407098 Flight Lieutenant William (Bill) Thomas CARROLL DFC
William Thomas CARROLL was born at Renmark on 22 September 1916, the second of five children of William Henry CARROLL and Gwendoline Carroll (nee BARNETT).
Bill was living at Victor Harbor and employed as truck driver and serving with the 18th Light Horse (Machine Gun) Regiment when he enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force on 27 May 1940. Bill had been with the militia unit for about 26 months. He was immediately mustered as aircrew and sent to No 1 Wireless & Air Gunnery School (WAGS) at Ballarat for training as a wireless operator/air gunner. Bill graduated from there on 29 July and was posted to No 1 Armament Training Station (ATS) at Cressy, Vic. After four weeks, Bill was posted to No 1 Bombing and Gunnery School (BAGS) at Evans Head, NSW.
On 16 December 1940, Bill was sent to No 4 Embarkation depot (ED), granted some pre-embarkation leave prior to embarking overseas on 26 January 1941. By now a sergeant, Bill and his fellow airmen sailed to San Francisco, where the airmen then entrained to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to await the next available convoy to England. Arriving in the UK on 23 April 1941, Bill then travelled to No 3 Personnel Reception Centre (PRC) at Bournemouth.
Three days later he was posted to the newly formed No 23 Operational Training Unit (OTU) at RAF Pershore, as part of No 6 Group RAF. No 23 OTU was responsible for training night bomber crews using the Vickers Wellington. This is where Bill and his fellow crewmembers formed up. The process of “forming up” basically involved all the airmen mingling in a hangar and each man sought out other airmen – a pilot, navigator, air gunners, bomber aimers – to form a single aircraft crew consisting of six men. From 23 OTU, Bill and his fellow airmen were posted to No 15 OTU at RAF Harwell. This unit trained aircrews in overseas aircraft ferrying.
On 29 June 1941, Bill and his fellow crewmen were posted to Middle East Command (MEC); they flew to Egypt where they joined No 37 Squadron at RAF Shallufa, near Port Tewfik. The Squadron was equipped with Vickers Wellington 1C twin-engine bombers. On 1 September 1941, Bill was promoted to Flight Sergeant.
Bill and his fellow crewmembers undertook many bombing raids against Axis forces in North Africa, Crete and enemy held islands in the Mediterranean. Casualties amongst the aircrews were high. Bill quickly became a skilled air gunner and his quick reflexes saved his aircraft on many occasions during confrontations with enemy Heinkels and Dorniers.
During this time, the Squadrons flew in support of the besieged Allied troops at Tobruk, the siege later ended in November 1941.
A ‘tour’ for an airman was 60 operational missions and few would be lucky enough to survive. In July 1942, Bill returned to England, sailing aboard the SS Largs Bay, he was posted to 10 OTU at RAF Abington (Oxfordshire) as an instructor. Three months later, he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer. On 29 March 1943, he was posted to No 1663 Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU), based at RAF Rufforth in North Yorkshire for four-engine bomber training. The Heavy Conversion Units began forming in late 1941 to qualify crews trained on medium bombers to operate the heavy bombers prior to assignment to an Operational Training Unit to gain experience before final posting to the operational squadrons.
One month later, Bill was posted to 102 Squadron RAF, a unit equipped with the four-engine Halifax bomber. Night after night, the Squadron flew in missions over Germany, often taking part in the “1,000 bomber raids”. It was during his tour with 102 Squadron that he later learned he had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He had been promoted to Flying Officer on 1 April 1943.
On 15 November 1943, Bill was posted to No 11 Personnel Despatch and Receiving Centre (PDRC), Bournemouth for return to Australia. Whilst waiting for a western-bound convoy, Bill was detached to RAF Station Eastchurch. An RAF Coastal Command station, the base was on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent and was used by No 124 and 401 Spitfire Squadrons who were tasked to escort the bombers to their targets over Europe. In early March 1944, Bill boarded a ship bound for New York, disembarking there on 11 March. He then travelled by train to San Francisco, embarking for Australia on 26 March. Sailing across the Pacific on one of the fast liners, probably the Mariposa or Montery, the ships often sailed without naval escorts as they could outrun enemy submarines. One month later he arrived in Sydney. After a stint of leave, Bill was posted to the Central Gunnery School, Cressy, Victoria. Two months later, he was detached to No 7 Operational Training Unit at Tocumwal as an instructor. At this time, a new schedule for aircrew training was issued, which provided for an intake of 18 crews to commence training in September 1944, 27 crews to commence in October 1944, and an intake of 27 crews every four weeks thereafter.
On 19 March 1945, Bill was posted to the Air Gunnery School at West Sale. He remained there for three months when following a medical re-assessment by the Central Medical Board he was posted to the RAAF’s Admin & Special Duties Branch. Following some hospitalisation and rehabilitation, Bill was discharged on 10 September 1945.
Bill later married Clementina (Clem) Rita CLARKE, there were three children of the marriage – Michael, Ray and Josephine. Bill and Clem moved to Victor Harbor where Bill managed guest-houses and later conducted a carrying service for many years.
Bill CARROLL died on 1 August 1966, age 49, of war-related causes. He is interred in the Victor Harbor Cemetery.
Editor’s notes – Bill’s younger sister Doreen married local soldier W.L. (Bill) COX, whilst another sister, Gwen, married Victor Harbor soldier Ross BURDON.
A copy of Bill’s log book is held in the Clubrooms.
Compiled by the Victor Harbor RSL History Research Team, April 2011.