The month is April and the year 1945. The war with Germany is fast coming to an end. For now, the bombing continues but a victorious end is in sight for the Allied powers. There is just one month of armed conflict still to play out between the Germans and Allied forces. Towns and cities across Europe have already been liberated and some of history’s most shocking atrocities uncovered across the continent. At the end of the month Adolf Hitler will commit suicide after the Battle of Berlin, his reign of terror at an end, but his crimes left behind, leaving an indelible mark on that period of history.
Now imagine this: You are twenty years old, having just waved your teenage years goodbye the month prior. You are an Australian stationed with No. 462 squadron in Norfolk, England having previously been based in Yorkshire. You have been a long way away from home for a couple of years and overseas for almost one. You have been flying in a combat situation for a very short period of time.
Imagine your parents, at home, across the other side of the world, in relative peace and safety, though not completely at ease as we know. Imagine the ever-present worry they are experiencing, contemplating what every knock at the door might mean for your family. Imagine how difficult it would be for them to focus their family at home, the four other boys now growing into fine young men and looking forward to long and fulfilling careers.
Now back to Britain…
The date is the 10th of April. One day ago you returned from a very brief period of leave. You are back into the regimented lifestyle of the air force and likely to have to return to the skies at any time. You are a Mid Upper Gunner and late in the previous year you were promoted to the rank of Flight Sergeant. You have experienced flight in Tiger Moths, Ansons and Wellingtons, but now you are a part of a crew which man a Halifax bomber.
The 10th of April will be the day you find yourself back flying over enemy territory in Germany. You and your Halifax crew have been tasked with flying in a special duties operation over Leipzig. You partake in all the usual pre-flight rituals, tasks and briefings and then you take to the skies from your staging base.
From the beginning of the mission everything is as usual. You make the journey over the seas in the big, menacing flying fortress that is the Halifax, a big gun of the fleet. Your patrol has commenced over enemy territory and then something happens. Your plane is brought down in the dark of the night.
Back in Australia, on the 13th of April, your parents get a knock on the door. They have received a telegram to inform them that you are missing after your mission over Germany. One can only imagine the emotion they are going through. Should they think the worst and presume you were killed in action? Or do they hold out hope that you may have made it out alive?
After a month, your parents receive news: One of the crewmen has survived but he has no news about your whereabouts. This is where the tragedy, the hopelessness of the situation must surely start to sink in for your family, or does it? For months you are still considered missing, along with the rest of the crew of the aircraft.
Your parents finally receive official notification in November of 1945 that your death was presumed to have occurred on the night of the 10th of April. Your parents have been through the horrors of war first-hand, something that so many parents across the globe had to contend with over the period of World War Two. Your mother has not taken it well and has found your passing hard to believe.
This is the true story of my great uncle John Mickle Tait. His is but one tragic story in a war that saw over 39,000 Australians lose their lives. Let us hope that we and those who follow us never again have to experience the tragedy, death, division, conflict and horror that our forebears did.
Lest We Forget.