news’, Reg Giddey told a reporter seven years later. The memory of the camp’s collective grief was still vivid. ‘Some of the hot-heads wanted to charge the barbed wire and guard boxes, but reason prevailed...’ Individually and as a community the airmen tried to give the deaths greater meaning as they ‘went into mourning’. North Compound held a commemorative service on Good Friday – one of the most significant days in the liturgical calendar, commemorating Christ’s sacrifice. ‘Every prisoner wore a black diamond … on his sleeve for the remainder of our term in prison’, recalled O’Byrne, including on Anzac Day. Wearing full uniform, the Australian airmen gathered for photographs. Taken on the day of Australia’s most significant commemoration of the war dead, their group portrait declares more than national and service solidarity. It is a visual record of air force pride and communal grief.

The kriegies’ mourning signalled a departure from the usual air force practice of marking death and rapidly moving on. Air force culture distanced them from contemplating their own deaths or those of their fellows; they did not die but ‘went west’ or ‘for a Burton’. Those on operational squadrons climbed back into air craft and continued operating. The airmen pragmatically accepted death as a fact of service life and simply carried on with their work. In captivity, however, they had the ‘space’ to contemplate the deaths of the Fifty and find a way to make them meaningful.

Some wrote lists of those killed in wartime log books. They annotated the pages, drawings, and photos with a cross, the traditional symbol denoting the dead as well as a pre-eminent symbol of a shared Christian faith. Personal remembrances and photographic records of collective grief, however, were not enough. Graves and memorials provide a tangible connection between the dead and living, a focus for grief, a trigger for remembrance, and a place of pilgrimage. They allow the grieving to keep faith with the dead. Just as many Great War memorials in Britain and Australia had been voluntarily built by families and communities, North Compound’s air force family similarly kept faith with their dead.

Under the Geneva Convention, officers were not obliged to work but, with the commandant’s permission, and using stone provided by the Germans, a working party of prisoners constructed a memorial in the nearby cemetery where other prisoners had been buried. There they could inter their friends’ ashes. Designed by Australian-born architect and theatrical designer, Wemyss Wylton Todd, the prisoners’ memorial resembles an altar, a pagan and Christian artefact of sacrifice – the sacrificial table. Todd’s design included an eagle. Mounted below the inscription, its spreading wings symbolise both the brotherhood of airmen and their wings insignia. The names of the dead are engraved on three granite tablets, divided into columns by crosses which recall Sir Reginald Blomfield’s Cross of Sacrifice. Featuring in Imperial War Graves Commission cemeteries, Blomfield’s cross, encompassing a battle broadsword, emphasises both the military service and religious backgrounds of the majority of the dead. The broadsword’s links to medieval knights and their code of chivalry has deeper resonance for members of an air force which aspired to chivalrous values at heart, if not on operations. By incorporating the cross into the memorial, Todd signalled that he and Stalag Luft III’s airmen perceived the Fifty’s deaths as sacrifices. So too does the inscription underneath their names: ‘In memory of the officers who gave their lives’. (My emphasis.) From this, the airmen composed a lasting narrative of sacrifice.

The memorial was built in the nearby cemetery. There, 50 urns containing the dead men’s ashes were interred on 4 December 1944. Thirty prisoners along with members of the Swiss Legation attended the funeral. The airmen laid wreathes, and the Catholic and Protestant chaplains said prayers and blessed the monument and ashes. After the way, the ashes were removed to the British Military Cemetery at Poznan and buried there. The Imperial War Graves Commission erected headstones to mark the graves, inscribed with the airmen’s names, service details, and epitaphs chosen by their families. 

By helping to erect a memorial to the ‘gallant men who gave up their lives’, the Australians provided a focus for their grief and an opportunity to come to terms with and make sense of their friends’ death. So too did the narrative of sacrifice which later merged with one of duty: the Fifty had died as active airmen, fulfilling their service and captivity obligations as outlined in Air Publication 1548. A late-life emphasis on compliance with air force abrogated any sense of guilt the survivors may have felt in participating in the escape work which had led to the deaths of their comrades. While Justin O’Byrne recognised personal desire to regain his freedom along with motivations, he stated that his ‘first duty was to escape, to try to rejoin his lines’. Lionel Jeffries, one of the Great Escape ‘stooges’, also cited service obligation: ‘we were duty bound to escape if we could’. Some framed the Great Escape as a worthwhile endeavour based on the highest motives. Reinforcing that they remained active participants in the war behind barbed wire, many highlighted the ‘nuisance value’ of escape. They believed they were tying up German manpower and matériel. Bill Fordyce and Bill Jeffries considered the breakout ‘successful, even if it was so tragic’ because of the ‘massive amount of disruption’ it caused. ‘There were tens of thousands of German troops whose sole job was to look for those that escaped’, Fordyce said.The escape was such an embarrassment to German authorities as to involve Hitler himself,’ asserted Jeffries. ‘This was our war contribution, to create maximum disruption to Germany in its then failing condition’ he insisted. To otherwise couch the Fifty’s deaths would diminish them. It would make a mockery of the camp’s ‘deep mourning’. It would also risk highlighting real or vicarious personal or collective culpability in the escapers’ deaths.

Because of decades of lionisation of the participants, there are very few latter day criticisms of either the escape organisation or its main proponents, particularly Roger Bushell. Indeed, most of Stalag Luft III’s prisoners forgot or ignored Bushell’s escape autocracy; some acclaimed him a hero. Sixteen months after Bushell’s death, Malcolm Jones, who had worked in the carpentry department with Reg Kierath, claimed that ‘the escape was brilliantly planned’ by Bushell. Sixty years after Bushell’s death, Geoff Cornish, who was active in the ‘X’ organisation until he transferred to the Belaria compound to work in the sick quarters, still considered the South African to be ‘a very great friend’. He ‘was brave and he was cunning. He was the ideal type’. Justin O’Byrne’s assessment is also typical: ‘he was an inspiration for morale building and determination, a very great man’. There were only a handful of dissenters, such as Len Netherway thought Bushell was ‘mad. Crazy’.

The Great Escape failed to achieve its aim of creating great havoc. It had little effect on the allied war effort. The narratives of sacrifice and duty, however, gave meaning to the mass break-out, as well as the deaths of the 50 airmen. The glee with which former kriegies such as O’Byrne later told stories ‘of prisoners under a big handicap but often coming out on top’ highlights their believed success in winning the ‘battle of wits’ against the Germans. The great cost, however, was lost lives, and the men grieved deeply for them. Some mourned a life-time. 

Saturday, 5 September 2020

Vale Air Marshal David Evans

I was very saddened to read of the recent death of Air Marshal David Evans. As many of you know, he wrote the foreword to my Australian Eagles. I had met him briefly at the ACT’s 2012 Wreathlaying Ceremony which was held on 14 September. How uncanny that his death falls within the 80th anniversary period of the Battle of Britain. In that commemorative address almost exactly eight years ago – the day before Battle of Britain day – Air Marshal David Evans AC DSO AFC, former Chief of the Air Staff of the RAAF and Patron, Australian Flying Corps and Royal Australian Air Force Association (ACT Division), recognised that many who bravely fought against the Luftwaffe experienced fear and had acknowledged and put aside their terror so they could carry out their important duty. 

Air Marshal Evans spoke of the lives of the young fighter pilots who displayed the true meaning of courage during the brief period when Britain’s defence depended on them. One moment they were lounging around dispersal, reading, desultorily chatting or playing cards, all the while listening with half an ear for the call to battle. Then, after the harsh ring of the ops phone, there was the mad scramble to aircraft, take off, and combat and, perhaps minutes later, watching the chap they were talking to plummet to earth with black smoke pouring from his stricken aircraft. Before they knew it, with adrenaline still pumping, they were back on the ground. Then, after refuel, rearm and debrief, back to dispersal to wait for the ops phone to ring again. And all this, four, five or six times a day. There was an incredible physical and psychological toll on these young airmen.

Air Marshal Evans remembered all of ‘The Few’ but he spoke of one man in particular—James Coward, a much loved and missed member of Canberra’s air force fraternity. He told of how James was shot down on 31 August 1940, how he baled out, only to see his foot almost totally severed, bobbing along as he floated down in his parachute, blood spurting out. He told of how James fashioned a tourniquet out of his wireless cord, thus saving his life. He quipped that it was ‘pretty good thinking for a fighter pilot’. And that coming from a former transport and bomber pilot! It was an affectionate vale for a brave man in a warm and intimate ceremony where politicians, representatives of the Battle of Britain countries and members of their armed services, former and current serving members of the air force and Canberrans once again gathered to remember those dubbed by Air Marshal Evans, ‘the immortal “Few”’. With his own inimitable and exemplary air force career, Air Marshal Evans has earned his own place within aviation’s ‘immortal Few’. You can read about his aviation career in his autobiography, Down to Earth.

David Evans’ 42-year career in the RAAF began during the closing stages of World War II. Post-war, he flew to Japan in support of occupation forces, then from Germany during the Berlin Airlift. In Vietnam he commanded one of the only bomber unit which the RAAF contributed to that conflict. He also led the Wing operating the RAAFs new F-111Cs, Australia’s premier strike aircraft for most of the next four decades. Added to that operational experience were jobs flying VIPs (including the Governor-General and Prime Minister) around Australia and beyond, conducting training in New Zealand, and representing the RAAF in the capital of our principal ally, the United States. His career culminated in him serving as Air Force chief for three years, from 1982 to 1985 during a period of enormous change, evolution and modernisation within the Australian Defence Organisation. With his flying days now 25 years behind him and both feet planted firmly on the ground, Air Marshal Evans provides a vivid and forthright account of his Air Force experiences, and reflects back on one of the most varied personal careers of the modern RAAF.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Acknowledging contribution: International Women's Day 2019. Miss Celia Macdonald of the Isles ‘who has been a particularly good friend’

Miss Celia Macdonald of the Isles ‘who has been a particularly good friend’

In April 2009, the great nephew of one of Australia’s Battle of Britain pilots contacted me. He had heard I was researching the Battle and wondered if I would be interested in William Henry ‘Bill’ Millington Jr’s diaries and letters. Would I, ever! In the parcel was a ‘last letter’, given to Miss Celia Macdonald of the Isles to pass onto the Millington family in the event of Bill’s death. It was accompanied by Miss Macdonald’s condolence note to Bill’s mother, Elizabeth. These had been offered to a major collecting institution which had knocked them back.
Lady Frances Ryder and Miss Macdonald ran the Dominion and Allied Services Hospitality Scheme, an important social organisation for Australian and other Allied servicemen and women. The Scheme was well recognised and appreciated by those who enjoyed ‘wonderful leaves while serving in the United Kingdom’ so I wondered why the letters had been declined. I recalled an article published in Wings in 2007 in which the author had unsuccessfully sought information about it so thought perhaps it and its significance to Australians had faded from contemporary memory.[i] But it was not that.
According to Bill’s great nephew, the institution’s representative told him that ‘Miss Macdonald was a euphemism and not a real person’.[ii] A quick internet check indicated that Miss Celia Macdonald of the Isles appears in The Peerage and had been awarded an OBE and later advanced to CBE for her work with the organisation.[iii] So, not a euphemism, and very real. Someone had got it wrong. That, then, was my cue to discover more about the Dominion and Allied Services Hospitality Scheme as well as Miss Celia Macdonald—unrecognised by a major military archive—and her role in the life and death of one of Australia’s Battle of Britain pilots.
Although non-British servicemen during the Great War received hospitality from the War Chest Club, the Anzac Buffet and the Red Cross, Lady Frances Ryder’s father, the 5th Earl of Harrowby, and his wife, believed Australian mothers would be ‘suffering agonies’ at the thought of being separated from their sons and so they decided to do what they could to alleviate their anxieties.[iv] This concern was based on strong connections with Australia. Lord Harrowby first visited in 1886 and admired Australia and her ‘sturdy sons’, making a special study of Australian affairs. In addition, his brother, Captain the Hon. Robert Ryder, who was aide-de-camp to George Ruthven Le Hunte, governor of South Australia from 1 July 1903 until 18 February 1909, had married an Australian.[v] The Dominion Officers’ Hospitality Scheme was launched in May 1917 when Lord and Lady Harrowby opened the doors of their London residence to visiting officers and convalescents.[vi]
Lady Harrowby and her daughter considered it ‘a privilege to do something to brighten the lives of officers and men on leave and in hospital’ and threw themselves wholeheartedly into what became ‘a very personal work’[vii]. They were assisted by Helen Wallis who took on the role of organising secretary. Joyce Fry, who hailed from Queensland, joined them at a later date.[viii] In addition, Lady Frances invited Miss Celia Macdonald, the only daughter of Sir Alexander and Lady Bosville Macdonald of the Isles, to join her in welcoming visitors and developing a network of hosts and hostesses.[ix] And they were successful. The Harrowbys alone received 13,000 officers while 600 hostesses throughout England and Scotland entertained over 8200 officers, including 2000 Australians.[x]
Lady Frances and Miss Macdonald had much in common. They were of similar ages—born on 7 August 1888 and 28 January 1889 respectively—background, character and interests. Both lived a life of privilege; they were educated at home by governesses and enjoyed comfortable childhoods. As was usual with young ladies of their class, they were presented at court; Lady Frances in June 1906 and Miss Macdonald in 1908. After their presentations, their paths continually crossed as they made the usual round of dances, house parties and country weekends.[xi]
Both were staunch churchwomen—Lady Frances, in particular, was strongly against divorce and, in later years, divorcées were excluded from her hostess list—and devoted to their charities.[xii] They were kind, thoughtful, genuinely concerned for the welfare of their military friends and had the knack of putting people at their ease, keeping the conversation flowing with little effort, with Miss Macdonald in particular, often maintaining half a dozen at a time, all while pouring the tea and passing sandwiches.[xiii]
Miss Macdonald was warm, never failing in gaiety and had an infectious laugh. She was musical and played the piano and violin. She was a talented soprano and passionate member of the Bach Choir. After she came out, she took over the running of the scout troop in the village of Rudston and was, in the words of her nephew, constantly ‘up to some good works as it was not in her nature to sit and do nothing’.[xiv]
The efforts of Lady Harrowby, Lady Frances and Miss Macdonald were publically recognised on 27 June 1919 when they were appointed to the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order: Lady Harrowby was made a Dame Commander; her daughter a Commander; and Miss Macdonald an Officer.[xv] The Scheme had fostered such great international relations that, rather than allow it to lapse after the war, ‘prominent politicians’ who recognised its ‘imperial value’ suggested working with the young people of the Empire. Accordingly, the new Dominion Students’ Hospitality Scheme catered to students taking up places in Britain’s universities.[xvi]
Lord Harrowby’s London residence proved inadequate and so a new base was required. Lord Cadogan offered a favourable rent at 21B Cadogan Gardens.[xvii] It wasn’t long before a regular stream of male and female undergraduates, Rhodes Scholars, military cadets and anyone else who had arrived in England without friends but with an appropriate letter of introduction, made 21B their second home.[xviii] Miss Macdonald left in 1919 but rejoined Lady Frances in 1922 and they continued to work together until Lady Frances was forced to retire in 1933 because of ill health.[xix] Miss Macdonald then took over the running and her contribution was again recognised when she was advanced to CBE in 1937.[xx]
With war imminent, Air Ministry adopted the Scheme for the benefit of Commonwealth personnel, renaming it the Dominion and Allied Services Hospitality Scheme. Lady Frances came out of retirement and resumed her position beside Miss Macdonald at the tea table. They expanded their card files, increased the hostess network and appointed regional coordinators. They recruited new helpers who typed welcoming letters to new arrivals—which Miss Macdonald signed—and sent out invitations complete with host addresses, details of the nearest train station, a discrete slip of paper outlining appropriate tips for household staff, and an exhortation to send a wire to advise their arrival time.[xxi]
Lady Frances and Miss Macdonald did their utmost to match their military clients with suitable hosts. They asked where they would like to spend their leaves, what sports they played, and whether they wanted a quiet break or a busy time.[xxii] For the most part, they were successful. When Wade Rogers arrived at Cadogan Gardens, he longed for a country family and home cooking. He was sent to the Pillings in East Yorkshire. Dick Pilling pressed Wade to call him ‘Uncle Dick’ and the young Australian felt so comfortable he returned many times.[xxiii] Referrals were not always as successful, however. Yorkshire hospitality had little to offer someone as lively as Pat Hughes.
He soon discovered that ‘the local families are either terribly county or else strict church goers’. The highlights were ‘an occasional game of tennis with several of the fair widows of the district’, but the lowlights were ‘evenings at home which consist of my slowly sipping a glass of muck after struggling through an incredibly indigestible dinner’. Then, recounted Pat, the hostess would ‘spring to her feet, clap her hands and after gazing around for several minutes’ have ‘a brain wave’ and ‘exclaim, “I know let’s play sardines”—Ye gods, our existence is limited’.[xxiv]
Northumbrian-born Bill Millington, who had arrived in Adelaide, South Australia on his 9th birthday, had a much better experience of British hospitality. Miss Macdonald wrote to him after he was notified of his short service commission, welcoming him to England and inviting him to come along ‘to have tea with us’ at any time ‘as you will always find somebody here’.[xxv]
Bill was drawn almost immediately to Miss Macdonald. Perhaps her comfortable demeanour reminded him of his mother, perhaps he delighted in accounts of her stay in Adelaide during her world tour in 1936–37.[xxvi] Perhaps it was their shared adherence to the strong moral principles of scout law: whenever he wasn’t dreaming of flying, Bill had channelled all his energies into the scouting movement, graduating from cub, to scout and rover, winning many achievement badges on the way.[xxvii] Whatever the basis, they developed a warm empathy.[xxviii]
The opportunities offered to young airmen were vastly different from anything they had experienced before. Geoff Cornish enjoyed his host’s priceless collection of etchings of Heath Robinson inventions.[xxix] David Scholes, guest of Tom Maclean, the Earl of Ancum’s gamekeeper, went fishing and hunting on the Monteviot Estate.[xxx] Bill Millington accepted ‘numerous invitations to dinners etc. Last night I went with a party to the open air theatre in Regent’s Park ... I’m going to a garden party on Saturday.’ He had a ‘very pleasant evening’ with Lady Douglas Smith and her daughters, joined Sir Stuart and Lady Sankey for lunch, and chatted with Lord Athlone, ‘brother to Queen Mary and former governor-general to South Africa’. He lunched at the Café Anglais, followed by an afternoon at Boodle’s, a gentlemen’s club.[xxxi] Amusing as all that was, he liked nothing better than being with family and friends, and when he visited Ruckley Grange he had both. He was embraced by the Reid Walkers, a welcoming family who did not stand on ceremony. His first Christmas in England since he was a lad of eight was a warm, happy affair en famille. He had ‘a very enjoyable time’, full of ‘hunting, felling trees, shooting, skating and tobogganing’ and trimming the Christmas tree.[xxxii]
Bill accepted the Reid Walkers’ prosperity as a matter of course but John Crossman was dazzled by his hosts’ ‘big Buick and three Standards and ... staff of servants. It must cost 40 pounds a week to run that house.’ In addition, ‘we sit at dinner and drink champagne and look absolutely it. There’s no doubt how these people do live well.’[xxxiii]
As war progressed, Lady Frances and Miss Macdonald entertained Polish, Czech, Norwegian and Dutch servicemen and the free French forces. After Dunkirk, they welcomed Australian and New Zealand nurses who had fled France and received a royal imprimatur when Queen Elizabeth joined them at the tea table to meet those brave women.[xxxiv]

On 17 June 1940, Bill Millington was posted to 79 Squadron which had two pilots killed in France, one taken prisoner and two wounded.[xxxv] He knew it would not be long before he joined his new friends on operations. He recognised that ‘the possibility of a hasty departure from this life is ever present’. He had no fear of dying; he accepted that possibility and was ‘light of heart’ as he prepared for his first sortie.[xxxvi] Knowing he might not return, he decided to write a ‘last letter’ to his parents, to be delivered only in the event of his death. ‘Please do not grieve over my passing. I would not have it otherwise’, he told them. ‘Flying has meant more to me than just a career or means of livelihood’, he explained. ‘The intoxication of speed, the rush of air and the pulsating beat of the motor, awakes some answering chord deep down which is indescribable.’ He posted the letter to Miss Celia Macdonald, ‘who has been a particularly good friend to me’ for safe keeping. Despite having close family in England he asked Miss Macdonald to act as his next of kin, entrusting to her the task of gathering up ‘any of my personal effects ... in the event of some untoward incident’.[xxxvii]
By 31 August, Bill had been in action a number of times and had already achieved a string of victories. He was in the air twice that day, again adding to his personal and squadron ‘bag’. During his first outing, ‘we engaged about twenty Me 109s and slapped quite a few down’. He was ‘badly shot up and made a forced landing near Folkestone and returned to my station per police car’.[xxxviii] Later that day, he and his section were tasked with aerodrome guard duties when fifteen Dornier Do 215s escorted by large numbers of Messerschmitt Me 109s and 110s were sighted. Bill attacked, setting alight the port engine of one of the Do 215s. Three Me 109s targeted him. He fired, damaging one as he shook off the other two. By then he was alone; his confrères were engaged in their own battles. He again attacked the bombers but was beset by more Me 109s.[xxxix] He ‘shot down a Messerschmitt 109 after a dogfight with three of them’. He was hit ‘badly by cannon fire and wounded in the thigh. However I crash-landed in flames and managed to scramble out before the machine exploded’.[xl]
He walked, with assistance, to a nearby farm house, then ‘eventually finished up in hospital for about ten days, where most of the shrapnel in my thigh was removed.’[xli] When Miss Macdonald visited the convalescent she asked why he had been so foolish to attack a bomber on his own. ‘Isn’t that awfully dangerous, Bill?’ He replied, ‘what is one fighter compared with a German bomber?’.[xlii] And that on top of his decision not to bale out, ‘as my machine would probably have crashed into a small village’.[xliii] Miss Macdonald recognised a ‘complete unselfishness’ of ‘outlook [that] is magnificent and most inspiring’.[xliv] So too did the Air Officer Commanding 11 Group, Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park who considered ‘this young Australian officer ... worthy of reward and strongly recommend him for the Immediate Award of the Distinguished Flying Cross’ for showing ‘great courage’ in avoiding the small township, ‘despite the fact he was wounded’ and for exhibiting ‘dash and courage in attacking superior numbers’.[xlv]
Bill was posted to 249 Squadron on 19 September. Over the next few weeks he continued to add to his score against the Luftwaffe. On 30 October 1940, the squadron was patrolling North Weald aerodrome when they encountered some Messerschmitt Me 109s. They gave chase and Bill was last seen trying to intercept one over the English Channel.[xlvi]
Within hours, telegrams advising that he was missing in action were sent off.[xlvii] Even though Miss Macdonald had ‘always felt it a great responsibility’ as custodian of Bill’s ‘last letter’, she did not post it immediately because she knew his parents ‘had such a strong feeling that he would still turn up and, like you, I hoped and hoped.’[xlviii] Instead, she wrote to Bill’s mother, who charged her with ‘the sad job of unpacking the Christmas parcels which had come to him from Australia and sending them off again to be divided among his friends’.[xlix]
Despite their hopes, Bill did not ‘turn up’. Nor was his body found. In September 1941, Miss Macdonald and the Millingtons received official notification of presumption of death.[l] Bill’s friend then posted his ‘last letter’. Although she accepted that ‘we must presume that he was killed’, she admitted that she could hardly ‘bear to write the words’. She took comfort—and hoped Elizabeth Millington would as well—knowing that ‘Bill would want us to be brave and face facts, with as much courage as possible’.[li]
Just as Bill had tried to assuage his parents’ grief, so too did Miss Macdonald. She was no stranger to death in conflict. During the Great War, she had been close to a young man who was killed; if he had survived, it is likely they would have married. ‘This’, according to her nephew, ‘caused great sadness to Celia but although she got over it, like all of these tragedies, one never forgets’.[lii] With genuine compassion and a deep seated belief in its truth, she told Bill’s mother that:

We know that he died gloriously. “Greater love hath no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends.”[liii] And he was happy. I can assure you of that. You, his mother can indeed be proud of him and I, one of his many friends, can be grateful for his trust and affection and for the inspiration and help I gained from his great unselfish spirit.[liv]

Miss Macdonald lost many more young friends during the war.[lv] As she had in the past, she put aside her grief and continued to work tirelessly at 21B Cadogan Gardens. It wasn’t always easy to keep the rooms open, however. Bombs were an occupational hazard in London during the Blitz. They fell all around and, at one point, Miss Macdonald slept for nearly three-and-a-half months on a deck chair in the lift hall of her block of flats.[lvi]
As the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) Empire Air Training Scheme gained momentum, more and more Australian trainees visited Lady Frances and Miss Macdonald or their regional branches. In 1942 alone, more than 10,000 visits were arranged.[lvii] Leslie Jubbs recalled that ‘on every occasion my wonderful hosts made my stay so varied and their generosity was quite overwhelming by kindness’.[lviii] Bob Nielsen regarded return trips to the Goads, his host family in Bournemouth, as ‘another homecoming’ where he was ‘treated like a very special member of the family’ and Mrs Goad ‘lavished on him love and concern’.[lix] David Scholes relished his visits with the Macleans and regretted the inevitable departure: ‘It is with great sorrow that I leave Tom and Euph. They ... have given me a wonderful time making me feel as much at home as possible.’[lx]
Mary Adams, née Hill, lived in Bournemouth. She recalled that ‘we had our first “boys” for Christmas 1941’, six months after her brother Sydney was fatally wounded in combat.[lxi] ‘Throughout the remainder of the war, we had over 200 stay with us. In fact I married one!’ The Hills hosted ‘Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders and the odd American and South African. Many of them spent all of their leaves with us. They all called my mother, “mum”.’ Mrs Hill’s new, extended family ‘was a great happiness’ and comfort in her grief.[lxii]
Inevitably, remembered Mary Adams, ‘we lost many of them in action’.[lxiii] As did other host families, they were moved to write to parents after their guests were reported missing or dead.[lxiv] For some, the opportunity to condole came years later. Geoff Clark’s parents once threw an impromptu belated 21st birthday party—‘complete with cake’—for Joe Leary, who had been in hospital on the big day. Ten days later, Joe, a pilot with 460 Squadron, was lost on a raid to Friedrichshafen. In 1990, Geoff’s 88-year-old father visited Joe’s 93-year-old Aunt in Auckland. The Clarks’ in loco parentis role extended to their guests’ families. Don Walker was one of the first Australians to stay with them. His brother Bill was taken prisoner of war when Crete fell and so, to relieve Don of the worry of organising Red Cross parcels, the Clarks offered to do it. Even after Don died on operations with 235 Squadron, they continued to send Bill parcels until his release.[lxv]
With peace came the gradual wind down of the Scheme. It returned to its pre-war character and was renamed the Dominion Services and Students Hospitality Scheme.[lxvi] Lady Frances and Miss Macdonald continued to welcome visitors to Cadogan Gardens, and Miss Macdonald maintained an exhaustive correspondence with her many friends throughout the world, including Elizabeth Millington.[lxvii] But her duty to Bill and his family was not yet complete.
Cadogan Gardens escaped the bombing during the Blitz but much of London was destroyed or damaged. Westminster Abbey’s Lady Chapel, built by King Henry VII and now more commonly known as the Henry VII Chapel, was one casualty. When the Dean of Westminster was approached about a memorial to those who fought and died in the Battle of Britain, he suggested the Lady Chapel. Lord Trenchard, the Marshal of the RAF, and Lord Dowding, who led Fighter Command during the Battle, headed the committee to raise funds to restore the chapel and to commission a commemorative window to replace the stained glass that was shattered during the Blitz.[lxviii]
On 10 July 1947, King George VI unveiled the Battle of Britain Memorial Window in honour of ‘The Few’ at Westminster Abbey. The next-of-kin of airmen killed in the battle were invited to the ceremony at their own expense. Australian-based families who could not be present were permitted to invite in their stead a relative or friend living in Britain or, if that were not possible, an officer from the RAAF’s London headquarters would attend on their behalf. When William Millington Sr learned that Sir Willoughby Norrie, the governor of South Australia, would be attending, he asked him to stand in for himself and his wife.[lxix] Sir Willoughby agreed but on the day when ‘every seat in nave, choir and Henry VII’s Chapel was filled—the greater number with more than 2500 near relatives of the men named in the roll of honour’—Miss Macdonald was among them, officially representing the Millingtons.[lxx] She later sent Bill’s parents a memento of the dedication.
In ceremonies throughout Australia on 15 September 1947—Battle of Britain Day—the Royal Australian Air Force Association inaugurated Air Force Day to annually commemorate the RAAF’s war dead.[lxxi] Bill Millington had been rejected when he applied for a RAAF cadetship. It may have been as simple as too many had applied that year and, with limited cadetships available, many good candidates missed out but his family believed he had missed out because of lack of money and influence.[lxxii] Even so, his parents attended Adelaide’s service. Holding the brochure for the Battle of Britain Window in Westminster Abbey that Miss Macdonald had sent them, they remembered their son and his sacrifice.
Later that year, Lady Frances once again stepped back from the hospitality scheme.[lxxiii] The ill health that had brought about her retirement in 1933 reclaimed her and she returned to her childhood home. She suffered breathing problems and was unwell for a long time before her death on 24 December 1965.[lxxiv] She was mourned by many friends, all around the world.[lxxv]
In 1948, Miss Macdonald formed the Dominion Fellowship Trust to take over the hospitality work. As well as running the Trust, she maintained her maternal role to the many young people in her life. She was a wise, caring and knowledgeable counsellor to guests of the Trust and a broad-minded confidante to her own family’s younger generation. She was ‘a much loved aunt’ to her nephew and ‘her visits were much looked forward to. You could tell Aunt Celia things that you could not tell other people.’[lxxvi] In 1959, Oxford University conferred an honorary Master of Arts for her work with Rhodes Scholars over the years.[lxxvii] In March 1960, she reluctantly announced that the Dominions Fellowship Trust would fold in early 1961. Its work would be continued by the Victoria League.[lxxviii]
Miss Macdonald died on 4 January 1976. Her memorial service was crowded with family, friends, and representatives from the Victoria League, other akin service organisations and Commonwealth countries, including Australia, who had benefited from her ‘span of over forty years of self dedication to a most worthy cause’. In his oration, her friend Ronald Atkin, a one-time host and ‘honorary office-boy-come-door-boy’ at 21B with whom she used to play Beethoven symphonies scored for two pianos, told of the shock of her death, so sudden that family and friends alike were still reeling from it. ‘We will miss her sorely ... and sharing with us in our loss ... will be that vast world-wide “adopted family” overseas, who have never ceased to bless her name and that of Frances Ryder.’[lxxix]
Perhaps knowledge of Miss Celia Macdonald’s great contribution to the comfort of Australians has faded somewhat from the collective consciousness but ‘a euphemism and not a real person’? I think not. She was very real.
This essay won the Military Historical Society of Australia's 2013 Sabretache Writer's Prize. An edited version was published in Sabretache, the Journal of the Military Historical Society of Australia Vol LIV, No.3 September 2013 (;res=IELAPA;dn=699335233277638) Please email if you would like a PDF.

[i] Jubbs, ‘Lady Frances Ryder’, Wings, Official Publication of the RAAF Association, Volume 59, No. 4, Summer 2007
[ii] Email Simon Robinson/Kristen Alexander 5 January 2011
[iv] The Age, 19 January 1924
[v] The Register, 13 June 1918 and 21 August 1919. Major Ryder, who served with the 8th (King’s Royal Irish) Hussars, was killed in action on 30 November 1917.
[vi] The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 January and 16 August 1918; The Register, 21 August 1919; The West Australian, 20 March 1924
[vii] The Times, 30 December 1965; The Argus, 23 January 1924
[viii] The West Australian, 10 January 1936; Queensland Figaro, 28 April 1928
[ix] The Times, 25 March 1960
[x] The Register, 21 August 1919
[xi] Their social connection was strengthened in January 1917 when Miss Macdonald’s brother, Godfrey, married Lady Frances’s cousin, the Hon. Rachel Campbell. Email Nicola Finlay, Personal Assistant to The Earl of Harrowby/Alexander 8 December 2011; letter Major Nigel Chamberlayne-Macdonald/Alexander 12 January 2012
[xii] The Courier Mail, 10 August 1942; Funeral Oration: In Memoriam—Celia MacDonald 1889–1976 by Ronald William Mein Atkin MBE, courtesy of Major Nigel Chamberlayne-Macdonald (hereafter Atkin: Funeral Oration)
[xiii] The Australian Women’s Weekly, 13 April 1940; The Times, 30 December 1965; email Nicola Finlay, Personal Assistant to The Earl of Harrowby/Alexander 8 December 2011; and letter Major Nigel Chamberlayne-Macdonald/Alexander 12 January 2012
[xiv] In 1935, Miss Macdonald was one of the choir honoured to sing at King George V’s Silver Jubilee concert. Letter Major Nigel Chamberlayne-Macdonald/Alexander 12 January 2012; Atkin: Funeral Oration; The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 January 1937
[xvi] Email Nicola Finlay, Personal Assistant to The Earl of Harrowby/Alexander 5 December 2011; The West Australian, 10 June 1936
[xvii] Letter Major Nigel Chamberlayne-Macdonald/Alexander 12 January 2012
[xviii] The Age, 19 January 1924; The Argus, 23 January 1924; The Times, 30 December 1965
[xix] The Times, 25 March 1960; Sydney Morning Herald, 2 January 1937
[xxi] Letter Miss Celia Macdonald of the Isles /John Crossman 18 March 1940, courtesy of Bowden Family Archive
[xxii] The West Australian, 23 November 1946
[xxiii] Nelson, Chased by the Sun. Courageous Australians in Bomber Command in World War II, ABC Books, Sydney, 2001, p. 68
[xxiv] Letter Pat Hughes/Charles and Heather Hughes July [1939], courtesy of the late Greg Hughes
[xxv] Bill’s welcoming letter is no longer extant but would have been similar to John Crossman’s. Letter Miss Celia Macdonald of the Isles/John Crossman 26 October 1939, courtesy of Bowden Family Archive
[xxvi] The West Australian, 8 December 1936
[xxvii] Handwritten biographical notes by Eileen Robinson née Millington, courtesy of Robinson Family Archive
[xxviii] Bill Millington’s ‘last letter’ June 1940, courtesy of Robinson Family Archive
[xxix] Hayes, Beyond the Great Escape. Geoff Cornish: The One Who Got Away, Possum Publishing, Elanora, 2004, p. 41
[xxx] Scholes, DFC, Air War Diary. An Australian in Bomber Command, Kangaroo Press, Kenthurst, 1997, pp. 68 and 53
[xxxi] Letter Bill Millington/Eileen Robinson née Millington 7 July 1939; and entries for 28 June, 2 July, 21 July and 8 December 1939, Bill Millington’s diary, courtesy of Robinson Family Archive
[xxxii] Letter Bill Millington/Eileen Robinson née Millington 31 December 1939, courtesy of Robinson Family Archive
[xxxiii] Entries for 24 December and 23 December 1939, John Crossman’s diary, courtesy of Bowden Family Archive
[xxxiv] The West Australian, 5 April 1941
[xxxv] Bill Millington’s RAF Service record, RAF Disclosures, via Robinson Family Archive; Cull, Lander and Weiss, Twelve Days in May. The Air Battle for Northern France and the Low Countries, 10–21 May 1940, Grub Street, London, 1995, pp. 2–5
[xxxvi] Bill Millington’s ‘last letter’ June 1940, courtesy of Robinson Family Archive. This letter is dated simply ‘June 1940’ but it is clear from the content that Bill penned it just before his first operation.
[xxxvii] Bill Millington’s ‘last letter’ June 1940, courtesy of Robinson Family Archive
[xxxviii] Letter Bill Millington/Eileen Robinson née Millington 14 September 1940, courtesy of Robinson Family Archive
[xxxix] Bill Millington’s DFC Recommendation National Archives United Kingdom AIR 2/9398
[xl] Letter Bill Millington/Eileen Robinson née Millington 14 September 1940, courtesy of Robinson Family Archive
[xli] Undated letter Victoria Wells, Hawkhurst History Society/Alexander (received 9 March 2011); letter Bill Millington/Eileen Robinson née Millington 14 September 1940, courtesy of Robinson Family Archive
[xlii] The West Australian, 5 April 1941
[xliii] Austin, Fighter Command, Victor Gollancz Ltd, London, 1941, p. 193; Bill Millington’s DFC Recommendation National Archives United Kingdom AIR 2/9398
[xliv] The West Australian, 5 April 1941
[xlv] Bill Millington’s DFC Recommendation National Archive United Kingdom AIR 2/9398
[xlvi] 79 Squadron Operational Record Book National Archives United Kingdom AIR 27/664/17; letter Flight Lieutenant M. Hudson, Air Historical Branch, Ministry of Defence/Alexander 21 November 2012
[xlvii] National Archives of Australia Barcode number: 3330251, Series number: A705, Control symbol: 106/6/115, Item title: RAAF—Directorate of Personnel Services—Casualty Section—Pilot Officer W.H. Millington DFC DP Air Operations—RAF (NAA Casualty file)
[xlviii] Undated letter Miss Celia Macdonald of the Isles/Mrs W.H. Millington September 1941. The original of this letter is no longer extant but it was hand copied and distributed throughout the family. Eileen Robinson’s copy courtesy of Robinson Family Archive
[xlix] The West Australian, 5 April 1941
[l] NAA Casualty file
[li] Undated letter Miss Celia Macdonald of the Isles September 1941/Mrs W H Millington, courtesy of Robinson Family Archive
[lii] Letter Major Nigel Chamberlayne-Macdonald/Alexander 12 January 2012
[liii]John 15:13
[liv] Undated letter Miss Celia Macdonald of the Isles September 1941/Mrs W.H. Millington, courtesy of Robinson Family Archive
[lv] Letter Major Nigel Chamberlayne-Macdonald/Alexander 12 January 2012
[lvi] The West Australian, 5 April 1941
[lvii] Nelson, Chased by the Sun. Courageous Australians in Bomber Command in World War II, ABC Books, Sydney, 2001, p. 63
[lviii]Jubbs, ‘Lady Frances Ryder’, Wings, Official Publication of the RAAF Association, Volume 59, No. 4, Summer 2007;
[lix] Nelson, Chased by the Sun. Courageous Australians in Bomber Command in World War II, ABC Books, Sydney, 2001, p. 63
[lx] Scholes, DFC, Air War Diary. An Australian in Bomber Command, Kangaroo Press, Kenthurst, 1997, p. 54
[lxi] Sydney Jenkyn Hill flew in the Battle of Britain with 609 Squadron. On 21 October 1940, he shared in the destruction of 609 Spitfire Squadron’s 100th victory with Flight Lieutenant Frank Howell. He was the ‘bosom buddy’ of Melbourne born Battle of Britain pilot John Curchin; the pair were so close they were referred to as the ‘Heavenly Twins’. John was killed in action on 18 June 1941, two weeks before Sydney’s death. Email Mary Adams née Hill/Alexander 2 December 2011;,%20SYDNEY%20JENKYN;
[lxii] Email Mary Adams née Hill /Alexander 2 December 2011
[lxiii] ibid.
[lxiv] Nelson, Chased by the Sun. Courageous Australians in Bomber Command in World War II, ABC Books, Sydney, 2001, pp. 63–64
[lxv] Bill Walker visited the Clarks before returning to Australia.
[lxvi] Atkin: Funeral Oration; The Times, 9 July 1947
[lxvii] At one time it was estimated that Miss Macdonald was in continuous contact with 1700 to 1800 former guests from the Dominions. The Australian Women’s Weekly, 14 November 1936; Eileen Robinson’s annotation on her copy of Miss Macdonald’s September 1941 letter, courtesy of Robinson Family Archive
[lxviii]; Perkins, Westminster Abbey. The Royal Air Force Chapel with the Battle of Britain Window in The Chapel of King Henry VII, H.B. Skinner & Co Ltd, London, no date, p. 25
[lxix] The Advertiser, 7 June 1947
[lxx] The Times, 11 July 1947; The Mercury, 11 July 1947
[lxxi] The Advertiser, 16 September 1947
[lxxii] Unpublished biographical essay by Simon Robinson, courtesy of Robinson Family Archive
[lxxiii] Atkin: Funeral Oration
[lxxiv] Email Nicola Finlay, Personal Assistant to The Earl of Harrowby/Alexander 6 December 2011
[lxxv] The Times, 30 December 1965
[lxxvi] Atkin: Funeral Oration; letter Major Nigel Chamberlayne-Macdonald/Alexander 12 January 2012
[lxxvii] Letter Major Nigel Chamberlayne-Macdonald/Alexander 12 January 2012; The Times, 28 January 1959
[lxxviii] The Times, 25 March 1960
[lxxix] The Times, 14 January 1976; Atkin: Funeral Oration; letter Major Nigel Chamberlayne-Macdonald/Alexander 12 January 2012; The Times, 28 January 1959



National Archives of Australia

Barcode number: 3330251, Series number: A705, Control symbol: 106/6/115, Item title: RAAF—Directorate of Personnel Services—Casualty Section—Pilot Officer W.H. Millington DFC DP Air Operations—RAF

National Archives United Kingdom

AIR 2/9398 Bill Millington’s DFC Recommendation
AIR 27/664/17 79 Squadron Operational Record Book


Author’s Records

Email Simon Robinson/Kristen Alexander 5 January 2011
Undated letter Victoria Wells, Hawkhurst History Society/Alexander (received 9 March 2011) 
Email Mary Adams née Hill/Alexander 2 December 2011
Email Nicola Finlay, Personal Assistant to The Earl of Harrowby/Alexander 8 December 2011
Letter Major Nigel Chamberlayne-Macdonald/Alexander 12 January 2012
Letter Flight Lieutenant M. Hudson, Air Historical Branch, Ministry of Defence/Alexander 21 November 2012

Robinson Family Archive

Bill Millington’s 1939 diary
Letter Bill Millington/Eileen Robinson née Millington 7 July 1939
Letter Bill Millington/Eileen Robinson née Millington 31 December 1939
Bill Millington’s ‘last letter’ June 1940
Letter Bill Millington/Eileen Robinson née Millington 14 September 1940
Undated letter Miss Celia Macdonald/Mrs W.H. Millington September 1941
Handwritten biographical notes by Eileen Robinson née Millington
Unpublished biographical essay by Simon Robinson
Bill Millington’s RAF Service record, RAF Disclosures

Bowden Family Archive

John Crossman’s 1939 diary
Letter Miss Celia Macdonald of the Isles/John Crossman 26 October 1939
Letter Miss Celia Macdonald of the Isles/John Crossman 18 March 1940

Major Nigel Chamberlayne-Macdonald

Funeral Oration: In Memoriam—Celia MacDonald 1889–1976 by Ronald William Mein Atkin MBE

The Late Greg Hughes

Letter Pat Hughes/ Charles and Heather Hughes July [1939]



The Advertiser, 7 June and 16 September 1947
The Age, 19 January 1924
The Argus, 23 January 1924
The Australian Women’s Weekly, 14 November 1936 and 13 April 1940
The Courier Mail, 10 August 1942
The Mercury, 11 July 1947
Queensland Figaro, 28 April 1928
The Register, 13 June 1918 and 21 August 1919
The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 January 1918, 16 August 1918, and 2 January 1937
The Times, 9 and 11 July 1947, 28 January 1959, 25 March 1960, 30 December 1965, and 14 January 1976 
The West Australian, 20 March 1924, 10 January, 10 June and 8 December 1936, 5 April 1941, and 23 November 1946


Austin, A. B., Fighter Command, Victor Gollancz Ltd, London, 1941

Cull, B., Lander, B., and Weiss, H., Twelve Days in May. The Air Battle for Northern France and the Low Countries, 10–21 May 1940, Grub Street, London, 1995

Hayes, H., Beyond the Great Escape. Geoff Cornish: The One Who Got Away, Possum Publishing, Elanora, 2004

Jubbs, L., ‘Lady Frances Ryder’, Wings, Official Publication of the RAAF Association, Volume 59, No. 4, Summer 2007

Nelson, H., Chased by the Sun. Courageous Australians in Bomber Command in World War II, ABC Books, Sydney, 2001

Perkins, J.,  Westminster Abbey. The Royal Air Force Chapel with the Battle of Britain Window in The Chapel of King Henry VII, H.B. Skinner & Co Ltd, London, no date

Scholes, DFC, D., Air War Diary. An Australian in Bomber Command, Kangaroo Press, Kenthurst, 1997