454 and 459 RAAF Squadrons
Flying Officer Alan L McINTYRE
454 RAAF Squadron
Service No. 408337
Date of Birth: 21 Nov 1913
Place of Birth: HOBART, TAS
Date of Enlistment: 6 Nov 1941
Date of Discharge: 22 Jan 1946
Rank: Flying Officer
Date of Death: 2002
The following information was conveyed by Jo McIntyre (Bornemissza). 4 April 2011. The Committee reserves the right to edit submissions when considered appropriate. Some editing has occurred in this instance.
Alan, or ‘Mac’ as he became known, was born in Launceston in 1913, to Tas and Hilda McIntyre. Unlike his highly ambitious, older brother, Laurence, (‘Jim’), who became a Rhodes scholar, was knighted and entered the Diplomatic Service, Alan was a dreamer, an artist and a poet.
Alan and ‘Jim’ attended briefly Scotch College where Alan executed one of his first self-illustrated drawings, and later, Launceston Church Grammar School, where their father was a respected master. Jim excelled at academic subjects and sport, while in 1925 Alan won the English and mapping prizes and in 1931, became a prefect and Captain of Boxing.
Holidays were spent on their uncles’ midlands farms where Jim helped with the farm work while Alan ‘doped around,’ watching trout or filling his pockets with baby rabbits or frogs.
Alan’s interest in insects convinced his father that he would become an entomologist and to encourage him, gave him books by one of Australia’s early specialists – William Gillies – as well as introducing him, Jim and their two sisters, to poetry and art. It was at this time that Alan began to draw objects and animals and again, Tas, fostered this interest by buying and binding the entire series of ‘Harmsworth Natural History’ magazines, which was instrumental in Alan’s considerable knowledge of animals and insects. He particularly loved drawing lions and hippos, some of which later appeared in cartoons for The Bulletin.
Both Jim and Alan played cricket. Jim, who was of a slighter build, like his father, was a right-handed bowler and a left-handed batsman, while Alan, who was over six feet tall, excelled as a fast bowler. Described by Sir Raymond Ferrall, as ‘a fast bowler with a terrifying action, looking much more fierce than he actually was’, he became known as ‘Killer McIntyre,’ and was to play county cricket during the war.
Much to his father’s dismay, at the age of 16 in 1929, the year of the Great Depression, Alan announced that he wanted to be an artist! His father’s salary had been cut by 20% and when Jim won a Rhodes Scholarship and subsequently went off to Oxford, the family home was mortgaged in order to support him.
Little was left for the rest of the family and, not wanting to further burden his father, Alan decided to leave home and become an artist, outside of Launceston.
He had an exhibition of watercolours and drawings at the old Brisbane Hotel, from which, after expenses for framing, he bought a new suit from Routley’s and found that he had eleven pounds and ten shillings in his savings account, with which he would go to Sydney.
Alan and his good friend and fellow artist, Geoff Tyson, who joined the Second Fortieth Battalion and became a POW in Japan, sailed across Bass Strait on the ‘Nairana,’ arriving in Melbourne, where they saw the very first show by Bob Dyer at the ‘Tiv,’ (Tivoli). They spent a week seeing the sights of Sydney, before Geoff returned home.
Describing himself as ‘a quite callow boy, knowing nothing about life, nothing about what it would cost to live’ and being terribly lonely, homesick but having five pounds left in his pocket, he took a room in Victoria Street, Kings Cross.
For the cost of sixpence, he purchased six oranges and nine bananas a week – his staple diet. However, his beloved aunt, Ada, who taught maths at Methodist Ladies’ College in Launceston, deposited 50 pounds in his bank account – a considerable amount for the time – which enabled him to exist, he estimated, for eight months!
Prior to leaving Launceston, he had sent some poems and cartoons to the Sydney Bulletin and had actually had one or two poems published. Despite discouraging remarks by Jim Russell, editor of Smith’s Weekly, who said: ‘Get home Mac, back to Tasmania, before you starve, you silly bugger,’ Alan persevered. He met Douglas Stewart, the editor of The Bulletin, who quoted one of Alan’s poems and introduced him to other poets, such as ex-army Captain, Peter Hopegood. He met Unk White and Bill (later Sir William) Dobell whom he described as a very kindly, sensitive man. Doug also introduced him to (Sir) Norman Lindsay, who had illustrated Doug’s first book of poems and who generously offered to help at any time. Through Doug’s introduction to the Black and White Artists’ Club, Alan met Jack Baird, an illustrator with The Sun, Eric Joliffe, Percy Lindsay, Les Such and Jack Lindsay, all of whom were cartoonists for The Bulletin. ‘Chips’ Rafferty, the lanky actor, was another who frequented the club and who often invited Alan to lunch at his flat at Rushcutters Bay.
Meantime, war was imminent. The paper boys coming down the street were calling out: ’War declared!’ – a really horrible sound.
At 3pm on September 3rd, 1939, Alan sat and wrote his poem,’ September Third, 1939,’in which he expressed his apprehension. Towards the end of that year, he had little money left and owed three weeks rent, in lieu of which, he’d left his suit. Shortly after this, however, his fortunes changed for the better when he was asked to paint a frieze of animals at ‘Farmers’, following which, he developed his own cartoon style and was invited to submit work for The Bulletin. He also had a poem published in Angus and Robertson’s Australian Poetry, 1941. He continued to do cartoons and a few portraits, while, at the same time, working on the ‘twenty one’ mathematical books, which he’d been sent in preparation for the Air Force.
A pacifist by nature, Alan felt that it was his duty to volunteer for service, because of what was relayed to him by Jewish friends who informed him about what was happening in Europe.
Alan, now service number 408337, trained at Somers, Victoria, then sailed to Vancouver, Canada, via California and Oregon, through magnificent countryside, which he sketched from the train’s window. There followed a General Reconnaissance course, a prerequisite for Coastal Command work, at “Summerside” Prince Edward Island. R and R was provided by Rodean Rathbone, brother of Sir Basil, the famous film star. There, at his home, they listened appreciatively to classical music.
In December 1943, Alan sailed on the ‘Stratheden.’ which had become a troupship, carrying 149,687 servicemen and civilians. Arriving in Alexandria, where he was posted to an Operational Training Unit at Gianacalis, 25 miles west of Alexandria, he ‘crewed up’ with Geoff Levy, pilot, and ‘two funny boys’ who bustled up and said: ’We want to join you!’ They were WAGs; John (‘Doover’) MacMahon and Jack (‘Doc’) Hughes and were among the last of Squadron 454 to do so.
Una, Geoff’s widow, referred to the four as an unlikely foursome – four personalities, so different in mannerisms and outlooks, whose survival together seemed impossible. Yet, survive they did, perhaps, because of their differences.
Geoff, impetuous and needing a calming influence, would find it in the older Mac (He was nearer 30, while Doover and Doc were barely 20), non-judgemental, willing to accept things as they came, while Doover and Doc supplied a type of light-heartedness.
Known at times as ‘silly old Mac,’ he gave Geoff, Doover and Doc cause for concern on one of the early navigation exercises, when he announced that he ‘didn’t have a clue where he was!’ Nevertheless, he remained in the crew, which earned the reputation as the most successful, not from a technical point of view, but from that of the cohesion of relationships.
Mac also had a propensity for nodding off and was said to ‘have an attraction for the ground.’ On one occasion, when Geoff called for Alan to take over the flying, so that he could get some shuteye, their plane, ‘W’ or “Wandering Willie,” seemed to be getting lower and lower…
On one occasion, he flew them successfully there and back, admitting (with some pride for ‘having done a fair job in the circumstances,- having committed the course to memory!’) that he’d forgotten his maps, while on another, he forgot his parachute, which, fortunately, was not needed on that trip! It has been suggested that his navigating bag often held bottles of grog, as well as his maps.
When the time came for Alan to be commissioned, it was the efforts of other Navigator friends, which enabled him to complete a successful interview. Being a rather true bohemian, clothes and material possessions meant little to him, so that his own clothes were neither washed nor ironed regularly. A search through the kit bags of others and a borrowed cap did the trick, however, with Alan attired as they’d never seen him before!
Alan, with his keen eye for detail and patterns was a ‘natural’ as an observer in locating camouflaged targets. Respected Squadron Leader, George Gray recalled that Alan not only performed his duties ably, but also was known to sketch formating aircraft and harbours, as time and opportunity permitted. Thus, his brief sketch of Ancona Harbour appears on an official Observer’s Log Sheet. He and Bob Davies worked on the design of the 454 crest, ‘Nihil Impossible,’ and he earned a few extra bob by doing portraits of various squadron members, examples of which were included in ‘Australiana’, the RAAF Official Christmas magazine of 1943, and in December of 1944, designed the 454 Christmas card which showed a Baltimore discharging Christmas turkeys and puddings.
Alan was an avid reader, and read the whole of Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’ as they crossed the western desert. He was thrilled to find books in Italy with the first coloured illustrations he’d seen, of work by the old masters.
Doover recalled that Alan was ‘one of the two best drinkers he’d ever met,’ and that he’d be seen, lying on his camp bed, reading one of his books while swigging from a bottle of vino which was under the bed. Coupled with the 60 or more cheap American cigarettes which were smoked incessantly, the grog probably helped to allay the nerve-wracking ‘ring twitter’ between briefing and take-off.
Because of his ability to fraternise easily with the Italian communities, he was the one charged with locating supplies of wine. The local people trusted and respected him, provided ‘supplies’ and also alerted the crew about the ‘Fascisti.’ One of Alan’s most memorable meals was with a poor Italian couple, which shared their black bread, soused fish and rough red wine with him.
Alan’s crew completed their tour of duty in December 1944 at Cesenatico, after flying some 69 sorties, some of which were maritime reconnaissance and some bombing. The percentage chance of survival in light bombers was 25-1/2, and in bomber reconnaissance, 42%. The last sortie for 454 was 1 May 1945, at which time the Squadron had recorded approximately 3000 sorties, 16,700 operational hours and had delivered 1400 tons of tombs. The price, however, was heavy, with 92 killed in action. Geoff, Alan, Doc and Doover were fortunate survivors!
Following such heroic endeavours, Geoff Levy died tragically from complications arising from hepatitis. Doc, returned to school and university where he gained a degree in Economics, later working for the government Bureau of Census and Statistics, where he did very well for himself, despite continuing nervousness. He died in 1986 of a massive heart attack. Doover became a highly successful businessman with a love of travel and sailing and sustained his friendship with Una, Geoff’s widow, Betty, Doc’s widow, and Alan.
Alan returned to Australia and like many, found the adjustment to civilian life, almost impossible. In order to cope with the stress of operations, he drank heavily, which became something of a habit after demobilisation. He returned to Tasmania, where he, together with three other servicemen; Peter Thompson, Alan Frost and Max Angus, retrained at the Hobart School of Art, under the CRTS scheme, for ‘interrupted professions.’ Yet, he found it virtually impossible to continue with his artwork, continuing to feel disorientated and lacking in confidence.
Una had told me that Alan resembled Errol Flynn in many ways, with his height and striking looks. He attracted a fellow student, twenty years his junior whom he married and had two daughters, Christine and Lou, as a result, but the marriage came to an end. Today, there are many musicians and artists among his grandchildren.
For a time Alan worked as an orderly in the Hobart Repatriation Hospital, after which he returned to Tasmania, where he taught briefly at a private school and later, as a full-time art teacher at the Launceston Technical College, with his old friend, Geoff Tyson.
Alan and I married in 1968 and moved into the old McIntyre family home, where, for the first time, he had a studio in which to work. Prior to this, he had lived in a tin shed at his sister’s house and in rooms above a Chinese grocers!
Gradually, in more regulated conditions, he created unique paintings, which were exhibited regularly and successfully over the ensuing years and which were very popular with the viewing public. He also continued to paint portraits of local identities and to write and publish poetry.
Alan was plagued with undiminished anxiety, which stemmed from the preoccupation that his actions as a bomb-aimer may have resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians. Una had remarked that she understood why Alan occasionally ‘missed targets,’ suggesting that for him, whom she knew well, killing was anathema. He also endured an ongoing nightmare in which he was to embark on the 70th sortie, which ‘would be the end.’ As well as this, he had witnessed the horrific death of a ‘nice, young American chap’ whose parachute caught fire resulting in his plunging to his death; an image which recurred as another nightmare.
Like many other pilots and navigators of Baltimore bombers, who were placed in the nose cone, between the twin engines, the point of maximum noise intensity, Alan suffered from ‘Baltimore Deafness.’ In the late 70s, he found that his vision was becoming affected, (a piece of shrapnel had damaged one eye), a disastrous occurrence for a visual artist and this, coupled with his deafness, caused him to feel increasingly isolated.
He saw the years between his joining the R.A.A.F. and the 1960s as a great gap in his life. He regretted having volunteered and half- jokingly spoke of his great resentment of Hitler. The effect of his volunteering for service took him away from the mainstream of artistic and literary life in Australia, which in later years, with failing powers he attempted to regain.
In 1992, Alan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and died in 2002.
He was a fine, sensitive and intelligent man, well loved by all who knew him. His gentle, tolerant demeanour and his delightful wit earned him respect and admiration. Those of us who had the privilege of knowing him, are richer for having done so.
As Doover has given an account of the crew’s activities in diary form, I felt that I
would describe the effects of the war upon someone like Alan, for whom a promising career was truncated and whose life was effectively and inestimably harmed.
SEPTEMBER THIRD, 1939, by Alan McIntyre.
Spring is spawning in the gardens again
Familiar bird-notes take on eager inflexions:
Familiar airs breathe a new pregnance:
Breezes laugh a jocund invitation.
Trees are tremulous with flickering glee;
Where sun flings generous prodigality:
The dazzling coin of foliate abundance;
The spendthrift crimson of our singing veins,
Over the glowing sparks and cheerful streets
Music of water-carts and garden hoses
Quenches the dusty flame of thirsting pores.
Girls bring gracious coolness of print frocks:
Subtle evocation of hid enchantment…
For playful winds familiarity;
Lips parting; eloquence of eyes;
With springing optimism for our desires.
Everywhere mild, hopeful lips are framing
The furtive smile to hide another sky;
Where Autumn smoulders…
Where blind suns round…like bleary, bloodshot eyes…
Lead-lidded heaven, iron thunder shaking.
Where down dust-belching roadways, shrill and clang-
War…war screams horribly! till hearts must stumble,
And agonies of twisted steel be hammered
On gently moulded faces,
Until even through comfortable greenness
The sudden lightning strike; and we be scurried
The dead leaf’s way…the ghostly, sapless, clutching…
Just to be left by seas to lie in listless
Salty oblivion, sandy desolation
Were luxury of dreaming!
The robot monster rolls implacably.
Let me confess to fear,
To loathing of his engines, that destroy
Essential nature : I am in love with living!
I have a rendezvous with life to keep...
O emerald-garlanded and scarlet-blooming!...
Life sprung where runners clutch, dews quicken:
Life into warm soil groping, tuber-rooted;
Life papped at the bud of sappy earth.
O little life; the fluttering, purring, creeping…
The powder-winged, ring bellied and twig-emulous;
The fragile laced, transparent pearly –veined
Life: fashioned of light and fed with air.
O mystery of damp, untrampled dawn
By ti-tree shaded, appled-scented shores…
Where graceful pelicans turn dews of silence
Before the slow curve of eurythmic wings.
O dream of morning, still, in quiet places;
Where dew quick-silvers on the cabbage heart;
And swings the tiny spider blade to bloom
On a silk cable, measuring the air.
O drowsy peace of willows, silver blown
Through rosy haze of summer afternoon;
Where quiet-breaking swimmers weave in rings
Of ripple over river’s greening gloom.
O dim, reflective evening: closed where leaves
Huddle street-corners like cold, ragged men;
And café doors with fragrant hamburger
Hurry small anxious footsteps home to tea.
When we have come to the dead-end of hope;
If final stormy cataclysm should wrench
Us beyond reach of easy vision…torn,
Scattered as wantonly as wind’s whim.
If heaven-singeing flame and rain steel-shafted
Shatter and blast us…then out of death’s grim vesture,
Wrung by the very gesture of despair,
May there be smiles…may there be smiles…then…
Grant an escape!...too inconceivable
That all the optimistic auguries
And merry panoply of springtime graces;
That all the shooting growth of passionate greenness
Should die without fulfilment!
Let our greengage’s globes of veiny sweetness
Be nectar still for flushed midsummer noon;
And wheat be stooked in rows of golden fullness,
And mellowed by a honey-dripping moon!
ONE TALENTED ARTIST ALAN MCINTYRE
In an effort to relieve the monotony and privations of camp life and to keep the troops out of mischief, the Anglican padre Bob Davies implemented an idea he had had while working with the Toc H organisation before he joined the RAAF. He would set up a number of hostels were airmen could take a break from the war and relax. Known as Casas(Italian for house), Padre Davies set about his task with vigour and later asked Wing Commander Henderson to open the first for 454 - named the Kookaburra Casa - on 19 December 1944.
To put their own stamp on their Casa, Squadron artists painted murals, badges and other decorations on the bar and walls, all designed to remind them of home as well as stamp their mark of ownership. One talented artist was Flying Officer Alan McIntyre, the navigator from Geoff Levy’s crew who also prepared ornate menus for mess functions, illustrated Christmas cards and idled his spare time airborne doodling on his plotting charts. Like many, to Alan war was anathema and although a good ten years older than the rest of his crew, felt it his duty as he said, ‘to do his bit’