Bruce William BRITTAIN

BRITTAIN, Bruce William

Service Number: 414756
Enlisted: 9 November 1941
Last Rank: Flying Officer
Last Unit: Royal Australian Air Force
Born: Cooroy, Queensland, Australia, 3 September 1922
Home Town: North Arm, Sunshine Coast, Queensland
Schooling: Valdora State School, Queensland, Australia
Occupation: Farmer
Died: Heart Failure, Prince Charles Hospital, Chermside, Queensland, Australia, 12 April 1986, aged 63 years
Cemetery: Privately Cremated
Ashes scattered at Mt Thompson Memorial Gardens Plot T8, Bed 2, Area 3. Queensland Garden of Remembrance Bridgeman Downs, Brisbane City, Queensland, Australia Wall 6 Row G.
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World War 2 Service

9 Nov 1941: Enlisted Royal Australian Air Force, Pilot Officer, 414756
9 Nov 1941: Enlisted Royal Australian Air Force, Aircraftman 2 (WW2), 414756
31 Jan 1942: Promoted Royal Australian Air Force, Leading Aircraftman
2 Nov 1942: Embarked Royal Australian Air Force, Leading Aircraftman, 414756, Unit: Attached to Royal Canadian Air Force
30 Apr 1943: Promoted Royal Australian Air Force, Sergeant, Unit: Attached to Royal Canadian Air Force
30 Oct 1943: Promoted Royal Australian Air Force, Flight Sergeant, Unit: Attached to Royal Air Force
12 Mar 1944: Promoted Royal Australian Air Force, Pilot Officer, Unit: Attached to Royal Air Force
12 Sep 1944: Promoted Royal Australian Air Force, Flying Officer, Unit: Attached to Royal Air Force 630 Squadron
3 Dec 1945: Discharged Royal Australian Air Force, Flying Officer, 414756, Royal Australian Air Force

Help us honour Bruce William Brittain's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by Sue Smith

Bruce William Brittain was born on the 3rd September 1922 at Cooroy QLD, the eldest son and second eldest of 6 children born to his parents Alfred and Janet Brittain.  His older sister was Marion and his younger sister was Christina (Chrissie) who was a twin with Robert.  There were 2 other younger brothers, Ralph who served in WW2 part time with 12th Battalion VDC and Lenard who also served in WW2 in the RAAF with the 7th Airfield Construction Squadron.   

The family lived at Valdora/North Arm on a farm called “Scotspur.”  Bruce’s schooling took place at Valdora State School near Yandina QLD.  When Bruce was 13 he was thrown from a horse and broke his leg.  The family left Valdora in 1942 and moved to a farm at Kin Kin called “Ellen Teen”.  Bruce’s hobbies included tennis, swimming, riding, woodwork, leather work and cars. 

On the 16th June 1941 Bruce enrolled in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Reserve then enlisted for WW2 in the RAAF 5 months later on 9th November 1941 aged 19 at the No. 3 Recruiting Office in Brisbane.  His service number was 414756, his rank Aircraftman 2.  He’s described as being 5ft 9ins tall with brown eyes and hair and a ruddy complexion.  He proceeded to No. 3 Initial Training School (ITS) at Sandgate QLD that same day. 

In early February 1942 Bruce proceeded to the Wireless Air Gunners School (WAGS) at Maryborough QLD then returned to 3ITS at Sandgate briefly in July before proceeding to No. 8 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) at Narrandera NSW.  It was here that Bruce began his log book which states that he trained in the link trainer and the Tiger Moth (DH 82) with his first solo flight in the Tiger Moth on 27th August 1942. 

Bruce was one of the 28,000 Australian aircrew to train as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS) which was a policy envisioned and designed to train Royal Australian Air Force pilots for eventual transfer into the Royal Air Force during World War II after the British Empire was unable to supply enough pilots and aircraft for the Royal Air force.  They did their initial training in Australia then proceeded to Canada for further training before proceeding to the UK to join the RAF. 

Bruce proceeded to the No.2 Embarkation Depot (ED) at Bradfield Park in Sydney NSW in late October and then to 1ED at Ascot Vale VIC 4 days later.  On the 2nd November he was attached to Royal Canadian Air Force (RACF) and embarked from Melbourne for Canada that same day on the ship SS Ile de France.  Upon arrival in Canada on 24th November Bruce proceeded to No. 3 Manning Depot at Edmonton where he remained until 6th December when he proceeded to No. 11 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) at Yorkton, Saskatchewan.  There he trained in the Cessna Crane taking his first solo flight on 8th January 1943.  He also trained in the Avro Anson and on the 29th April 1943 was awarded his flying badge.  The next day he was promoted to Sergeant.  He proceeded 11 days later to No. 1 Y Depot at Halifax, Nova Scotia and was attached to the Royal Air Force (RAF) in preparation for embarkation to England.  On 27th May Bruce embarked from Halifax for the UK on the ship SS Pasteur.

Upon arrival in the UK on 5th June 1943 Bruce proceeded to No. 11 Personnel Despatch and Receiving Centre (PDCR) at Brighton and the next day to No. 15 Advanced Flying Unit (AFU) at RAF Base Andover.  In late July he proceeded to RAF Base Greenham Common where he trained in the Airspeed Oxford making his first solo flight on 29th July 1943. 

As part of Flight Training Command, Bruce became part of 50 Group in mid-August and proceeded to RAF Base Watchfield to the No. 1 Beam Approach Training School.  He returned to RAF Greenham Common in late August and in early October was admitted to RAF Halton Hospital with an unnamed complaint.  While there he would have received the news that his mother had died on the 9th October aged 52.  Upon discharge from hospital Bruce proceeded to RAF Watchfield and then to RAF Long Newnton.  He was promoted to Flight Sergeant on 30th October 1943 and 3 days later proceeded to no. 17 Operational Training Unit (OTU) at RAF Silverstone.  It was while he was with this unit that he trained in Vickers Wellington bombers at the bomber training aerodrome at RAF Turweston.  His training entailed exercises in air experience, landings and crash landings, single engine flying, overshoot procedure and flapless landing. 

Bruce made his first flight as Pilot in a Wellington Bomber on 10th December 1943 with 2 crew members...fellow Australian Flight Sergeant Gordon (Ted) Beckhouse as wireless operator and British Flight Sergeant Stan Ashton as Navigator.  Three days later they were joined by British Flight Sergeant Ernest Couchman as the Bomb Aimer.  British Flight Sergeant Ernest (Harry) Wells joined the crew as the Rear Gunner in late December and on the 1st January 1944 Canadian Sergeant Don Grant became the 6th member of the crew as the Mid Upper Gunner.  The crew spent a month at the Air Crew School at Scampton from mid-February to mid-March when Bruce was granted a Commission and promoted to Pilot Officer. 

The crew proceeded to No. 1660 Conversion Unit (CU) at RAF Swinderby where they trained in the Stirling Mk3 Bomber.  The last member of the crew joined them there...British Sergeant Ron Gannon as Flight Engineer.  The 7 man crew took their first solo flight together in a Stirling Bomber on 11th April 1944 then in early May proceeded to the Lancaster Finishing School at RAF Syerston.  It was there they trained in the Avro Lancaster Bomber making their first solo flight in this plane on 8th May 1944. 

On the 19th May 1944, as part of RAF Bomber Command, Group 5, Bruce and his crew were posted to the 630 Squadron at RAF East Kirkby in Lincolnshire.  They spent the rest of May practicing flying in Lancasters JB290, ME735 and ME650 in preparation for their first operational mission.  Of these 3 planes JB290 was the only one to see out the war. 

On the 24th May 1944 Bruce and his crew flew a “Bullseye” operation in Lancaster ME735.  This was a bombing practice exercise and was the nearest thing that a training crew could get to an operational mission without actually being fired on.  The crew treated it as an exercise to navigate to a target and to experience having to evade, or perhaps being coned in searchlights, and work out how to deal with it. 

That same day a Lancaster Bomber arrived at RAF East Kirby...LM117, nicknamed “J-Jig”.  Four days later Bruce and his crew made the first of 25 flights together in this plane and they didn’t have to wait long to see action. 

The first operational mission for Bruce was on 27th May 1944 as Flight Engineer for fellow RAAF Pilot Flight Lieutenant C W (Wade) Rodgers in Lancaster ME739 on a night bombing on St Valery-en-Caux, France.  This plane flew 91 missions before being lost in April 1945.  This was the most number of missions flown by any plane from the 630 Squadron.  As an aside, Flight Lieutenant Rodgers flew 32 missions between March and August 1944 and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. 

The first operational mission for Bruce with his crew in LM117 was on 1st-2nd June.  They were just one of 6 brand new crews to take part in the night bombing on Saumur in Western France.  On the 8th June Bruce and his crew took off from RAF East Kirkby just after midnight in LM117 for a night bombing on Foret de Cerisy in north-western France.  The plane was fired on by a twin engine fighter but managed to corkscrew out of trouble as gunners Wells and Grant fired back and the fighter was lost from view. 

Operational flights lasted up to 12 hours, mostly at night, in unpressurised and ear-splittingly loud aircraft, working in cramped spaces and freezing conditions.  Over the next 6 weeks Bruce and his crew flew 9 more operational missions over France in LM117.

On the night of 18th July 1944 Bruce and his crew took off in LM117 from RAF East Kirkby around 10.30pm, along with 9 other aircraft, for a bombing attack on Revigny.  There had already been 2 abortive raids by other groups on 12th-13th and 14th-15th July.  This was to be an ill-fated attack with 4 of the 10 aircraft being lost...including LM117.  Australian losses were particularly severe.

From Bruce’s reports of the events of that night he states:

“I was the Pilot in the crew of LM117 a Lancaster aircraft detailed to attack a target at Revigny on 18/19 July 1944.  At about 8,500ft, returning from target, the aircraft was hit by flack and took fire just behind rear part of fuselage and as aircraft was thus out of control I gave orders to bale out.  Bomb Aimer, Engineer, Navigator, then I personally, left by front escape hatch in that order.  I understand WOP (Wireless Operator) and first upper gunner left by rear door.  I am unable to say whether rear gunner got out.  Members commenced calling out at about 7,000ft.  Aircraft was in control at that time and was burning.  The MUG (Mid Upper Gunner) whom I later contacted on the ground, told me that he saw Flt/Sgt Beckhouse WOAG (Wireless Operator Air Gunner) jump from the rear escape hatch.  I did not see any other parachutes in the air nor did I make contact at the time of the crash with any other member of the crew.” 

“Returning from target aircraft hit by flak at about 8,500ft and took fire just behind rear spar of fuselage and as aircraft was thus out of control I gave orders to bale out.  Bomb Aimer, Engineer, Navigator then I personally left front escape hatch, in that order.  I understand WOP (Wireless Operator) and first Upper Gunner left by rear door.  I am unable to say whether Rear Gunner got out.  Members commenced bailing out at about 7,000ft.  Aircraft was in control at that time and was burning.  The MUG (Mid Upper Gunner), whom I later contacted on the ground, told me that he saw Flt/Sgt Beckhouse WOAG (Wireless Operator Air Gunner) jump from the rear escape hatch.  I did not see any other parachutes in the air nor did I make contact at the time of the crash with any other member of the crew.  Later in Paris I contacted the Mid Upper Gunner and returned to UK with him.” 

LM117 was hit by flak near Vitry around 12.45am, caught fire and crashed a short time later near Togny-aux-Boeufs (Marne) 13km south-east of Chalons-sur-Marne.  The entire crew baled out and parachuted safely to ground however, 20 year old Beckhouse was captured then subsequently executed with a bullet to the forehead by the German sentry posted to protect the railway line beside which he had landed.  This was reported by witnesses of the event.  A later report by the “Missing Research & Enquiry” team stated that the Mayor of Togny-Aux-Boeufs stated that he had bought in the body of a dead British airman who had baled out and landed just outside the village.  The Mayor stated that this airman had been shot by the Germans after landing.  The investigating Officer was shown a lifesaving jacket and on the interior saw the name Beckhouse.  He was buried in the cemetery at Togny-aux-Boeufs and was the only WW2 airman fatality to be buried there. 

As for the rest of the crew...Harry Wells, 22, Stan Ashton, 20, were captured near Sogny as was Ron Gannon.  All 3 saw out the war together in Stalag Luft VII.  A local family helped Ernest Couchman to evade captivity and assisted by local resistance fighters, 19 year old Don Grant evaded capture as did Bruce, 21, who landed in a field north-east of Aulnay L’Aitre around 1am.  He walked until dawn and then hid in bushes till dusk when he made contact with a farmer who took him to a house on the outskirts of St-Amand.  With the help of several farmers he eventually made contact with members of the French Forces of the Interior (FFI), also known as the Marquis or French Resistance.  This was on 22nd July at the farm of Maurice Mauguiere at La Maltournëe.  Two other airmen from another crashed plane from the same mission were also hiding at this farm.  The local leader of the FFI, Roger Arvois, was one of the men who took all 3 men to one of their camps where they met up another 2 crew members of the other crashed place.  All 5 stayed with the FFI for 6 weeks but were forced to move several times to avoid capture by the Germans.  When the Americans arrived in late August arrangements were made to take all 5 to Paris in stages.  It was there that Bruce was reunited with Don Grant from his crew on the 1st September.  They were flown back to the UK together on the 4th September...7 weeks after they left on their mission.  

Bruce’s family back home had initially been notified that he was missing the day after the crash, however, they were informed that he was safe as soon as he was returned to the UK.

In the report that Bruce wrote on the 7th September 1944 after his return to the UK, he stated that the Gestapo had raided one of the farms where he had stayed at which he’d left his Australian address.  Thankfully this raid happened after Bruce had left that farm. 

A total of 126 Squadrons served with Bomber Command in WW2.  Of these, 32 were officially non-British units with 8 of them being RAAF Squadrons. This totalled 20,000 airmen who served with Bomber Command and the cost was dear with 3,486 of them being listed as “failed to return” or “missing in air operations”.

LM117 flew 14 operational missions in total in WW2.  Bruce also flew 14 operational missions with 10 of them as pilot of Lancaster LM117.  Bruce and his crew flew 3 other operational missions together in 3 different Lancasters...LL949, PB236 and JB290 with JB290 being the only one of the 3 aircraft to survive the war.  The other 2 planes were lost in crashes along with their entire crews. 

After being safely returned to the UK Bruce was promoted to Flying Officer on 12th September 1944.  After spending a week in Sick Quarters  recovering from his ordeal the medical board classed him fit for despatching overseas.  He proceeded to No. 105 Operational Training Unit at RAF Bramcote where he trained in Wellingtons and also trained at Bitteswell and Nuneaton aerodromes.  On the 6th December he gained his licence to carry passengers and embarked for Canada on SS Pasteur on 12th January 1945.  He arrived a month later at Dorval where he was posted to No. 45 Group, part of Ferry Command, as a ferrying pilot.  He then proceeded to No. 313 Ferry Training Unit at North Bay, Ontario, where he trained in the Lockheed Hudson and the B25 Mitchell.  He returned to Dorval at the end of March where he flew a Douglas Dakota for the first...also known as a Douglas DC-3 which was an airliner used for passenger travel. 

In late May he made a rather long trip flying from Dorval to New Caledonia then on to Sydney and Brisbane then returned via Auckland NZ on 7th June.  In early July 1945 the No. 6 Ferry Unit was formed at Dorval and Bruce served with this unit until late September when he made his way to San Francisco USA for return to Australia.  He embarked from San Francisco on SS Matsonia on 6th October and disembarked at Brisbane on the 22nd October.  He was discharged on 3rd December 1945 and his appointment was terminated upon demobilisation on 7th December 1945. 

Bruce’s 2 brothers also served in WW2...Lenard served with the RAAF 7th Airfield Construction Squadron and Ralph served part time with the 12th Battalion Volunteer Defence Corps.

After returning from the war Bruce went to live for a time with his Aunt Agnes at Jimna, NW of Woodford QLD.  In 1947 Bruce received a letter from Majesski Sigismund, one of the French farmers who had helped him escape during the war.

In the late 1940s Bruce spent some time working as a truck driver in the Gympie area then after his father died in 1952, Bruce took over running his father’s farm at Cedarton, just north of Woodford.

On the 5th November 1960, Bruce married Beryl (Peg) Martin at St Phillip’s Church at Annerley in Brisbane QLD.  They remained living at Cedarton and went on to have 3 daughters, Margaret, Annette and Jennifer. 

In the late 1970s Bruce had a reunion with several of the pilots he trained with in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, Canada, back in late 1942 and early 1943.  Of the 6 pilots in the photo taken in 1943, 5 of them were at the reunion with Bruce...the other one was killed in the war.  This was quite amazing considering how many of the young Australian pilots didn’t return from the war. 

Bruce and Peg moved to Woodford in 1982, then in 1986 Bruce underwent triple bypass heart surgery.  After complications from the surgery, Bruce passed away at the Prince Charles Hospital, Chermside, on 12th April 1986 aged 63.  He was cremated and his ashes placed in the family plot with his parents and other family members at Mt Thompson Memorial Gardens in Brisbane QLD. 

Bruce William Brittain was awarded for service in WW2...1939-1945 Star, France and Germany Star, Defence Medal, War Medal 1939-1945, Australia Service Medal.

My deepest thanks to Bruce’s daughter Margie Johnson for providing much of the information and photos used in Bruce’s profile.

Respectfully submitted by Sue Smith 24th May 2022.