“Willy” was a champion surfer and medical student in Manly, Sydney before he learned to fly, then to instruct, after joining the peacetime RAF from Australia at the age of 18. It was 1937 and he was so concerned about the rise of Hitler that he decided to leave his medical studies at the University of Sydney after sitting the RAF pilot officer exams and being offered one of only four places for Australians in that intake. Willy served in the RAF’s Operational Training Unit, then 112 Squadron Middle East, 94 Squadron Middle East and 260 Squadron Middle East. He was then loaned by the RAF to the RAAF 450 Squadron, the formidable “Desert Harrassers”. Although Willy had been born in New Zealand in 1919 and had moved to Australia as a child, he shared the same larrikin sense of humour as his Australian peers. In the desert “Willy’s” trademark attire was baggy shorts and sandals, which he insisted on wearing to fly, but despite his casual appearance he was an aggressive and daring pilot. He had five victories to his name before being shot down in October 1942 and taken POW. In Stalag Luft III he was initially chief “supply officer” then head carpenter, responsible for the thousands of bed boards which shored up the tunnel and other essentials, working closely with his friend “Rusty”, who had attended the same school in Sydney and also served with the 450s.
Read more about Willy in The Age, Melbourne
The Sydney Morning Herald