LEST WE FORGET

Leading Aircraftman Leo Thomas CLARKE

Service No: 32579
Born: Marrickville NSW, 20 December 1915
Enlisted in the RAAF: 23 July 1940
Unit: No. 20 Squadron, Port Moresby, PNG
Died: Air Operations (No. 20 Squadron Catalina aircraft A24-8), New Guinea, 21 January 1942, Aged 26 Years
Buried: Unrecovered
CWGC Additional Information: Son of Thomas George and Pauline Mary Clarke, of Chatswood, New South Wales.
Roll of Honour: Camden NSW
Remembered: Panel 7, Lae Memorial, PNG
Remembered: Panel 101, Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial, Canberra ACT
Remembered: Catalina Base Memorial, Rathmines NSW
Remembered: Rathmines Memorial Bowling Club, Rathmines NSW

On the same day (as an No. 11 Squadron Catalina (Pilot Officer Thomas Nicoll Rowe (400293) (Second Pilot)) that had been shot down two hours earlier) a No. 20 Squadron Catalina was on reconnaissance when its crew sighted 4 enemy cruisers 65 miles south-west from Kavieng —it was they who gave warning that Rabaul was about to be invaded. Their signal added that they were within range of the warships’ anti – aircraft fire. This message was received at Port Moresby at 12.41 p.m. At 2 .16 p.m. the pilot, Flight Lieutenant Robert Thompson, was ordered to proceed to Salamaua. About half an hour later a signal was received from the aircraft stating only, “Rudder gone.”

It was later learned that the aircraft had been shot down by anti-aircraft fire. Two of the crew members were drowned (the third crew member lost was killed during the battle) but Thompson, Flight Lieutenant Paul Metzler (the second pilot) and the rest of the crew, after being in the water for two and a half hours, were picked up by a Japanese cruiser and became prisoners of war.

Extract from Gillison, D. (Douglas) (254475) Royal Australian Air Force 1939-1942, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1962 – Page 364

The crew members of A24-8 were:

Leading Aircraftman William Harry Blackman (15207) (Rigger) PoW, Discharged from the RAAF: 29 January 1946
Leading Aircraftman Leo Thomas Clarke (32579) (Second Wireless Air Gunner)
Leading Aircraftman James Leslie Cox (33871) (Armourer)
Flight Lieutenant Paul Maxwell Metzler (609) (Second Pilot) PoW, Discharged from the RAAF: 4 March 1959
Leading Aircraftman Keith Rex Parker (408106) (Second Engineer) PoW, Discharged from the RAAF: 26 April 1946
Leading Aircraftman Kenneth George Parkyns (34163) (Fitter II Engines) PoW, Discharged from the RAAF: 1 April 1946
Corporal John Perrett (6461) (First Engineer)
Leading Aircraftman Charles Hickson Sollitt (8265) (First Wireless Operator) PoW, Discharged from the RAAF: 23 February 1946
Flight Lieutenant Robert Hampton Thompson (461) (Pilot) PoW, Died while in RAAF Service: 10 June 1967

References:

Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour On-Line Records
Commonwealth War Graves Commission On-Line Records
Department of Veteran’s Affairs On-Line WWII Nominal Roll
National Archives of Australia On-Line Record A705, 163/97/119
Register of War Memorials in New South Wales On-Line

Bibliography:

McFarlane, C.C. (Cyrus C.) Tojo’s Fate: Australia’s secret war, Sid Harta Publishers Glen Waverley VIC 3150, 2009
McMillan A. (Andrew) Catalina Dreaming: rescues exciting missions and other stories about the famous Australian flying boats of WWII, Duffy and Snellgrove Potts Point NSW, 2002
Wilson, S. (Stewart) Catalina, Neptune and Orion in Australian Service, Aerospace Publications Weston Creek ACT 2611, 1991