407800 Flight Lieutenant Kenneth John NEILL – killed in action on 13 July 1943
Kenneth John NEILL was born in Adelaide on 1 August 1916, the eldest of three children of Arnold NEILL and Effie May NEILL (nee FROST). At this time, we do not know here he was educated,
Ken, as no doubt he was called, was employed as a bank clerk at the Victor Harbor branch of the Savings Bank of South Australia at the time of his enrolment in the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve on 5 July 1940. He was called up for full time service six months later on 6 January 1941; he had “Enlisted for duration of the war and a period of up to twelve months”.
Ken’s first unit was No 4 Initial Training School (ITS) at Victor Harbor. Based in the Mount Breckan estate, this training unit was exclusively for those recruits that were eligible for air cadet training; if a recruit successfully completed the ten week intensive course, he would be mustered either for training as a pilot, air observer (later designated as a navigator) or wireless operator & air gunner. Ken successfully completed his training in late-February 1941 and was mustered for pilot training with a posting to No 1 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) on 6 March 1941. It appears he washed out from pilot training as he was sent back to No 1 ITS for nine days (21 April – 30 April) where he was re-classified for air observer training at No 2 Air Observers School (AOS), Mount Gambier. He successfully completed this course and was assigned for further training at No 2 Bomber and Gunnery School (BAGS), Port Pirie. Upon completion, Ken was posted to No 2 Air Navigation School (ANS), Nhill. On 20 September 1941, Ken was awarded his Air Observer’s Badge.
On 15 October 1941, Ken proceeded on eight days pre-embarkation leave; his next of kin was shown as his father and the family home was situated in Gameau Road, Campbelltown. The day he reported to No 4 Embarkation Depot (ED) on 23 October, he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer. By 8 November 1941, he was at the RAF’s 103rd Maintenance Unit at RAF Station Aboukir, which was situated about 11 kilometres east of Alexandria, Egypt. His next posting (June 1942) was to the 209th RAF Squadron based out of Mombasa, Kenya.
Equipped with Catalinas, the Squadron flew patrols over the Indian Ocean, with detached bases in South Africa, Madagascar, Oman and the Seychelles to extend its cover. His service file records he flew only two sorties with them, the first on 5 July with the last flight on 20 July 1942. On 24 August, Ken was posted 117th RAF Squadron at Bilbeis, Egypt; the Squadron had been re-equipped with Lockheed Hudsons in November 1941. During this time, he was promoted to Flying Officer on 23 April 1942. He remained with them for two weeks prior to a posting to the RAAF’s 458 Squadron at Shallufa. The Squadron had detachments at Gambut, Berca and finally Malta. Equipped with Vickers Wellington MK III’s, the Squadron undertook maritime patrols, convoy escorts and mine laying operations; on 22 April 1943, Ken was promoted to the rank of Acting Flight Lieutenant. In mid-1943, the Squadron was responsible for sinking many ships, including an Italian cruiser and a destroyer. In June 1943, the Squadron deployed to Tunisia. Without sighting Ken’s flying log-book, we are unable to ascertain exact details of the sorties he undertook.
On Monday, 12 July 1943 at 2045 hours, Wellington MP 629 took off from RAF Protville (Tunisia) to carry out an armed search for shipping in the Corsica-North Sardinian area; aboard were eight crewmen – six RCAF, two RAF and one RAAF, Ken was the sole Australian. The aircraft sent a sighting report at approximately 2320 hours but nothing was heard after that and the aircraft failed to return.
Enquiries post-war and interrogation of local inhabitants, a Missing Research and Enquiry Unit reported that the aircraft was shot down and crashed in the sea between Palau and La Maddalena on 13 July 1943. Palau is on the north east coast of Sardinia and La Maddalena is a small island off the coast, approximately three miles north of Palau. The crewmen are commemorated on the Malta Memorial. Ken is commemorated on the Victor Harbor War Memorial.
Younger brother Norman Frost NEILL, shown at left (born 13 January 1918), was serving in the militia when he transferred to the 2nd AIF on 8 February 1942; at the time he was serving in Darwin. Norman was most likely with one of the army units deployed for the defence of Darwin. He was demobilised on 11 December 1945, at the time he held the rank of sergeant and was serving with the 2/4th Pioneer Battalion.
Service file of 407800 Kenneth John NEILL, from the National Archives of Australia
STORR, Alan: RAAF Fatalities of World War Two, Volume 10 – 458 RAAF Squadron Middle East RAF Bomber Command, Page 29, Canberra, (2006).
Trove Newspapers (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/title/832).