Flying Officer - Francis Raymond COWAN
454 RAAF Squadron
Service No. 423070
Date of Birth: 02 Apr 1917
Place of Birth: PADDINGTON, NSW
Date of Enlistment: 20 Jun 1942
Date of Discharge: 20 Dec 1945
Rank: Flying Officer
Date of Death: 15 Jan 2016
I joined 454 together with F/Lt. Creswell, the only other Aussie then on 500 from the ten or twelve when I joined that Squadron, but "Cres" was sent home soon after, probably classed as tour expired. W/C Rees arrived about the same time as me and took me on as his Navigator, but we did not last too long together as after some training flights for him to transfer from 4 engined heavies to 2 engined formation flying, he called me in and told me that a new crew without a pilot had arrived from England and he thought that I had done enough to be classed as tour expired and would not be sent to where the Squadron was heading to finish off those remaining, normally classed as a "tour".
I was sent with another Officer and some "erks" to Nestre on the mainland from Venice to set up a rest camp for the Squadron. We just had things nicely organised when we told to pack up and return as the Australian Comforts Fund had leased some cottages on the "Lido de Venice" and our Squadron had been allocated time in them.
My next job was in charge of a little cafe in Udine, the nearest large town to the Squadron. We called it "Anzac Casa", but as it was about seven miles away from the Squadron I did not see many of the members, most of our visitors being Kiwis. After a first night drinking session I decided it was too hard to control drinking mates and laid off the grog until they had gone back to their Units. As a result most of them thought I was a Padre and were quite respectful. Of course we had no beer, just tea, coffee, sandwiches, sometimes buns and a good supply of wine, about the standard of our cask wines. Everything was supplied by the ACF through our Padres, "the terrible three", whom I found to be very good blokes and very helpful. We sold the goodies to the troops and the ACF got the proceeds to buy more supplies.
After a few weeks we closed down and took a ship to Alexandria, spending some time in Egypt before heading home. I was able to visit the Pyramids and the Holy Land during our stay and remember vividly having a drink or two at The King David Hotel in Jerusalem a week or so before some workmen took in some bags of potatoes but included one bag that did not have spuds, they managed to blow up part of the pub.
Here's a few yarns worth repeating. A couple of days after my transfer from 500, my former pilot, Peter Mason called around to gloat. He had taken over a new crew and had been given the job of flying up to Austria to pick up an Air Vice Marshal, then to Malta to pick up two more AVMs and fly them all back to England. What a plum job. He rubbed it in "Bad Luck Frank".
The next thing we knew, the AVM in Austria got on the blower asking what the hell had happened to his kite. Next morning many planes searched the route which included of course flying over the Alps but there was no trace or news of the missing aircraft. After a week or so, I was summoned back to 500 to go through Mason's gear, sorting out what belonged to him and what belonged to the Air Force. I had done this before on what was known as a "Committee of Adjustment", when blokes were shot down and by this time Mason and his crew had been posted as missing and their families advised.
I was sitting on Mason's camp stretcher going through his gear when he turned up asking me what the so and so I was doing. Austria, like Germany had been divided into zones which, of course, one zone being allocated to the Russians. His new Navigator, fresh out from England, had led him into the Russian zone and they found a MIG fighter on their tail signaling land or else. His new Wireless Op. did not have the nous to blast the other radio traffic of the air so he could relay what was happening and the Russians held them until Moscow said to let them go, "Bad Luck Pete".
I mentioned earlier W/C Rees coming from England where he had been flying 4 engined heavies. After a short conversion course on the twin engined Balties he took me up with him. The take off was alright, but how he botched the landing! We came down with gigantic hops rather like a Kangaroo and at one stage were headed straight for the toilets with me thinking "what a way to go" - "to finish head first in the proverbial", (Baltimore navigators were of course in the nose of the aircraft. Somehow he managed to get the plane down safely and on the way back told me he would practise a bit more before he would ask me up again. I answered under my breath "Thank the Lord for that"! or something similar.
L-R: Frank, Ray Riekie and Tom Tutton
at Heliopolos Sportinmg Club, 1945
"The story of the Bordello in the Bulkletin reminded me of an evening at home while on leave.
I had arranged to go out with the Adjutant of 500 Squadron to The Air Force Officers Club one evening. The Club had a sign outside "No females admitted unless in company of an Officer", so the ladies? lined up outside the back door and as we entered two were allowed in. The Adjutant asked one to dance and came back with a big grin on his face, so I asked him, "What's so funny?" He told me "we had only gone two steps", when she piped up "me sleep solo sta sera" (this evening)? The Adjutant said "Quanta" - "how much?", she said "Tre mille" (three thousand lira = seven pounds ten shillings sterling). The Adjutant said "troppo" (too much) so she said "you speak Italian". He said "un mille" (one thousand) and she replied "you sleep solo!" We had a few drinks, a nice evening and went back to our billets - SOLO."