454 and 459 RAAF Squadrons
Flight Lieutenant Wilfred "Bill" Willoughby EAST
459 RAAF Squadron
Service Number 410880
Date of Birth: 19 Jul 1912
Place of Birth: Jamberoo, NSW
Date of Enlistment: 27 Mar 1942
Place of Enlistment: Melbourne, VIC
Date of Discharge: 11 Jan 1946
Date of Death: 05 Sep 2002
Pilot: Bob Norman, (later Sir) RAAF
Navigator/Observer: Ken Aitken RAAF
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner: Jack Simmonds RAF
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner: Wilfred “Bill” East RAAF
Bill joined the RAAF on 5th February 1942. After signing up he soon found himself hurtling at an express speed across America from San Francisco to Boston in a luxurious Pullman train en-route to the war. Stopping at Kansas City from 10.00 am till 12 midnight, the troops were allowed a break, a decision which later created many headaches! Kansas City railhead was and is a massive expanse of rail lines sprawled across the landscape. By 12 midnight Bill and other Officers had to sort out 200 well-inebriated revelers trying to find their way back to one train! Or, in search of the proverbial 'needle in a haystack'. Not surprisingly, it was later discovered that they had left behind a dozen passengers who miraculously turned up again in Boston.
Bill had a few close calls during the war years, he was lucky to have climbed out of a few plane crashes with full bomb loads. Bill didn't talk about the war until a few years before his death. When Bill did start talking about those years he always had a captive audience with his children and grandchildren. Unfortunately, apart from his log, he didn't keep a diary. However we will include more wartime stories involving Bill (below) as written by Flight Commander Bob Norman and Warrant Officer Jack Simmonds (WAG) - RAF:-
Flight Lieutenant (Later deputy Flight Commander of B Flight) - Bob Norman - 459 Squadron recalled in his book "Bush Pilot" - "We attacked the German naval guns on Melos Island, but except for blowing up an ammunition dump and scaring the wits out of the local inhabitants, we failed again. These elusive guns were sunk into thick concrete wells and even a direct hit would do little other than kill the gun crew. If we could put the guns out of action, capture of the island would be simple.
What we required was a near-miss on each emplacement, allowing the bombs to penetrate deep below the concrete before exploding. This would cause the concrete to cave-in on the guns. Dive-bombers would have done the job better, but they didn't have the range from Benghazi to reach Melos and return, so the job fell to 459 Squadron of sixteen Baltimores to put them out of action.
After four raids we still had not destroyed one gun. Les Kroll led his eight in at 8,500 feet and I let mine in at 6,500 feet, each flight of eight approaching from different directions twenty seconds apart, giving the "ack-ack" the most difficult job of shooting us down.
After the smoke and dust subsided we were convinced once again that we had not done any worthwhile damage, even though we had scored a direct hit on one of the guns. Our faces were red as we signaled to the small task force waiting to invade the island that we had failed again.
"Gunnery Leader! Gunnery Leader! This is Q for Queenie. Numerous Focke-Wolf 190's approaching at seven o'clock!"
Gunnery Leader on my aircraft was Bill East, and in an emergency like this he took over control of the whole squadron, directing the leader in evasive action while the rest of the squadron remained in tight formation doing whatever the leader does. At the same time he directed the fire of the gunners of the sixteen aircraft.
I gazed anxiously back to the left as far as the shoulder-straps would let me - and there they were, coming straight for us. "Where would they be come from, Joe?" I asked.
Joe Aitken, the navigator, usually had the answer to all these things. But this time he said, "I don't know, Bob. The Huns have eight Me .109's on Crete, but this is the first time they've put F-W 190's down here."
"There must be twenty or more of them," said Bill. "They are too far out yet to worry about, but hold a steady course until we see which way they are going to attack," he added. A pause, then: "It looks like a curve of pursuit to the left, so be ready for a diving turn to port." He was now talking to all aircraft.
All sixteen turrets were trained to the left awaiting the signal to fire. I would hate to be the one leading them in, I thought. Our chaps will get him for sure and probably two or three more besides.
"Range four thousand yards," Bill called. "This is the silliest attack ever made," he said to me. "They are not even splitting up.... Range three thousand yards. All aircraft hold your fire until four hundred yards," he called. "Range one thousand yards. Prepare for diving turn port. Concentrate fire on first aircraft."
"Hullo, Gunnery Leader. This is R for Roger. Hold your fire! I think they are Sea Furies!"
I kinked my neck looking backwards like an owl. We had never seen Sea Furies before although we knew what they looked like - radial motors just like the Focke-Wolf of Goering's Luftwaffe.
"Relax, you blokes," called Bill. "They are our own".
Silly beggars, I thought. Coming up on us like that. I wonder if they realise how close they came to being shot down?
In another few seconds they were all around us, shaking hands boxer fashion. I'm sure they had never seen Baltimores before by the way they tucked in an had a good look at us. Sea Furies we knew were carrier-based aircraft, so we weren't surprised when we saw a carrier loom up on the horizon fifteen minutes later. They waved goodbye, and in a few minutes they were like small bees swarming around the carriers, while we passed on across the Med to Benghazi on the coast of Libya".
From Jack Simmonds memoirs - "Raid on German Headquarters Crete":
Jack recalled many “hairy” experiences. Among them were his responsibilities taking high quality rear-under-hatch bomb-strike pictures, using the hand held F24 camera – a very heavy instrument indeed; and when buffeted by the slip stream during continual evasive formation manoeuvres it was very, very difficult to aim and hold steady on target.
Jack remembered from his memoirs and vital attack on German HQ's in central Rhodes. German military intelligence reports indicated that is was a German HQ for the whole of the Dodecanese. The Baltimore crews were briefed at Berka base, they staged to Mersa Matruh from where they flew in 2 formations, 11 planes led by Bob Norman and 'Hoot' Gibson.
Bob Norman led the first formation - returning safely - 11.20 am to 15.40 pm (from Mersa Matruh) - there were 5 planes following Norman's crew (all up 24 souls).
Crew: F/L R.H. Norman (RAAF); F/Off J.K. Aitken, (RAAF); F/Off W.W. East (RAAF) and F/Sgt J.H. Simmonds (RAF)
Aircraft: Baltimore Mk V FW524 'Q'
Jack 'Hoot' Gibson led the second formation - returning safely - 11.20 am to 15.40 pm (from Mersa Matruh) - there were 3 planes following Gibson's crew (all up 16 souls).
Crew: F/Off J.B. Gibson (RAAF); P/Off S.J. Gorman (RAAF); W/Off L.A. Alen, (RAAF) & WO D.N. Hurlstone (RAAF)
aircraft: Baltimore Mk V FW444 'P'
It was very successful with bomb hits covering the entire target area and there were several direct hits seen on the main HQ building. There were only 20 rounds of inaccurate opposition flak encountered.
Jack Simmonds photographed the scene from Bob Norman's aircraft and later recalled:
"We couldn't find the target at first because of cloud and were wheeling over the island in impeccable formation for some minutes. Bob was the flight commander and although a mild sort of bloke, he insisted on everybody being nicely tucked in... Suddenly through a gap in the clouds, we spotted the barracks down below and whilst we were on the turn our navigator, Ken Aitken, dropped his bombs and the rest of the formation did likewise.
I was leaning out the back through the bottom hatch, kneeling to take a photograph. I got such a shock when the bombs hit the target building, that I almost dropped the heavy camera. Fortunately I had my finger on the (camera) trigger and there was no foul up. It was the first time I had seen the bombs actually hit the target smack on. I saw no one down below and presumably the inhabitants were in their shelter but if they weren't then casualties must have been heavy."
The Telegram Story
The Story behind the telegram (see the picture collection) - as told by Bob Norman from his book "Bush Pilot". "Rommel's Afrika Korp had been annihilated and the Allied forces had now landed in Italy and our sister squadron 454, shifted to Italy. In the meantime, the blockade of Rhodes, Melos and Crete was taking effect. The German forces had eaten Rhodes into a famine and there was considerable worry about the local population.
The Red Cross were asked to investigate and the reports proved correct. There was therefore a temporary halt to hostilities while the inhabitants were transferred to the mainland, and then we started again.
Small vessels and caiques were almost non-existent now, so we commenced nuisance raids. These were designed to make the enemy commander think we were about to land a force on a given part of the island. This kept his troops moving and caused the maximum of inconvenience. It used up their fuel and when no raid occurred it upset the morale of the German troops, destroying their faith in their Intelligence organisation.
This pattern was kept up and we had the German troops rushing from one end of Rhodes to the other. For good measure, if we had plenty of fuel, we would fly up and down the coast inviting the "ack-ack" crews to fire on us. They shot off thousands of rounds of 88 mm. shells all of which fell short.
Then to destroy their morale even further, the Red Cross ship, "Gripsholm" was allowed to take off a load of German wounded, but on that very day we carried out a devastating attack on the German headquarters in sight of the "Gripsholm". Since most of the wounded were destined for home, it was important they take home no hope of victory in this area.
New crews were arriving almost weekly and the old crews were being sent back to the Nile Delta for a well deserved break and it wasn't long before I found myself along with others in the top echelon. I had been promoted to Flight Lieutenant and made deputy Flight Commander of B Flight."
Another story from Bob Norman's book "Bush Pilot" -
"Eastern Command decided to give the ground crews of 459 a rest as they had been fighting backwards and forwards along the North African coast for nearly 3 years, and although they had individual leave they needed a break in the "green belt" ----- a few months in the lush fields of Palestine would work wonders for them. We packed up and within the hour we were on our way to Ramat David.
The North African desert is absolutely amazing. One can spend months out there and not see a soul other than one's own people, but decide to move and within minutes the place is swarming with desert nomads. They seemed to pop up out of the ground. It would have been alright if they had waited until we had packed up all we wanted and then helped themselves. But they couldn't bear to wait and started carrying away items we intended to take with us. -----"
That being said, Bob went on to describe a funny story of Bill and Jack Simmonds with some 'left-behind German' goods...
"Bill and Jack found a perfectly good German BMW motor-bike in the desert which they rode about the compound. Joe Aitken and Arnold Jones, another new pilot, found a German desert car in which they used to drive to the Mediterranean for swims. They couldn't use any of our fuel, but that didn't matter; there were plenty of dumps of Italian fuel. Joe and Arnold knew they couldn't take the desert car to Ramat David, so they left it in the bundu for the next mob to use.
But Bill and Jack were determined to take the BMW with us, they tried the aircraft door but it wouldn't go through, so they asked me could they use the bomb bay. I said yes, provided they could sling it on the bomb racks and clear of the bomb doors. "I'll give you ten minutes," I said. I knew the Chief didn't want his record of "up and away within the hour" spoiled.
They were still trying to sling the motorbike up when time ran out. The other aircraft were starting their motors so I had to order them away while I closed the bomb doors before starting up. They were like little boys losing a toy. I'm sure I saw tears in their eyes as we taxied away leaving the bike behind."
A family tribute written by Bill's daughter for the 2002 issue of the Association's Bulletin":
Wilfred Willoughby EAST -- 19.7.1912 -- 5.9.2002 (aged 90)
Bill East - (aka "Spike") led an incredible life, growing up on one of the half dozen dairy farms owned by the East family around Kiama and Jamberoo Valley, New South Wales. Bill's parents Arthur and Amy (nee Small) taught him to walk on the then privately owned East's Beach, Kiama (in its day the only privately owned beach on the East coast of Australia).
Bill met his New Zealander wife Mavis Eleanor Tyler-Whiteman at Bondi Beach in 1948.
Bill was very much a devoted family man he and Mavis raised their 3 children, Jennifer, Pamela and Warwick near Harbord Beach. Sadly Mavis passed away in 1998. Bill's only brother Cecil also passed away in 2001. Cecil a horticulturalist and his wife Vera had owned and run a number of nursery/plant shops in Sydney, the first being Hunt & East in George Street Sydney.
Bill was proud of being a 5th Generation Australian, his relative Robert Small having been Mayor of Willoughby (Sydney) at the end of the 19th Century - 1892. Bill's descendants were described at that time as "a well known highly respected family of pioneers in the Ryde district".
Bill pursued many sports, he was a table tennis champion, sprinter (hence the nickname "Spike") he enjoyed surf board riding, body surfing, squash, tennis, golf, horse riding, skiing and a he was a huge fan of rugby league.
Bill loved his working life, having mainly had a career in sales, advertising and marketing. Early on he launched an ice-cream tasting competition for McNiven's, and he was literally 'snowed in' with mail from all over the country. His career in hair care began with Hillcastle Pty Ltd, and later the opportunity to work locally with the pharmaceutical giant - Roche Products - Dee Why, working as the Manager for Pantene Hair Care Products.
Bill's involvement with the hair care industry continued with regular campaigns involving the press, TV and radio. His products had a regular TV spot with Rex Mossip's Saturday League show and he combined his work with his great interest by encouraging the sport with the coveted Annual Pantene Coaching Award.
As National President of the Australian Society of International Hair Stylists, Bill would present the prestigious annual Miss Hairdressing awards. Notable winners being Julie Anthony, Ita Buttrose and Abigail.
Later Bill went on to work for Richardson Vicks, managing and promoting Vidal Sassoon products, and lastly with the giant American consumer products company Procter & Gamble working as their Communications and Public Relations counsel. Retiring 80 something.
Bill also wrote the best selling book "Laugh Your Way to the Bank".
In a letter by Jack Simmonds from England to Bill's daughter in Sydney -- dated 6 October 2002
"I can still remember Bill asking me to join the crew. I was flattered. Bill was like so many Australian officers in the Air Force at that time. Absolutely reliable. He was 12 years older than me and like a father figure. He was absolutely always worth listening to He would have been tickled pink to know that he would live to the age of 90 and he would have had a story for it. "
Bills funeral poem
At Bill's funeral his daughter read out the following poem on behalf of his family
This little poem can never try and say
the depths of our feelings for you on this solemn day;
Here’s where we have a chance to reminisce,
and talk of reasons why you’ll be missed;
Like growing up and spending endless sunny days at the beach,
Running free on the sand and knowing that we were never out of reach;
Your visits to our school open days, plays and sporting events;
And all your helpful advice was time well spent;
Our holidays together, just to name of few,
the Gold Coast, Pacific Islands, Shoal Bay and Kiama too
The good memories, the laughter we all shared
The times we could relax and forget about our cares
Those long car trips, your ETA’s, paddle pop stops,
the fun we had even if we all got lost;
Remembering being lonely overseas and receiving your letters
And after reading each one, feeling that much better.
Remembering you battling with that Christmas tree to get it standing right
Those magical decorations and you wrapping presents into the night ;
The corny Christmas bon bon jokes,
your famous toss salads, cups of teas and penciled notes;
Those barbeques with flames to the sky,
The charcoal offerings were still tasty ~ no word of a lie;
Your love of the great outdoors ~ football, tennis, golf and surf,
And your dedication to your career, you gave it all you were worth;
When we talked to you at length of problems great and small
We knew you kept our secrets safely locked inside your vault;
You loved life with enthusiasm and joy
In your heart of hearts you were really still a young and indestructible boy,
You were one of a generation that’s so admired today
The badge of a gentleman you wore it every day
We love you dearly, we’ll miss you year by year
Waiting for the day when once again we can all be gathered near.