Wing Commander John Keith Douglas

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NARRANDERA, NSW. 1941-05. STANDING BESIDE HIS AIRCRAFT IS 403564 LEADING AIRCRAFTMAN JOHN KEITH DOUGLAS AT NO. 8 ELEMENTARY FLYING TRAINING SCHOOL. HE WAS KILLED NEAR MUNSTER, GERMANY, AFTER ...Standing beside his aircraft is 403564 Leading Aircraftmans John Keith Douglas, at No: 8 Elementary Flying Training School. He was killed near Munster, Germany, after attacking the Dortmund-Ems Canal on 8th February 1945. He was then a Wing Commander.

John, born on 17th July 1921 in Tamworth, New South Wales, was the son of Dr. Thomas and Marion Douglas, of Manly, New South Wales.

He attended Knox Grammar School and Scots College, and later became a salesman for David Jones.

Douglas enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force in February 1941 at the age of 19. He showed a great aptitude for flying in his training in Australia and in Canada, where he was sent as a part of the Empire Air Training Scheme. From Canada he went to the United Kingdom where he was seconded to the Royal Air Force for service in Europe.

Douglas was first posted to 103 Squadron, and flew 25 sorties over Europe in Halifax and Lancaster bombers. He flew with great daring and skill. On one occasion he was on a mine-laying operation in heavy cloud. Although his blind flying instruments stopped working, he carried on and finished the mission. On another occasion he was approaching his target over Munich when his aircraft was attacked by an enemy night fighter. Douglas skilfully manoeuvred his plane into a position which enabled his gunners to destroy the fighter, after which he calmly flew over the target. For these exploits he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

In 1944 he switched to flying Lancaster bombers and was posted to 460 Squadron for six operations over Europe. During his time here he was awarded the Air Force Cross, and displayed quiet confidence and a keen spirit. Douglas was a man who commanded respect. In October 1944 he was promoted to Wing Commander and made one of the youngest(1) squadron commanders in the Royal Australian Air Force with command of 467 Squadron. He flew a further seven successful operations over Europe with his new Squadron in a Lancaster bomber.

On the 8th of February 1945, Wing Commander Douglas and his crew flew a sortie against the Dortmund-Ems Canal. Between ten and twenty minutes after leaving the target, the Lancaster bomber gave a great lurch, and had probably been hit by an enemy night fighter. Soon the port wing was on fire and Douglas gave the order to bail out. Four of his crew jumped successfully – three were made prisoners of war and one managed to escape capture and got to England. Three of the crew, including Wing Commander John Douglas, who was holding the plane steady so that the others could get out, did not survive the accident. The bodies of Douglas, his bomb aimer and his navigator were recovered by the Germans and buried. They now lie in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. John Douglas was just 23 years old.

John Keith Douglas(Left) John with his uncle and aunt, Dr Randolph(2) and Mrs Douglas, of Greenock, outside Buckingham Palace after being decorated by King George VI

The Sydney Morning Herald – Saturday, 21 April, 1945
DOUGLAS.—Aus. 403564, Wing-Commander John Keith Douglas, D.F.C., A.F.C., R.A.A.F., previously posted missing, now officially reported to have lost his life, result of operations over Germany, February 7-8, 1945, dearly loved second son or Dr. and Mrs. T. S. Douglas, Tamworth, and loved brother of Lindsay (ex R.A.A.F.), Ruth (W.R.A.N.S.) and Norman, aged 23 years."

1.  Aged just 22, he became the youngest Australian squadron commander and one of the youngest in Bomber Command.
2.  Possibly this man:  Death: Douglas.-On March 31, 1951, at his home, 39, Greenock Road, Largs, Ayrshire, Archibald Randolph Fulton Douglas, L.R.C.P.&S.Ed.. L.D.S.. D.D.S. Formerly of 5 Ardgowan St W, Greenock; Lieut RAMC

Family history:
John Campbell Douglas and Catherine, nee Fulton had at least 3 children, Randolph, John Campbell (born Greenock in 1878) and Thomas S., all doctors.

Thomas emigrated to Australia and practiced in Tamworth, New South Wales. In 1915, John Campbell Douglas , was 'On his way to Tamworth, N S Wales, Australia to take charge of his son's practice, Dr Thomas S Douglas while he goes to the front'. His son, John Campbell appears to have travelled with him, and  set up practice in Randwick, NSW, but he was commissioned in October 1915 and embarked for the Middle east in the same month.

In March 1916, John Campbell Jr was posted to Tel el Kebir and then transferred to 4 Field Ambulance in April. A year later, in May 1917, after enduring a winter on the Somme, and the first battle of Bullecourt, Douglas was posted briefly to 4 Div Train, and then returned to England. He worked for a short period at 1 AAH at Harefield while waiting for a ship, and sailed for Australia in July 1917. Douglas pursued a career in ophthalmology, and established a specialist practice at Ballarat, Victoria. He was an honourary surgeon at the Ballarat base Hospital til 1941.  He died in 1959.

John Campbell Douglas's (both) departure for Australia was reported by  Jenny F S Douglas, whose relationship with them is unknown.

Randolph had an elder daughter, Betty, who married Surgeon Lieutenant (D.) George Philip, R.N., only son of Mr. and Mrs. L. G. Wallis, Brockhurst Road, Birmingham (Engagement announced 9 Jan 1941).



Sources for this article include:

•  Australian War Memorial

•  Youtube  video: Last Post Ceremony 

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