Peter Aird FRASER


FRASER, Peter Aird

Service Number: 413756
Enlisted: 13 September 1941, Sydney, New South Wales
Last Rank: Flight Sergeant
Last Unit: No. 78 Squadron (RAF)
Born: Harden, New South Wales, 21 May 1921
Home Town: Killara, Sydney, New South Wales
Schooling: Sydney CofE Grammar (Shore School)
Occupation: Junior Chemist
Died: Killed in Action (flying battle), Germany, 30 July 1943, aged 22 years
Cemetery: Hamburg Cemetery, Germany
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour
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World War 1 Service

13 Sep 1941: Enlisted Royal Australian Air Force, Aircraftman 2 (WW2), SN 413756, Sydney, New South Wales

World War 2 Service

30 Jul 1943: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Flight Sergeant, SN 413756, No. 78 Squadron (RAF), Air War NW Europe 1939-45

Help us honour Peter Aird Fraser's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by Anthony Vine

Flight Sergeant Peter Aird Fraser

Peter Fraser was a twenty-year-old junior chemist from Killara, Sydney when he enlisted in the RAAF in September 1941. The only child of Lieutenant Colonel Keith Fraser[1] and Muriel Fraser (née Hopkins), Peter was born in Harden, NSW, where his father was a state government railway engineer. Keith Fraser served in the AIF in the Great War as a lieutenant and, at the time of his son’s enlistment in 1941, he was serving with the 2nd AIF in the Middle East.

Peter was educated at Sydney Church of England Grammar School in North Sydney and at North Sydney Technical High School. At the time of his enlistment, he was employed by the Atlantic Union Company.

After his enlistment, Peter completed his initial training at 2 ITS at Bradfield Park  before commencing his pilot training on 11 December 1941 at 5 EFTS in Narromine. He completed his elementary training on 22 February 1942, returning to Narromine in March to undertake refresher training while awaiting transport to Canada.

Peter sailed from Sydney on the SS President Monroe on 24 April, landing in San Francisco on 15 May and arriving in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada three days later. He then moved on to 10 SFTS in Dauphin, Manitoba to commence training on the Cessna Crane and to qualify as a pilot of multi-engine aircraft.

At Dauphin, Peter, along with most of the other younger men, enjoyed the opportunity to go to the nearby   Hotel at Clear Lake to get away from the base and to enjoy a beer or two. In his diary, Bill Gunning records one such trip. On a Friday night, he and Peter got somewhat merry at Clear Lake before attending a local dance. They returned to the base the next morning, only to immediately head into town to have a feed, a shop and to attend another dance. Like many of their mates, they were living for the day and not thinking too much of what lay ahead.

Peter graduated as a pilot and was promoted to sergeant on 25 September 1942. He was chosen to undertake training on the Ventura medium bomber at 34 OTU at Pennfield Ridge, New Brunswick. However, in mid-October because of a shortage of training aircraft at Pennfield Ridge, this posting was changed and, along with thirteen other members of his course, he embarked on the RMS Queen Elizabeth in Halifax, Nova Scotia, bound for the United Kingdom. He sailed on 31 October and disembarked in Gourock, Scotland on 4 November before travelling overnight by train to 11 PDRC in Bournemouth.

After eight weeks in Bournemouth, Peter posted to 11 AFU(P) at RAF Shawbury in Shropshire to commence advanced flying training on the Anson aircraft. On completion of this training, he proceeded to 24 OTU at RAF Honeybourne. He was promoted to flight sergeant on 25 March, and seems to have engaged in some celebration. Four days later, he was convicted of being absent without leave for thirty-three hours and fined two days’ pay.

At the OTU, Peter would form the crew with whom he would fly on operations. After successfully completing the course in May 1943, they commenced conversion training for the Halifax bomber at 1658 HCU at Marsden Moor, North Yorkshire.

On 21 June, Peter and his crew joined No. 78 Squadron RAF at RAF Breighton in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Peter was the only Australian in his crew. He flew with three Canadians; F-O Ralph Baillie (BA),[2] F-Sgt Bill Hetherington (N)[3] and Sgt Gerald Woodcock(AG),[4] two Englishmen; Sgt Bill Goodacre (WO/AG)[5] and Sgt Tom Campbell (AG)[6] and a Welshman, Sgt Jim Nicholls (FE).[7] At twenty-two, Peter was the second youngest member of the crew. The oldest was Bill Goodacre, a twenty-nine-year-old Yorkshireman.

Breighton was just 40 kilometres from RAF Leconfield where Bill Gunning, Peter’s drinking mate from Dauphin, and Gordon Colless were based. At some stage over the next month the dreadful news that both men were missing on operations would have filtered through to Peter.

The exact number of missions Peter flew is not known. However, over the next five weeks, 78 Squadron would participate in at least eleven raids, and Peter and his crew would have flown on most if not all of those missions. The German targets included Essen, Aachen, Gelsenkirchen, Wuppertal, Mülheim and Cologne, and there was a French target as well, Sochaux where there was a large industrial complex manufacturing automobiles. The attrition rate was horrendous. In just thirty-six days, the squadron lost thirteen aircraft, fifty-two aircrew were killed and a further nineteen men were taken prisoner.

On the afternoon of 29 July 1943, the crews were mustered for a briefing. A loud groan went around the room when the evening’s target was revealed to be Hamburg. It was to be a repeat of a raid two nights before, part of Operation Gomorrah.[8] Gomorrah created one of the largest bombing firestorms in the European theatre, killing 42,600 civilians, wounding 37,000 and destroying large parts of the city.

Peter and his crew departed Breighton in Halifax JB 898, P for Peter, at 2211 on 29 July, bound for Germany. In the early hours of 30 July, their aircraft was shot down by anti-aircraft fire near the town of Bad Oldesloe, twenty kilometres south-west of Lübeck. Peter and all his crew were killed. A second 78 Squadron Halifax crashed into the North Sea on its return from the raid, killing all of the crew.

In Australia, Peter’s parents were informed on 2 August that he was missing. Keith Fraser had just been discharged from the AIF on medical grounds. For the next few months, they had to endure the frustration of not knowing what had happened to their only child, with hope diminishing every day. Finally, in February 1944, they were advised that a report had been received from Germany that Peter was dead.

Peter and his crew were buried in a collective grave in the civilian cemetery in Bad Oldesloe. After the war, they were exhumed and positive identifications were made of the remains of Tom Campbell and Gerald Woodcock. Peter and the remaining four members were reburied side by side in Hamburg, and their graves marked accordingly.

Keith Fraser returned to work. Shortly before his death in 1952, he was appointed Chief Commissioner of the NSW Railways. Muriel, having lost her husband and her only child, continued to live in Killara until her death in 1971.

Flight Sergeant Peter Aird Fraser, RAAF and his crew are buried in the Hamburg War Cemetery.

[1] Lt Col Keith Aird Fraser, OBE, AIF (4 Div Eng) and 2nd AIF (HQ Railway Construction Unit), railway engineer of Killara NSW; b. Sydney NSW 9 Jan 1893; d. Sydney, 23 Aug 1952.
[2] F-O Ralph Cameron Baillie, J/17942, RCAF; KIA 30 Jul 1943.
[3] F-Sgt William Moffatt Tattersall Hetherington, R/132100, RCAF; KIA 30 Jul 1943.
[4] Sgt Gerald Harvey Woodcock, R/140867, RCAF; of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada: KIA 30 Jul 1943, aged 24.
[5] Sgt William Ernest Goodacre, 1207073, RAFVR; of Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK; KIA 30 Jul 1943, aged 29.
[6] Sgt Thomas Campbell, 548217, RAF; of Ewell, Surrey, UK; KIA 30 Jul 1943, aged 25.
[7] Sgt James Robert Nicholls, 1413556, RAFVR; of Fairwater, Wales; KIA 30 Jul 1943, aged 21.
[8] Vernon Holland, Nobody Unprepared:  The History of 78 Squadron. p. 119.