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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

WWII heroism remembered 82 years on

Their mission was as dangerous as any during World War II, and more than 80 years after coming down in waters off Papua New Guinea, the crew of a Hudson Bomber are being remembered and celebrated for their heroism.

On July 22nd 1942, while on a solo reconnaissance mission, the four Air Force members of a Lockheed Hudson A16-201 were killed after being shot down by the Japanese near Popondetta in PNG.

In 2023, Governor-General David Hurley announced posthumous Gallantry Decorations for six aviators lost in WW2, including the four aviators of 32 Squadron on that ill-fated flight, who died that day almost 82 years ago.

Receiving the Medal for Gallantry for those aboard the Lockheed Hudson A16-201 were Pilot Officer Warren Cowan, Sergeant Russell Polack, Sergeant Laurie Sheard and Pilot Officer David Taylor. 

The crew were laid to rest at Bomana War Cemetery in PNG. 

A special ceremony was held in April at Government House in Melbourne. The family of Pilot Officer Taylor were presented with his Medal for Gallantry, with Pilot Officer Taylor’s daughter, Margaret Ekberg, officially handed the medal, a symbol of heroism and incredible service to country.

“My family was very proud to receive the medal on behalf of my father, as recognition of the service and ultimate sacrifice of him and the other crew members on their mission 82 years ago,” said Ms Ekberg.

“We are amazed that this has been acknowledged after such a long time, and very pleased that it has been awarded while I am still here as the last member of the family to have intimately known my father, although I was only eight at the time he left for the war.

“Our family only received a brief telegram in 1942 advising of the missing aircraft, and another in 1945 advising of the discovery of the crash site, and we were never given any further official information. 

“It was extraordinary when we became aware of the research surrounding this action, in particular the amazing advocacy of Saburo Sakai who was seeking recognition for his adversary.

“We are so grateful to finally learn the full story behind my father’s last moments and for the Australian Government’s continued advocacy of the RAAF and 32 Squadron,” she said.

Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Robert Chipman joined Warrant Officer of the Air Force Ralph Clifton in visiting the gravesite of the four lost aviators as part of the Anzac Day dawn service at Bomana Cemetery, just outside Port Moresby in PNG.

The cemetery is a site of historic significance to Australia as it is holds the remains of more than 3000 known Commonwealth soldiers, and about 237 unknown Australians who fought in and around New Guinea during WW2.

“The Anzac legend was forged on the shores of Gallipoli in 1915. But the qualities of character displayed there – courage, audacity, mateship – were as much at home here in Papua New Guinea,” Air Marshal Chipman said.

“Among them were four brave aviators from 32 Squadron, Pilot Officer Warren Frank Cowan, Pilot Officer David Reid Taylor, Sergeant Russell Bradburn Polack, and Sergeant Laurie Edwin Sheard, who lay at rest here in Bomana War Cemetery. 

“On July 22, 1942, they were flying their Hudson aircraft on a reconnaissance mission, when they were engaged by six Japanese Zeros. 

“Instead of fleeing, they turned their aircraft to dogfight with the enemy, but were eventually shot down near Popondetta. They are all being awarded posthumous Medals for Gallantry for their heroism and sacrifice for our country.”

Medals for Gallantry ceremonies for the other three members of the Lockheed Hudson A16-201 from 32 Squadron will be held in South Australia and NSW later this year.

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