Alfred Byrne SLADE

Poppy

SLADE, Alfred Byrne

Service Number: 407651
Enlisted: 7 December 1940, Adelaide
Last Rank: Warrant Officer
Last Unit: No. 38 Squadron (RAAF)
Born: Yorketown, South Australia, 23 April 1917
Home Town: Stansbury, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia
Schooling: Weavers School then Yorketown, South Australia
Occupation: Farm Hand
Died: Flying Battle, Mediterranean Sea, 27 October 1943, aged 26 years
Cemetery: Not yet discovered
Memorials: Adelaide WW2 Wall of Remembrance, Alamein Memorial (El Alamein), Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Stansbury Memorial Gates, Stansbury War Memorial
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World War 2 Service

7 Dec 1940: Involvement Warrant Officer, SN 407651
7 Dec 1940: Enlisted Adelaide
7 Dec 1940: Enlisted Royal Australian Air Force, Warrant Officer, SN 407651, No. 38 Squadron (RAAF)
7 Dec 1940: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Warrant Officer, SN 407651, No. 38 Squadron (RAAF)
Date unknown: Involvement
Date unknown: Discharged Royal Australian Air Force, Warrant Officer, SN 407651, No. 38 Squadron (RAAF)

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Biography contributed by Peter Gaisford

The sun was setting at 1827 hours on the 27th of October, 1943 when the ‘Wellington Aircraft XIII HZ 603’ departed Nicosia, never to be seen again.


World War 2 began on the 1st of September, 1939 when Germany attacked Poland and later refused to abort the mission. Soon after, Britain and Allies declared war against the Axis (History, 2020).  What was yet to come was simply unimaginable, as throughout East Asia, Europe and other islands in the Pacific  Ocean horrendous years of battle and bloodshed was to follow. Battle finally came to a cease six years later on the 2nd of September, 1945 when Germany finally surrendered, roughly one week after their leader, Adolf Hitler committed suicide (History, 2020).


Alfred Byrne Slade, my great uncle, was a soldier in WWII. This biography will explain who and where he came from and his experiences before and during the war.  


Alfred grew up on our family property, ‘Thorpe Farm’ where  my family and I  live to this day [figure A]. ‘Thorpe Farm’ is located approximately 7km inland from the seaside country town of Stansbury on the Yorke Peninsula, South Australia. Alfred’s parents were Leonard Aston Slade and Ellen Slade (nee. Byrne). L.A and Ellen had three children; Mary Alice, Alfred Byrne and Leonard Martin before Ellen sadly passed away of an unknown illness, believed to be childbirth related, when Alf was only nine years of age (R Slade, 2020). Later, L.A  remarried to Helen Emsley Brakspear Stevenson with whom he had one daughter; Barbarra. When Barbarra was 11, Helen also passed away. Due to her untimely death, L.A remarried once again to matron Charlotte Hamilton Arthur, who later outlived him (R Slade, 2020). 


Alf attended Weavers School; a tiny, single room, single teacher school during his primary years, then Yorketown Area School for years 8 and 9. While Alf and Len attended Yorketown Area School there are stories of the boys riding a motorbike into town each morning and getting stopped by the police, who would ask for a license. Alf would simply reply ‘I left it at home’, although he was only about 14 and far too young to have his license (R Slade, 2020). When Alf approached year 10, he applied to be an inaugural student at Urrbrae Agricultural School in which he was accepted. To this day, there is a tree dedicated to Alf at Urrbrae as a memorial of the time he served in WWII. Alf attended Urrbrae in years 10 and 11 to then return home on the family farm with a dream to breed Clydesdale horses (Stockings. 2020). 


Alfred was known to be an exceptional sportsman and captained the Stansbury A Grade football team from 1937 to 1938, winning two premierships (R Slade, 2020) [figure B.1 & B.2]. In 1937 Alf was awarded both the Best and Fairest for the Stansbury club and the ‘mail medal’ which was a great achievement in those days (R Slade,2020). The mail medal was awarded to the best and fairest player in the association [figure C]. Before the Second World War began, Alf began training with the Sturt Football Club, as he had relatives who played for the club. Alf played as a dominant centre half back (R Slade. 2020). 


On the 7th of December, 1940 in Adelaide- South Australia Alf enlisted to join the war effort. After training in both Australia and England to join the airforce, he joined the 206th squadron in Aldergrove and was later posted to the 38th squadron in Alexandria, Egypt,  where he was situated before being reported missing (Royal Australian Air Force Statement of Service, 2020). 


Alf began his training in Adelaide before leaving for Victoria. Here he trained in Somers, Ballarat, Evans Head and later Sydney before enduring the journey by ship over to the United Kingdom (Royal Australian Air Force Statement of Service, 2020). Here Alf continued his training in Uxbridge, Prestwick and Silloth. Once completing training, he was posted all around South Africa and Europe before eventually settling in Egypt with squadron 38 (Royal Australian Air Force Statement of Service, 2020). Here on the southern coast of Egypt, Alf and his comrades would endure some of the most treacherous and heartbreaking years of their lives. 


Coastal Egypt exhibits a very hot and windy climate, however, this often dropped to extremely low temperatures at nightfall, making nights long and uncomfortable for soldiers (Tour Egypt, 2020). Alf and fellow soldiers lived on the dry soil in canvas tents, held down by ropes and sandbags [figure D]. 


Due to these perilous conditions and the Axis’ dramatic incline across the Mediterranean, most attacks made in attempt to counteract the enemy had to be done during the night (Stockings, 2020). Piloting and dropping torpedoes in this area of Europe was one of the most dangerous and scary duties the Australian air force had to partake in, mostly due to the design and infrastructure of the Wellington bomber [figure E]. The slow, unwieldy, twin engine plane was far too vulnerable by day (Virtual War Memorial, 2020), nonetheless necessary for the long range night operations Alf attended to. The Wellington bomber is described to be ‘as slow as your push bike’ (Stockings, 2020), illustrating how dangerous this aircraft would be to fly if a fighter plane attacked.  These bomber planes patrolled shipping lanes all throughout the night and used flares to illuminate enemy convoys before evidently blowing them up, when possible (Virtual War Memorial, 2020). This idea was initially very popular as it was very hard for the enemy to spot the Wellington bomber in the dark, however, once the Axis found out that squadron 38 was located somewhere on the southern coast, they began to ensure fighter planes escorted ships full of supplies (Virtual War Memorial, 2020). 


The process of  torpedoes releasing onto incoming enemy cargo ships was a very difficult procedure and required a very accomplished pilot to warrant accuracy and to avoid collision with the ocean (Virtual War Memorial, 2020). Torpedos had to be dropped approximately 70 feet above sea level so naturally, there was a great risk of pilots crashing into the sea (Virtual War Memorial, 2020). It was almost impossible to make out where the dark colour of the Aegean sea met the night sky with no lights except the occasional flare. These were used to illuminate enemy convoys, so it was not unusual if the pilot misinterpreted the altitude leading the aircraft to collide with the ocean. Therefore making these missions extremely high risk and dangerous (Virtual War Memorial, 2020). Whilst in Egypt, this was one of the many treacherous tasks Alf had to attend to. 


‘The Wellington Aircraft XIII HZ 603 departed Nicosia at 1827 hours on the 27th of October, 1943 carrying Flight Sergeant Dubbery, Lieutenant CL Garlick, Flight Officer DR Walton, Flight Sergeants AB Slade, Barnes, McCord and Haworth for offensive operations in the Aegean and return to base at Berga III. No further news was received of the aircraft. All crew officially presumed “dead” 27 October, 1943’ [figure F] (Royal Australian Air Force Statement of Service, 2020). 


The cause of Alf’s death is an event which will never be proven as certain, unless the bomber can be located and explored as there were no known survivors of the accident. Although, we ponder the possibility that he and his comrades were on a reconnaissance mission to find out more about the Axis current front line status and camp, they were shot down by a fighter jet somewhere over the middle of the Aegean sea, this is not necessarily accurate (M Slade, 2020). Because it was approaching night time it is also possible that the pilot simply collided with the ocean upon misreading circumstances of the altitude, or even ran out of fuel. Unfortunately, we may never find out the true reason the Wellington Aircraft XIII HZ 603 went down on the fateful evening of October 27. 


When Alf was officially reported ‘missing in action’ on the 27th of October, 1943 it wasn’t only the Slade family that was left devastated. His death affected the entire Southern Yorke Peninsula community. Alf was described as quite the character, one with a fiery temper yet a kind heart (R Slade, 2020). He was a real ‘goer’, he was an optimistic guy who wouldn't let things get him down, and notably a friend to all (Stockings, 2020). 


Len disappeared for a number of days and could not be found when he heard Alf was missing (R Slade, 2020). Alf was not only Len’s brother, he was his best friend. Alf was a positive role model, and Len looked up to his older brother in a way he could never look up to anyone else (R Slade. 2020). Molly waited her entire life for Alf to walk through the kitchen door, although he never did (Stockings. 2020). Even my own Grandfather, although being too young to ever meet Alf used to dream as a boy that he had survived, but simply had amnesia and would come home one day (R Slade, 2020). It is quite evident that Alfred Byrne has influenced several generations, and will continue to hold that heritage for years to come. 


Alf was a friend, a son, a brother, an uncle and a country South Australian who risked and gave his life in honour of his country, his community and his family [figure G]. Alf is an inspiration to me and many other future generations as the tasks and circumstances he undertook truly represented the characteristics of the Anzac spirit, courage and perseverance. 

 

Bibliography:

 

Interviews 

P. Stockings, personal communication, 2pm May 16, 2020. 

R. Slade, personal communication, 12.15pm May 16, 2020.

M. Slade, personal communication, 5.30pm May 18, 2020. 

 

Books 

Fuller, L 1955, Aston Tirrold And Upthorpe, privately printed, England. 

Unknown, 1533, The Slade Family of Thorpe Farm Aston. Upthorpe, unknown, England. 

Unknown, 1954, The war dead of the British Commonwealth and Empire, Imperial War Graves Commision, London. 

 

Websites

Australian War Memorial 2020, Anzac spirit ¬ The Australian War Memorial, Australian War Memorial, viewed 14 May 2020, <https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/encyclopedia/anzac/spirit>. 

 

History 2020, World War II: Summary, Combatants & Facts, A&E Television Networks, viewed 14 May 2020, <https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/world-war-ii-history>.

 

Primary Homework Help 2020, World War Two (WW2) for Kids, Britain Since the 1930s, Mandy Barrow, viewed 4 May 2020, <http://www.primaryhomeworkhelp.co.uk/Britain.html>.

 

Statement of Service, Australia.

 

Tour Egypt 2020, Egypt Weather and Climate, AKN Solutions, viewed 12 May 2020, <http://www.touregypt.net/climate.htm>.

 

Virtual War Memorial Australia 2020, Alfred Byrne SLADE, Virtual War Memorial LTD, viewed 12 May 2020, <https://vwma.org.au/explore/people/515548>.

 

Virtual War Memorial Australia 2020, No. 38 Squadron (RAF), Virtual War Memorial LTD, viewed 13 May 2020, <https://vwma.org.au/explore/units/909>.

 

 

 

 

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