Warrant Officer John Gow SHIERLAW

Service No: 416107
Born: North Adelaide SA, 17 August 1921
Enlisted in the RAAF: 29 March 1941
Unit: No. 458 Squadron, Amiriya
Died: Prisoner of War (Injuries from an Allied Air Raid) (Prisoner from the loss of No. 458 Squadron Wellington aircraft “U” off the Italian Coast on 24 March 1943), Germany, 19 April 1945, Aged 23 Years
Buried: Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery, Germany
CWGC Additional Information: Son of Howard A. Shierlaw and Margaret B. Shierlaw, of Medindie, South Australia.
Roll of Honour: Walkerville SA
Remembered: Panel 106, Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial, Canberra ACT
Remembered: World War II Honour Roll, National War Memorial of SA, North Terrace, Adelaide

Warrant Officer Shierlaw was killed during an allied air attack on a column of about twelve thousand allied Prisoners of War near the German village of Gresse on 19 April 1945. At least forty two prisoners were killed in the attack before it was halted when one of the attacking pilots realised the identities of those in the column and further attacks were called off. A fellow Australian killed in this attack was Private Rex Woodgate (NX5318) (2/4 Australian Infantry Battalion) and earlier in the day Warrant Officer James Frederick Morgan Bennett (404195) was killed at Halberstadt during the same fighter operation.

The No. 458 Squadron Operations Record Book (ORB) records the following “On the night of 24/25th March 1943, five special Wellingtons torpedo carrying aircraft carried out an armed shipping search covering an area East of Sardinia, Maritime, Palermo and Naples. Although the area was thoroughly searched no important sightings were made. Unfortunately two of our aircraft failed to return to base at Malta. (Pilot Officer Buchanan and crew and Sergeant Shierlaw and crew). Aircraft “U” (LB172) which was on patrol between Maritime and Naples reported that distress signals on the sea had been seen in position 39.33N and 14.00E (about 60 miles south of Naples) presumably where aircraft “K” (HX522) had ditched. Subsequently aircraft “U” also experienced difficulty and was being sent bearings from Malta until all contact with the aircraft was lost.”

The crew members of “U” (LB172) were:

Sergeant Thomas John Crouch (R/88517) (RCAF) (Special Equipment (Radar) Operator) PoW
Sergeant William Paul Hermansen (41621) (RNZAF) (Rear Gunner) PoW
Pilot Officer Hugh Tannahill Lambie (401517) (Second Pilot) PoW, Discharged from the RAAF: 11 March 1946
Sergeant Reginald White Mellor (407906) (Navigator) PoW, Discharged from the RAAF: 9 October 1945
Sergeant Francis Oswald Raymond (405057) (Wireless Air Gunner) PoW, Discharged from the RAAF: 1 October 1945
Warrant Officer John Gow Shierlaw (416107) (Pilot)

The ORB also records “An Italian broadcast communiqué on 28 March stated “a British torpedo carrying plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire off Trapani and fell near Paceso (near Trapani). The crew of six were captured.” In the absence of more definite information it may be assumed that this was our aircraft “U” (Sergeant Shierlaw) and that the crew were now all POWs.”

In a 1945 report the then Warrant Officer Mellor stated : “While on patrol off the western coast of Italy we picked up a distress signal from a plane on the same patrol. We followed up a QDM given from base (Malta) to give assistance as necessary. Sighted a green very light but after considerable searching found nothing more. Turned for base. Received QDM from base. While at about 2,000 feet caught in ground anti-aircraft fire. Both engines cut. Plane crash landed at Trapani, Sicily. All captured on abandoning aircraft. Rear Gunner who had both legs broken and head and internal injuries, repatriated from Germany. Second Pilot leg injury. Other crew members uninjured. Released on 18 April 1945 by 11th Armoured Division, 2nd Army.”

The crew members of No. 458 Squadron Wellington “K” (HX522) lost on 24 March 1943 were:

Pilot Officer Gordon William Frederick Barnett (128979) (RAF) (Navigator) PoW
Pilot Officer George Buchanan (123273) (RAF) (Pilot and Aircraft Captain) PoW
Pilot Officer Anthony Clifton Main (406049) (Special Equipment (Radar) Operator) PoW, Discharged from the RAAF: 2 January 1946
Flying Officer James Outerbridge (119810) (RAFVR) (Second Pilot) PoW, Killed while attempting to escape: 1 May 1943
Flight Sergeant Donald James Tunney (406048) (Wireless Air Gunner) PoW, Discharged from the RAAF: 3 January 1946
Flight Sergeant James Charles Oliver Wilson (407885) (Rear Gunner) PoW, Discharged from the RAAF: 15 March 1946


Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour On-Line Records (RAAF Casualty Information compiled by Alan Storr (409804))
Chorley W R, Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War, Volume 6 Aircraft and Aircrew Losses 1945, Midland Counties Publications UK, 1998
Commonwealth War Graves Commission On-Line Records
Department of Veteran’s Affairs On-Line WWII Nominal Roll
National Archives of Australia On-Line Record A9301, 416107


Alexander, P. (Peter) We Find and Destroy: history of No. 458 Squadron, The 458 Squadron Council, 1959
Winter, V.A. (Vincent Adams) (408547) Noble Six Hundred: the story of the Empire Air Training Scheme with special reference to Australians who trained in Southern Rhodesia, V.A. Winter Brighton VIC 3186, 1982

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