CUMMINGS, Pilot Officer Max Keiran (408904)

Studio portrait of 408904 Pilot Officer Max Keiran Cummings, the photographer was Rembrandt Studios, Adelaide; from the Peter Cummings family collection. 

Max Keiran Cummings was born at Goulburn, NSW on 1 April 1913, the fourth of five children of Edwin Joseph Cummings and Lizzie Florence Cummings (nee Salmon). He was educated at Brighton Road State School after the family moved to Melbourne. Max was 28 years of age and farming at Colac when he enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force on 20 June 1941. He was mustered for air cadet training and posted to No 1 Initial Training School (ITS) at Mt Breckan, Victor Harbor. He achieved good passes and was mustered for pilot training and underwent flying training at No 1 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) at Parafield from October 1941 to February 1942 and then was drafted for twin-engine aircraft training at No 6 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) at Mallala. Max was awarded his flying badge on 30 April 1942.

During his time at Mount Breckan, Max met local girl Kathleen Harrold and after a courtship they married on 2 April 1942 in Victor Harbor. On 2 July 1942, Max embarked from Sydney aboard one of the American liners and sailed to the United Kingdom via the United States.

On arrival in England Max was processed through the RAAF Personnel Reception Centre in Bournemouth prior to his posting to No 11 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit at Shawbury, where he trained on Airspeed Oxfords.  In early December 1942 Max was posted to No 16 Operational Training Unit at Upper Heyford. The OTU’s brought the airmen together to form an aircrew. 

On 6 April 1943, Max and his fellow airmen were at 1661 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Waddington. These units trained the men in the operation and handling of the four-engine heavy bombers that were replacing the RAF’s twin-engine bomber aircraft. Max received his commission as pilot officer on 22 April and on 15 May, he was posted to No 467 Squadron RAAF, at Bottesford. This Squadron was equipped with Avro Lancasters. During his short stay with 467 Squadron, Max flew four missions over enemy-held Europe; to Dortmund, Dusseldorf, Essen and Wuppertal. On 7 June 1943, Max was posted to 83 Squadron RAF, a Pathfinder unit. 

The Pathfinder Force (PFF) were the target-marking squadrons of RAF Bomber Command and flew ahead of the bomber streams. They marked their targets with incendiaries and flares and in order to obtain accuracy, the pilots chosen for PFF were considered above average or experienced pilots. Max’s flying skills were high enough that he qualified for this line of hazardous flying. On the night of 16-17 June Max and his crew flew their first mission with the Squadron. They formed part of an attacking force of 212 aircraft that were dispatched of which only 179 aircraft managed to attack the target of Cologne (Koln). In all 656 tons of bombs were dropped and 15 aircraft were lost, each with a crew of seven. One Lancaster III from 83 Squadron was lost of which two crewmen were killed and five became POW’s. 

The next night, Max and his crew took off from RAF Wyton at 1010 hours in Lancaster ED439 OL-N on a training flight; there were nine airmen on board including two ground crew. 

Bad weather with low cloud forced all crews to return to base. Max’s aircraft had one engine on fire and as he attempted an emergency landing one wing clipped a farm building near and the Lancaster crashed killing all aboard.

Max was buried with full air force honours at Grantham Cemetery. His only child Peter Harrold Cummings had been born on 12 March 1943.


Service file of 408904 Max Keiran CUMMINGS purchased from the National Archives of Australia.

Flying Log Book of 408904 Max Keiran CUMMINGS which Peter CUMMINGS allowed us to photocopy for the Victor Harbor RSL’s library collection.

Various miltiaria, correspondence and artefacts from the collection of Peter CUMMINGS. All the photographs shown here are from Peter’s collection.

Cheryl Glowrey and Brian Cummings, Courageous Heritage – A Cummings Family History, published by Cheryl Glowrey (1994), printed by South Gippsland Publishing Company, form the Peter Cummings collection.

October 1941 – the graduate class at No 4 Initial Training School (ITS), Mt Breckan, Victor Harbor; Max is in the front row, fourth from left.
April 1942 – the pilot graduates at No 6 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) at Mallala. No 6 SFTS was for pilots who were mustered for twin-engine aircraft training. Max is most likely in the second row, eighth from left.
RAAF pennant with a story to tell ….

We believe that at the end of the Mt Breckan training course, Max had fellow students autograph the pennant that you see here. Most of their names were then embroidered on it. What is of interest to us is that two of the airmen had a direct connection with Victor Harbor.

Max married a local lady, Kathleen Harrold. Kathleen continued to reside in Victor Harbor whilst Max progressed further with his flight training. The other local airman was Alan Joseph Lyall Sedunary, who name appears on the extreme right side of the pennant.

Portrait of Alan Joseph Lyall SEDUNARY, from the collection of the late Geoff SEDUNARY

Alan, pictured above, was born on 23 December 1922, the eldest son of Alfred Lyall Sedunary and Caroline Agnes Sedunary. He held a single-engine pilot’s licence at the time of his enlistment in the RAAF on 21 July 1941, but was still required to undertake aircrew training. Both Max and Alan underwent their elementary flyin training at No 1 EFTS at (Parafield). For their advanced flying training, Max went to No 6 SFTS at Mallala, whilst Alan went to No 1 SFTS (Point Cook). Both pilots had been mustered for multi-engine aircraft training, which invariably meant they were destined for bomber squadrons. Max embarked from Australia for the UK on 2 July 1942, whilst Alan had sailed on 16 June. They would both be posted to RAF bomber squadrons. 

Alan was posted to 75 Squadron (NZ), which was equipped with Stirling bombers, whilst Max was posted to 467 Squadron RAAF, and then later to 83 Squadron RAF. Alan was killed in a bombing raid over Germany on 24 August 1943.

Other airmen whose names appear on the pennant and identified so far are: 417220 PO Ronald Laing Nicholson (b Port Augusta, 8 Dec 1921), killed in a flying battle over France on 10 Jun 1944; 410588 Flt Lt Albert Leslie Barker (b Bunyip, 14 Jul 1918); 410587 WO Leslie Douglas Aplin (b Brunswick, Vic, 17 Mar 1917); 410610 FO Lloyd James McGrath (b East Melbourne, 7 Mar 1920); 408091 WO Bevis George Thomas (b Deloraine, Tas, 10 Feb 1915); 400763 Sgt Arnold Gregory Welch (b Bright, Vic, 4 Nov 1914), killed in a flying battle over the North Sea on 31 May 1942; 408920 LAC Stanley Livingstone McFarlane (b Melbourne 24 Nov 1919), killed in a flying accident at 6SFTS Mallala on 13 Feb 1942 along with two other cadet pilots; 408906 LAC Birch Oakley Ivor Doherty (b Bairnsdale, 19 May 1916); 408936 Flt Lt Allan Henry Thompson (b Skipton, Vic, 30 Jan 1916); FO James Carlton Lacey (b Melbourne, 5 Jul 1921); 408921 WO Donald John McQueen (b Ballarat, 30 Dec 1915); 408933 WO George Belton Stirling (b Hawthorn, Vic, 12 Jun 1922); 417126 Flt Lt Allan David Stanley (b Adelaide, 8 May 1922); 416879 PO Leith Chandler Mudge (b Streaky Bay, 5 Feb 1919), killed in a flying battle over New Guinea on 21 May 1944; 427694 WO Lloyd Frederic Jennings (b Albany, 9 Jun 1924). The ranks shown are those at their date of death or demobilisation. Note that Barker and Aplin have consecutive serial numbers, as do McQueen and McFarlane.

This is a Wellington twin-engine bomber and is most likely at No 16 Operational Training Unit; Max is on the left.
Various RAAF Pliot’s Badge insignia.
Max’s paybook.
Letter from the Department of Air to Mrs Cummings confirming the death of her husband.
Letter from the RSL Victor Harbour to Mrs Cummings expressing condolences following Max’s death. The letter is signed by SGT Alfred Lyall Sedunary, father of FLT LT Alan Joseph Sedunary DFC, who would be later killed in action during the Battle of Berlin in August 1943.
The medals later issued to Mrs Cummings.
The Memorial Scroll issued post-war to Mrs Cummings.
The Warrant of Commission issued to Max upon his appointment as a Pilot Officer.
This and the following photograph were taken at the funeral of Max and his fellow airmen; the photographs were sent to Mrs CUMMINGS by the Commanding Officer of the RAF Station Wyton.
Program for the dedication of the Roll of Honour at St Augustine’s Church of England, Victor Harbour on March 20th, 1949.
One of Max’s identity discs.
The original Cross on Max’s grave, later replaced by the Portland headstone.
This photograph was taken by Victor Harbor RSL members Ian and Janet MILNES on their visit to Grantham Cemetery on 21 September 2011; it shows the Cross of Sacrifice.
Another view of the Cemetery; there are a number of war graves of both World Wars scattered around this section. Photographed by Ian and Janet MILNES on 21 September 2011.
Gardeners from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission had recently planted new shrubs and flowers and placed the protective plastic netting over the vegetation to protect them from the rabbits.
Plaque at the Victor Harbor Cemetery photographed by Victor Harbor RSL History Research Team member Ian MILNES on 2 March 2010.
These two photographs were taken by Victor Harbor RSL History Research Team member Ian MILNES on 9 November 2010 and show the stained glassed window and memorial plaque in the Newland Memorial Church, Victor Harbor; they were unveiled on 14 March 1948.