William Desmond (Buff) CHEESE


CHEESE, William Desmond

Service Number: 408046
Enlisted: 15 August 1940
Last Rank: Sergeant
Last Unit: No. 460 Squadron (RAAF)
Born: Currie, King Island, Tasmania, Australia , 13 July 1921
Home Town: Currie, King Island, Tasmania
Schooling: King Island, Tasmania, Australia
Occupation: Insurance Clerk
Died: Prisoner of War, Netherlands, 20 July 1942, aged 21 years
Cemetery: Bergen-op-Zoom War Cemetery, Netherlands
Plot 3, Row D, Grave 5 Headstone Inscription "STILL ON ACTIVE SERVICE"
Memorials: King Island Cenotaph
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World War 2 Service

15 Aug 1940: Enlisted Royal Australian Air Force, Aircraftman, SN 408046
20 Jul 1942: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Sergeant, SN 408046, No. 460 Squadron (RAAF)

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

Biography contributed by David Rafferty

King Island’s Buff Cheese

This is a true story of a young man who grew up at Naracoopa in the 1920’s, in a family that is no longer resident on the Island. He served in the RAAF during the early years of World War 11 and was one of the few Australians who served in the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command. This was just after Great Britain had faced her darkest hour from a Nazi invasion.

Being an ex-serviceman, I was touched when Col Lancaster told me about the Cheese family and his memories of William Desmond Cheese.

‘He was my cousin and I always knew him as ‘Buff ’, occasionally ‘Desmond’, but never as William. He was six years older than me and was born on 13 July 1921, in Currie. His parents were Arthur Reginald Cheese and wife Elsie Isabella, nee Lightfoot; my mother’s sister. Buff also had a younger sister Mary and brother Kenneth,’ said Col.

‘Their father, always known as Jimmy, was a WW1 veteran and for many years, the postmaster at Naracoopa. The Cheese’s home was on, what is now Rankins Road, near the Fraser River, and was rebuilt in 1939 after the fires.

‘Buff was very keen on fishing and swimming as he lived close to the sea. Because our families lived relatively close to each other, we caught up quite often with the Cheese family at Naracoopa. The reason we went there was that their only transport was a horse and dray.

‘I can’t remember playing with Buff that much, but this was probably because he was sent to the Hobart State High School as a boarder, around the age of 12.

‘He had attended the school at Naracoopa when his father was the President of the Parent’s Association. When Buff completed his schooling in Hobart, he tried farming on King Island for a while,” Col said.

‘In September 1939 Buff joined the Volunteer Defence Corps and was stationed with about 12 other men at the Cable Station, still standing near the mouth of the Fraser River.

‘The Station was important because of communications as this is where the newly laid undersea cable to the Tasmanian mainland came in. So, they kept a good guard on it.

‘Buff enlisted in the RAAF in 1940 and eventually went off to England. I’m sure my parents would have known that Buff had become a Prisoner of War and was in hospital.

 ‘But when the news came through of his death, we were all shocked. Just as we were starting to come to grips with it, my older brother Jack, died the following year when his RAAF Catalina crashed in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

‘In the 1950’s the Cheese family moved to Victoria and never returned to King Island, except for visits. Mary became a singer and used the name Mary Desmond, probably in memory of her eldest brother.

I think Ken also joined the RAAF, but this was after the war. I remember Buff as a trustworthy person, didn’t get into too much mischief, and tried to do his best.’

When interviewing Col his respect for Buff was obvious. But I sensed a feeling of sadness that he didn’t know more about a young man who lost his life, so early and so far from King Island.

While Buff ’s name is on the Island’s World War II Honour Board, I doubt very few on the island would remember him. With this in mind the research started to find out more about him.

All World War I veterans’ files are online, but for the next war the process is just starting. Fortunately in May, while in Canberra, arrangements were made with National Archives to access the file of Number 408046, Sergeant Cheese, William Desmond, Air Crew Gunner of 460 Squadron RAAF.

His file comprises a series of approximately A3 sized sheets, concisely placed. Entries are brief and full of abbreviations as you would expect. But if you spend the time, the content is invaluable and allows the reader to grasp events from so long ago.

Buff applied to join the RAAF on 13 March 1940, aged 18 and his father signed giving approval for him to serve. The two responsible persons who signed as referees were Captains R. Hooper, the Island’s Warden, and A. Bertram, the businessman. Buff was obviously well regarded as both men had served in World War I, and were prominent members in the Island community. Albert Bertram was also the President of the Rifle Club and the Captain in charge of the Island’s VDC.

Buff was 5’ 10 1/4” (1.78 m), weighed 10 stone six pounds (66 kg) and could expand his chest 8 cm. His interests were swimming, rowing, running and jumping and noted that he belonged to the Currie Rifle Club.

Although a war was on, due process had to be followed. Buff being in agriculture had to be manpowered cleared and this was signed off on the 11 April. On 15 August 1940 Buff was enlisted and four days later was undergoing training at Number 1 Initial Training School in Somers, Victoria. At the end of the course, a month later, he must have impressed and was promoted to Leading Aircraftsman. A succession of courses followed where he was trained in wireless operation and gunnery, and on 20 July 1941 was in England as a Sergeant.

Buff ’s RAAF Flying Log Book survived the War and is in the safe keeping of a niece in Victoria. This contains far more details on his service with Bomber Command than his personal file. By October 1941 he was at 20 Operational Training Unit in Lossiemouth, Scotland with nearly 80 hours of flying completed. This also included a stint at a nearby field with the unforgettable name of ‘The Bogs of Mayne’!

In January 1942 he was with Number 460 Australian Operational Squadron at the quaintly named Breighton, Satellite of Holmeon-Spalding-Moor Aerodrome in Yorkshire, England. His first bombing mission over Germany was in the evening of 12 March 1942 where he was the front turret gunner and dropped six 500 pound high explosive bombs. By 30 May 1942 he had completed 13 bombing missions, but his luck ran out two days later.

On 1 June Wellington Bomber number Z1344, under the command of Flight Lieutenant Holland with Buff in the front turret, took off from Yorkshire.The log book has the handwritten words in red pen ‘for OPS – Essen FAILED TO RETURN’. He nearly had 300 hours of flying time.

After bombing Essen their plane was shot down, by German anti-aircraft artillery, over the Dutch coast near Bergen-Op-Zoom and ditched into the sea with the crew of six. On 6 June the Air Board in Melbourne was notified that the plane and crew were missing. Following normal procedures, the RAAF opened a Casualty Evacuation File for each crew member. Buff ’s file has survived, and records the final days of his life as a POW in a hospital.

One of the first notifications was to his father, his next of kin, by Telegram. Being the postmaster at Naracoopa, he had to first lodge the document and then sign and return it to the Air Board.

A few days later there was a notification that Buff was wounded, that his right leg had been amputated below the knee, but he was progressing satisfactorily and is being well treated.

This gave the family some hope, but all was dashed when the Air Board sent another telegram on 24 August stating that Buff had died almost a month ago on Monday 20 July 1942. This was one week after his 21st birthday, just over 77 years ago.

Father Jimmy never gave up hope and there follows a series of his letters including advice that Buff had managed to send a letter to his uncle in England and might be still alive. However, the Red Cross did investigate but sadly for the family the initial notification was confirmed. The toll on the Cheese family in the small village of Naracoopa can only be imagined.

Undoubtedly, not displaying his overwhelming sadness and grief, Jimmy wrote a letter to the Air Board on 28 August 1942 where he expressed the family’s appreciation to them, as well as a touching tribute to his son in the second paragraph: There is one satisfaction, although a small one, and that is that we know he did his best and gave all for us who are left behind.

William Desmond Cheese is buried at Bergen-Op-Zoom War Cemetery in Noord Brabant, Netherlands, in 3.D.5; one of 1190 casualties. Recently, a photograph of his headstone was placed on the Island’s Facebook Page. Buff is one of many King Islanders who served their nation and paid the ultimate sacrifice in conflicts far away from our shores. We shall never forget them.

When I visit Naracoopa, whether on the Jetty or along the Esplanade, I observe the young teens of the village fully enjoying life, with a freedom of spirit and adventure that other places would be envious of. I see a little bit of Buff in them all and find solace in the thought that this is how he grew up when the world was at peace.

Less than 20 years after Buff ’s death, the Australian Army Training Team deployed to South Vietnam. This was the start of an involvement that would last until 1973 with a number of King Islanders serving in that war. Sunday 18 August is Vietnam Veterans Day and the King Island RSL Sub branch is holding a service commencing at 11am in the War Memorial Park. A list of Islanders is being prepared and if you know of someone who served in SVN please contact the KI Courier editor. You are most welcome to attend the service and remember those who served. —GARY BARKER.

This article first appeared in the King Island Courier on 7 August 2019. It appears by permission of Gary Barker and of the Editor.


Biography contributed by Daryl Jones

Son of Arthur Reginald and Elsie Isabelle CHEESE, of King Island, Australia.