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Flight Lieutenant Cecil John (Bill) COLLINS

459 RAAF Squadron

Service No. 417052

Date of Birth: 4 Dec 1913

Place of Birth: GOODWOOD, SA

Date of Enlistment: 6 Dec 1941

Date of Discharge: 29 Nov 1945

Rank: Flight Lieutenant

Date of Death: 21 Jun 1999

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  • FLT CJ (Bill) Collins - Pilot

  • FLT Len Elsner - Navigation/Bomb Aimer (Died 8.11.99)

  • FSgt Ken Nicholl - WAG (Died 21.6.99)

  • FSgt Jack Farland - WAG (Died 21.5.86 - aged 74)

Collins CJ Portrait
Elsner squadron
454 Berka III Italy Campside 1943- July 1944
Comments from Bill Collins as per the 2000 Bulletin Combined 454/459 Squadrons Association:


Bill Collins, who has not been well lately, responded to the editor's request for crew memories of 459 Squadron, when he, Len Elsner, Ken Nicholl and Jack Farland flew their 1944 operational sorties.  The reflections in honour of Len, Ken (both recently deceased) and of Jack (died some years ago) are as Bill dictated them to son Peter.


Our crew up was at (75 Operational training Unit RAF) Gianaclis (Egypt).


Peter Henderson Was Commanding Officer of 459 at the time (Charles Payne came later in the piece). 

The exact date I cannot recall.  We joined 459 at Berka III - on Hudsons at first though they were "clapped out" and "crook".  We converted to Baltimores later, which were much better.  (We were) operating mainly in the Aegean Sea area - bombing supply and transport ships.  We had to find them in daylight (sweeps) and "the mob" would go out and bomb them at night (when they probably were unescorted by fighters).



I stayed in Egypt when the 459 crews returned to Chivenor (UK) in early 1945.  Sometime well before Christmas 1944, Peter Henderson had taken command of 454 (in Italy) and Charlie Payne took 459 at Berka III.

Special comments about 459 Squadron

459 Squadron "got things done", because under Peter Henderson they weren't "slaves to the book".  They assessed the task, and worked out the best way to do it.  This created an especially strong team spirit on the Squadron (This perhaps explains why I feel, that when Dad talks about "those times" he tends to talk about "the people" rather than "the things".  When I drew him out on the concept of being "doers" with a strong team spirit he told me the following story as an example).


Using the "Slingshot Effect" for Bombing

There was a cave (opening) on a rocky cliff face on one of the Aegean Islands, that sheltered an anti-aircraft gun of some significant size.  Naturally the gun pinged at any passing traffic, which made it "dicey" to pass or take the long way round, (for safe passage)."  The gun position was impregnable from above due to the steep cliff face.  Not to be outdone, "the 459 boys" spent a lot of time calculating a formula using height, wind direction, air speed and anything else they could think of, to get a maximum "slingshot effect" on a bomb rather than just hope for an extraordinarily unlikely vertical bomb drop for a hit.  Sure enough, after several misses, they managed to sling one right in that front door!  No more detours, and a big night at the Mess!!!


As for naming the unknown (fifth) person in the photograph dad believes it could be Les Gay, a RAF Intelligence Officer.


Re:  Jimmy McHale

You didn't ask about Jim but dad wants to mention him.  He was Deputy Commanding Officer of 459.  Dad credits him with much of 459's success.  He was a very good pilot, and very strict and accurate about operational matters, such as formation flying and general tactics.


This provided an excellent balance between Peter Henderson's and Jimmy McHale's strengths.  They complimented each other to make a very well led Squadron.

Re:  Fred McKay:

Dad wants to make special mention of the SLdr Reverend Fred McKay who was one of the RAAF Middle East Chaplains looking after Australians in both 454 and 459 Squadrons and spread over the command.  It was just incredible how Fred "bridged the gap" between airmen (in the ME) and their families (in Australia).  We still have some of those letters.  He maintained personal contact in both directions.  I knew he was talking one to one with Dad, and dad knew he was writing to us in an informed and connected way - for example he knew I had received my first "two wheeler" (bicycle) for my sixth birthday.  A truly remarkable and much appreciated man". 

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