416269 Flight Lieutenant Thomas Henry McGOVERN DFC
Thomas Henry McGOVERN was born in Adelaide on 25 November 1921, the son of Thomas James McGOVERN MM, a World War One veteran, and Mrs Alice Edith McGOVERN (nee Jacob) of Victor Harbor. Tom was educated at Victor Harbor Primary School and the local Convent of Mercy School, and later undertook his secondary education as a boarder at Rostrevor College in Adelaide. He completed his secondary education in 1937, and commenced employment with Executor Trustee & Agency Company Ltd and enrolled at the University of Adelaide as a part-time student studying commerce.
Tom enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve in July 1940. On 28 April 1941, aged 19, Tom was called up for fulltime service in the RAAF. He commenced his air cadet training at No. 4 Initial Training School (ITS) at Mt. Breckan, Victor Harbor. The course determined which trainees would be suitable for further training as pilots, observers or air gunners. Tom was selected for pilot training and on 26 June 1941, he was with No. 1 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) at Parafield, South Australia where the students trained in Tiger Moths.
On 18 September 1941, Tom and his fellow airmen embarked on the SS Monterey, for advanced training with No. 14 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) at the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) station at Aylmer, Ontario, Canada. After disembarkation at San Francisco on 7 October 1941, the airmen travelled by train to Aylmer. Tom and his fellow students trained on Harvard II trainers. Flying training continued to be hazardous. A number of students and instructors were killed in flying accidents. The Course concluded on 13 February 1942 when the graduates were presented with their wings and Tom was promoted to the rank of Sergeant Pilot.
Tom and his fellow airmen embarked on the troopship RMS Orion from Canada on 28 February 1942 and arrived at Greenoch, Scotland on 10 March 1942. During the voyage the Orion was attacked by a German U-boat but the ship’s crew managed not only to drive off the enemy, but believed they had sunk the attacker with the skilled use of depth charges which the Orion was equipped with.
After further training Tom was posted to a Hurricane squadron and on one altitude training flight the Hurricane engine caught fire at 28,000 feet. Using skilful side-slipping maneuvers, Tom managed to execute a wheels-down landing at his airfield. During this time he met General Eisenhower. Tom was later posted to 195 and then 181 RAF Squadrons, both equipped with Typhoons, a plane equipped with rocket firing projectiles. He undertook many hazardous missions against enemy targets in France in the lead up to the Normandy invasion.
During the Normandy invasion, Tom featured prominently in actions against enemy dispositions, and undertook numerous sorties against gun emplacements, transport columns and panzer formations. His flying skills saved his life on many occasions, for during those missions over 150 Typhoon pilots were killed in action. He was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for his bravery and coolness under fire.
On 19 March 1945, whilst on a mission over Germany his Typhoon was hit by AA fire and he was forced to make an emergency landing in enemy territory. He became a prisoner of war and was liberated when Patton’s army overran Stalag Luft VIIA.
Tom was demobilised on 12 December 1945. He studied law and later married Lola Joyce Fitzgerald and there were six children of the marriage.
He became a prominent solicitor and barrister and was later appointed as a judge to the Family Court of Australia. In 2005, Tom was awarded the French Legion of Honour by His Excellency Mr. Francis Descoueyte, French Ambassador to Australia, in recognition of his wartime service in the liberation of France in 1944.
Tom’s cousins Kevin NIGHTINGALE and his brother Howard NIGHTINGALE, both served in the armed forces during the Second World War. Kevin (born 20 December 1916), served in the Royal Australian Air Force as 407064 Flight Lieutenant K NIGHTINGALE. His younger brother Howard (born 30 August 1919), served as SX9755 Private H NIGHTINGALE; he died whilst a POW of the Japs on 3 October 1944, at Yokohama, Japan.
Thomas Henry McGOVERN DFC died on 11 January 2013, age 91.
Service file of 416269 Thomas Henry McGOVERN DFC purchased from the National Archives of Australia (https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/DetailsReports/ItemDetail.aspx?Barcode=5243935&isAv=N).
Meetings with Hon. Justice TH McGOVERN DFC, May-July 2011.
Compiled by the Victor Harbor RSL History Research Team, July 2012.