Pilot Officer Douglas Wilberforce SPOONER DFM

Service No: 404553
Born: Edithvale VIC, 16 February 1917
Enlisted in the RAAF: 11 October 1940 (at Brisbane QLD)
Unit: No. 103 Squadron (RAF), RAF Station Elsham Wolds
Awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM)
Died: Air Operations (No. 103 Squadron Wellington aircraft R1617), Germany, 3 July 1942, Aged 25 Years
Buried: Sage War Cemetery, Oldenburg, Niedersachsen, Germany
CWGC Additional Information: Son of Wilberforce and Sarah Cecilia Spooner, of Windsor, Queensland, Australia
Roll of Honour: Innisfail QLD
Remembered: Panel 130, Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial, Canberra ACT

DFM Citation: Sergeant Spooner of No. 103 Squadron was second pilot of a Wellington bomber which took part in the attack on Wilhelmshaven on the night of 10th January 1942. During the run up to the target to bomb at a height of 15,000 feet, the aircraft was subject to intense flak. A second run was made amidst increased anti-aircraft fire. Just as the remaining bombs were dropped, a violent explosion shook the aircraft and a 4.5inch recce flare was forced through the rear end of the bomb compartment into the fuselage where it set fire to the fabric, the wooden floor and the rear bomb seat. The second pilot made his way to the back of the aircraft, which was now filled with acrid white smoke, and pluckily endeavoured to extinguish the flames, first with an extinguisher, which failed to function unable to as he was suffocating and unable to help. It was only Sergeant Spooner’s presence of mind, in bringing the portable oxygen set to his aid that enabled him to withstand the effects of the fumes. Still directly over Wilhelmshaven, in the dark sky, the burning aircraft made a perfect target. It was seen by the tail gunner of another aircraft to be picked up by about 30 searchlights and heavily engaged by enemy defences. At 10,000 feet the situation appeared so hopeless, the Captain ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft. To see that his crew had gone, the Captain, after setting the controls, made his way aft. Seeing a figure silhouetted against the flames and still endeavouring to extinguish them, he returned to his controls and steered a westerly course. The flare eventually burned its way through the floor and fell out of the aircraft. Sergeant Spooner now having made the extinguisher to work, was able to subdue the flames with this and his gloves. Having extinguished the flames, he made his way forward, where he found the Captain still at the controls; to enable the latter to navigate, he took over from him and although suffering acutely from the effects of the fumes, flew the aircraft back to this country. He arrived with painfully inflamed eyes and in a state of partial collapse from reaction. His valour when heavily engaged by the enemy and in a burning aircraft not only achieved his objective of saving the aircraft from falling into enemy hands, but saved two pilots for the RAF. I strongly recommend him for the highest possible award for gallantry, the Victoria Cross.”

The above recommendation from the Squadron was strongly supported by the Station Commander Remarks by the A.O.C. “ In his complete disregard of his personal safety Sergeant Spooner undoubtedly sowed pluck and determination of a very high order, thereby upholding the reputation of the Australians of being “Non-Quitters”. I do not consider, however, that his act of gallantry reaches the very high standard required fort as an award of the Victoria Cross. Strongly recommended for the immediate award of the DFM.” (DFM promulgated in the London Gazette of 27 January 1942, Air2/8464)

Wellington R1617 took off from RAF Elsham Wolds at 2300 hours on the night of 2/3 July 1942 detailed to bomb Bremen, Germany. Nothing was heard from the aircraft after take-off and it failed to return to base. The aircraft was shot down by a night fighter about 0130 hours on 3rd July 1942 and crashed at Vahren near Cloppenburgt, north of Osnabruck, Germany. Three of the crew members were killed and two became Prisoners of War.

The crew members of R1617 were:

Pilot Officer G E Mayer (106527) (RAFVR) (Observer) PoW
Flight Sergeant Alvin Leslie Spafford (R/59327) (RCAF) (Wireless Air Gunner)
Pilot Officer Douglas Wilberforce Spooner DFM (404553) (Pilot)
Flight Sergeant A Szmaites (1186701) (RAFVR) (Rear Gunner) PoW
Sergeant Cultra Vallance Webb (920594) (RAFVR) (Wireless Air Gunner)

Pilot Officer Mayer later reported “We were attacked near Bremen by a night fighter at 12,000 feet. The aircraft was on fire and out of control. Spafford the WOP was in the astrodome and was hit and probably by fire from the night fighter. I was wounded but went forward to let Webb out of the front turret. I then baled out. I expected to be followed by Webb and Spooner who was getting out of his seat prior to leaving. Met Rear Gunner later but am uncertain about the other three.”


Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour On-Line Records (RAAF Casualty Information compiled by Alan Storr (409804))
Commonwealth War Graves Commission On-Line Records
Department of Veterans’ Affairs On-Line WWII Nominal Roll
National Archives of Australia On-Line Record A705, 163/163/288


Charlwood, D.E.C. (Donald Ernest Cameron) (408794) No Moon Tonight (Angus and Robertson 1956), Penguin Ringwood VIC, 3134, 1991

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