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454 RAAF Squadron

THREE RAAF ME "Sky Pilots" 1941-45

The 3
Recent photo of the Padres
Funeral of FO Hobby_2
Letter 18 03 44 Page 1
Letter home
Letter 15 06 45
RAAF Chaplains :the three -
  • J. (John) McNamara

  • F. (Fred) McKay; and

  • R.E. (Bob) Davies



The three RAAF ME Chaplains were shared by 454/459 RAAF Squadron, with other RAAF Squadrons and individuals in the ME and Italian commands.


No history of any RAAF Squadron in the ME theatre during 1939-45 could be complete without recording the unceasing efforts of these three, who ministered to the spiritual and the more personal anxieties and concerns of serving members arising from problems not normally discussed with fellow members. 

These caring men were there on the scene just after a crash or other traumatic event, providing the understanding and help so much needed on such occasions.  Their ever-so-welcome involvement at our re-unions is clear evidence of our warm respect and indebtedness.

We salute you three "Sky Pilots", thanks for being with us, for those letters home long ago and for providing amenities and "TLC" to all those in your collective flock.

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2 of the RAAF - Chaplains -- 454 & 459 Squadrons


A Tribute to the Right Reverend R.E. (Bob) Davies CBE


Bishop of Tasmania 1963-1981


[Died 17th May 2002]


Bishop Davies was an RAAF Chaplain: one of the three -


  • John McNamara

  • Fred McKay; and

  • Bob Davies



in the Middle East and Italy 1940-45 to minister to all RAAF personnel in those commands, whether in dedicated RAAF Squadrons in the RAF and serving as individuals in any Allied unit there.


The following tribute was written by 417220 Flying Officer (1945) K. Arnold Osborne, Nav (B) 454 RAAF Bomber Squadron Desert Air Force Italy.


Arnold retired as Archdeacon from the Anglican Ministry post war having followed Bob Davies as Chaplain at some RAF bases post war.


He wore his flying badge, at Bob's funeral service, when representing 454 and 459 RAAF Squadrons Association with his Archdeacons robes.


DAVIES Robert Edward CBE, BA, University Qld 1949, MA (Hons) Uni Qld 1952, ThL Aust Col of Th.1937 ThD Hons.1961.



- Deacon 1937 Priest 1938 (Newcastle)

- Staff of Newcastle Cathedral 1937-1941

- TocH Chap/HM forces ME 1941-42

- RAAF Chap ME 1942-45

- Vice Warden St Johns Col Uni Qld 1946-49

- Rector/Archdeacon Canberra 1949-53

- Rector/Archdeacon Wagga Wagga 1953-60

- Warden St Johns Col. Morpeth 1960-63

- Asst Bishop Newcastle 1960-63

- Consecrated Bishop 1960

- Bishop of Tasmania 1963-81


He married Helen Boucher about 1953.  Helen died about 1975. His daughters were Elizabeth and Margaret and four grandchildren.


There were 2 services in St David's Cathedral on the day - in the morning an Anglican Funeral Service because Bob had been Bishop of the Dioces of Tasmania for 18 years - and in the afternoon a public Thanksgiving Service to allow for the attendance of members of the public representing Bob's many community contacts.


The actual program for the day was largely Bob's own arranging - who was to be invited - the people to take part - the hymns to be sung and so on.  Each of his daughters and all of his grandchildren had a part in the two services.  He requested G. Captain Bobby Gibbs to speak. I think it was an effort.  He spoke "off the cuff" because he left his carefully prepared notes at home in Sydney!


For information about Bob's RAAF service you could refer to the publication "Sky Pilot" a history of chaplaincy in the RAAF 1926-1990 by Chaplain Peter Davidson published by Principal Chaplains Committee Air Force Canberra. There is a chapter (4) on the Middle East and Mediterranean 1942-45 where Bob features a lot.

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Comments from Flight Lieutenant CJ (Bill) Collins - 459 Squadron) from the "2000 Bulletin Combined 454/459 Squadrons Association" (as dictated by Bill's son Peter at the time of publication):

Re:  Squadron Leader Fred McKay -- (died 31.3.2000)

RAAF - Chaplain -- 454 & 459 Squadrons

"Dad wants to make special mention of the Squadron Leader 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".




A copy of a letter Fred McKay sent to the "folks at Home" in March 1945.  Although many 454 Squadron personnel would have seen this letter at some time during the intervening years, it will make nostalgic reading for those who have not sighted it previously.  Similar letters of comfort were despatched by Bob Davies and John McNamara to relatives of other Australian personnel serving in the Mediterranean theatre.




Dear Folks at Home,

According to my regular custom when visiting our Squadrons, this small note goes out to the home folks of the men who serve on 454 Squadron.  By reason of contrary journeying this is my first real visit to this unit, and it is something of a privilege to see this happy breed of tented men at their open-air task on a vital front in Italy, and playing their part in the famous Desert Air Force team.


This letter goes to you with goodwill to all in your home and with the assurance of an unending regard and admiration by the Australian chaplains for the one who carries your name in 454 Squadron, or the one who is connected with you in the ties of devotion or intimate interest.  Please accept these lines also as my personal word to you that he is well and fit, and putting his hand to his special job with characteristic and quiet efficiency.  Withal, spirits are high, for a certain camaraderie binds the men into one common family, and all hopes centre around the same ideal of being done with wars.

The longer one is away from home the sweeter is the memory of the circle we love.  Sometimes we are human enough to become overwhelmed with loneliness and with an intense longing to be with the ones who mean all the world to us - but we also completely appreciate that at your end likewise, and sometimes in greater measure, the burden of separation is grievous and hard.  We are not ignorant of the problems of long separation - nor are we blind to the price which war sometimes demands - but for all this, and in spite of these things, we seek to keep alive in our hearts the ideals which make for happy homes and the the things which really last beyond wars and artificial living.


On this Squadron, although it is of Australian name and character, there a number of men whose homes are in the old land.  We are all one - a happy family - sharing a great common task. To the folks in English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish homes of 454 boys as well as to the countless Australian homes this letter goes with wholehearted understanding of the bonds which the war, and Squadron life in particular, have made strong and lasting.



From a typical Active Service atmosphere in Italy, we send you our greetings.  You can be proud you have a representative on 454;  because the name will live.  May God bless you all - the parents, the wives, the sweethearts, the friends of gallant men.  And may you all be spared and protected unto the day of happy and glorious reunions.

Yours sincerely,


Fred McKay


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A letter from Ed Gaskell to Colin Munro, 4.1.97 "A Fred McKay Church Parade"



Dear Colin,

Hearing Fred McKay on your programme at Christmas took me back over fifty years to a church service Fred held in the Transit Camp at AlMaza, just outside Cairo for R.A.A.F. members about late September early October 1945.  All the R.A.A.F. who had served as aircrew or ground crew in Italy and the Western Med on Australian squadrons such as 454, 3, 450, and 451, the Australian bomber squadrons and as Odd Bod Aircrew in just about every R.A.F. squadron in the area were being gathered together for final repatriation home.  Fred was the last of the three Australian Air Force Padrews left with us.  The other two, Bob Davies who became Anglican Bishop of Tasmania and Johnny McNamara who was later a Monsignor at the Melbourne Cathedral had already gone home.  They had all served in the Middle East ad then Italy since 1940 and Fred had either taken or chosen the short straw to be the last to leave.

Fred had put his head around the concern of our tent and had said something like, "Before we leave I'm going to have a bit of a service tomorrow morning at ten o'clock".  The Camp Chapel was a fair sized building presided over by an English Padre who had seen very few Australians.  He later said he was quite happy to lend the Chapel to Fred but he did not expect the crowd. 

I do not think any Australian in the camp missed Fred's "bit of service".  Every seat was taken by the early arrivals;  the back and sides of the building were packed with standees and there was a group clustered around the door and at every window.  I can remember Fred's talk - it was not a conventional sermon - when he talked of settling back into civilian life and maintaining the values, principles and beliefs we had gained by our service in the Air Force.  When recounting a story of the problems of the clergy he made the Pommy Padre sit up when he recalled his brother saying after a hard morning's plowing, "And now here comes the bloody parson".

We would have all said that Fred was "a bloody good padre" and I think everyone who met him in the Middle East and Italy would have followed Fred's subsequent brilliant career and would rejoice in knowing that this "Great and Good Man" was maintaining the same pace, form, and achievement levels he set when he was looking after us so many years ago.

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