As a boy growing up in South Australia, I read the family copy of Tommy Wisdom’s Wings over Olympus more than once. My late father Cyril “Nobby” Clark was a Sergeant Observer of 211 Squadron from September 1940 to January 1942, in the period that Wisdom was writing about.
How it came to be
Looking in later years for books about the Squadron’s efforts in the Middle East and Greece, it was about the time of his 75th birthday before a good copy of Wisdom’s book turned up. Some time later still, I came across Air War For Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete by Shores, Cull & Malizia, which I soon lent him.
The notes and recollections this prompted were written for me by my father in 1996 and 1997, from memory, from his Observer’s Flying Log Book, and from his own annotated copy of Wings Over Olympus. It was clear to me that his long-hand foolscap notes ought to be preserved in some way, leading eventually to our little self-published book 211 Squadron RAF, Greece, 1940—1941: An Observer’s Notes and Recollections in 1998.
Sound State schooling and a thirty-odd year career in the Australian public service had given me some grasp of basic research and writing. When it seemed that the 60th anniversary of the fatal 211 Squadron operation of Easter Sunday, 13 April 1941, might pass unmarked (except in the memory of those who remained), I set about taking all the material I then had to hand, to turn it into a website good enough for public viewing. By 15 April, Easter Sunday 2001, all was ready. This website was launched that night.
Recognising my father’s views on those events and his resoluteness in revisiting them, I brought these later developments in the 211 Squadron story to his attention with considerable reluctance. In any event, it took me some time to create a reasonable website and then to organise a complete printed copy so that he might read it (a process which fascinated the printer in him).
Latterly, I also made him aware of James Dunnet’s Blenheim Over the Balkans, with like concern. It turned out that my father had been aware of Jock Marshall’s and James’ efforts over the missing men of the 1941 Easter Sunday raid for a good many years. In the 1980s, he had been sent a copy of the Blenheim Society Journal 1988 reprint of James’ Lost Squadron article, from the Flypast issue of November 1983. Of this my father long remained silent. At last, presented with a printed and bound copy of this website, he produced that Blenheim Society Journal issue.
As far as I have been able to discover, since Wisdom in 1942, James’ Flypast article was the first detailed account of the Easter Sunday raid and certainly of its aftermath for the missing (over which Jock Marshall, Jock Bryce and James so long laboured). In writing the page for my father, I have added notes to his own account of the Easter Sunday raid, reconciling it (as he certainly intended) with James’ account.
My mother and father responded with patience and apparent equanimity to my endless questions in trying to understand the events of one violent Winter and Spring now nearly 80 years ago. The characteristically laconic understatement of his own account will be well understood by those who, at home and abroad, had a part in those days.
My father died peacefully on Tuesday 30 September 2003, my mother on 11 August 2010.
The sum of it all
This seems a convenient place at which to make a final personal point.
This website presents the story of ordinary men engaged in a great and dangerous enterprise. Not all of them lived to be able to say how or whether that story might be told. To write a record such as this while remaining anonymous or invisible, however personally appealing, would have been impractical and a discourtesy to those whose story it is. And if much of that story is told in my words now, much is recounted in the formal voice of the Squadron, then, and as much again in the 211s own words, then and now.
I have always regarded my own part in the researching, recording and publishing of these affairs with reservation, if not the greatest ambivalence. Presented with irreplaceable material crying out for preservation, I have done my best to recognise the immense achievement of ordinary men and women in the extremity of danger or privation. The discovery and display of personal events and pain that such a task entails is a poignant corollary to revisiting and recording the duty and achievement of the past.
Major additions to the site came to a natural close in 2016 with the 70th and 75th Anniversary updates of March and April. Smaller revisions continue: on 31 July each year or more immediately if needed.
For their help in the earliest days of the project, I thank Tim Hughes for his research on my behalf at the UK Public Records Office (now The National Archives), and the Printed Books Dept staff at the Imperial War Museum. The fine research facilities of the National Archives of Australia, the National Library of Australia and the Research Centre at the Australian War Memorial (with the expert and cheerful assistance of their staff) made compiling the original book possible and very absorbing.
Over the years, thanks to the kindness of a number of people and to DoRIS staff at the RAF Museum, I have been able to acquire copies (in whole, or in part), or complete originals, of Flying Log Books for a number of 211 Squadron men, adding much to the story from the aircrew perspective.
I am most grateful to the National Library of Australia for the long-term preservation of this website in the PANDORA web-archive programme, and for permission to use images of a number of items from the Maps collection.
For permission to use images from their collections, I also thank the Australian War Memorial, the Aviation Heritage Museum of the RAAF Association WA Division, and the International Association of Aviation Historians, Air Britain (whose publications have also been of much interest and help). I am a member of the Blenheim Society, whose Journal has also been of very considerable interest.
I came to know the story of the 211s escape from Java aboard Tung Song through the late Hugh Campbell in Tasmania. I am proud too, to have made acquaintance with the late Len Abbs, the late Bill Baird, the late James Dunnet, and with the late Ron McKnight all of 211 Squadron. Adrian Fryatt, son of 211 Squadron Armourer the late Jim Fryatt and a tireless correspondent, cheerfully wheedled stories and photographs from a number of the boys. Over the years, Ian Carter and I have exchanged a great deal of information. I am indebted to my friend Elizabeth Kaegi in Canada for much material about the Squadron’s doings from 1944 onwards.
Others still (or their immediate family) contacted me directly and with equal generosity—and my thanks to them are recorded on the pages that have resulted. Their wonderful pictures, documents and accounts helped impel me to develop this website as a way of safely recording the 211 Squadron story and making it accessible to readers.
In more recent years I have been fortunate in making acquaintance with W/Cdr CG Jefford MBE, A/Cdr G Pitchfork MBE and S/Ldr AS Thomas, whose many writings on the RAF are of inestimable value. I thank them most particularly for their advice and help.
Along the way I have made contact with a great many other individuals, too numerous to mention but whom I also thank.
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
www.211squadron.org © D Clark & others 2019
Site created 15 Apr 2001, last updated 31 Jul 2019. Page created 13 Apr 2011, last updated 13 Apr 2016
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