Filed in: War History – Author: JF Dowsett
At the Binbrook RAF ﬂying base in Lincolnshire, Britain during April 1944, the crew of a Lancaster bomber were posing – in their spare time – for Australian War artist Stella Bowen.
One of the first women artists to be appointed, Esther Gwendolyn “Stella” Bowen (b. 1893) was an Australian artist and writer. In 1944, she had been appointed an official war artist by the Australian War Memorial. Bowen’s brief as a war artist was to depict the activities of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) stationed in England. She also painted portraits of military commanders and Australian prisoners of war who had recently been repatriated from Europe.
For the Lancaster painting, and as opportunity offered, the six Australians and one Englishman would don their ﬂying kits and look “business-like” for an hour or so while the artist worked on a painting intended to portray the typical crew of the giant bombers which were so successfully pounding targets in Europe, paving the way for an Allied invasion.
It was a slow job though, with not much more than an outline completed by 27th April.
Shortly after nine o’clock on the night of the 27th the bomb-laden planes of 460 Squadron waddled down the dimly lit runway and roared away into the darkness. The target was Friedrichshafen – a vital industrial centre on the shores of Lake Constance. There was nothing to make the operation any more exciting or spectacular for the crews: it was just another night raid.
But, by morning, the subjects in the unﬁnished painting had been reported missing. Nothing more was known. Hope of the aircraft limping home gradually waned… then disappeared.
Bowen continued work on her picture and eventually completed it, with the aid of a few photographs of the airmen and an artist’s faculty for remembering detail.
Later, in September of that same year, came the ﬁrst news of the fate of the crew. The parents of Flight-Officer T. J. Lynch of Queensland – the tail gunner – received a small postcard from Dulag Luft camp in Germany.
It was in the unmistakable handwriting of their son – he was alive and a prisoner of war. He was subsequently repatriated in the ﬁfth exchange of prisoners arranged between the Allies and Germany, and arrived in England at Liverpool on 5 February 1945.
Their aircraft, he said, was shot down in the vicinity of Lahr near the Swiss border that night in April. Lynch was unable to remember whether or not he had jumped from the plane. In fact, he remained unconscious until the 4th of May, when he awoke as a patient in a German Luftwaffe (air force) hospital at Baden-Baden.
A German doctor answered his anxious inquiries concerning the fate of his comrades and told him that all had been killed.
Lynch himself was badly injured and spent many weary weeks in various hospitals. Following the amputation of his right leg, he was then sent to another large hospital at Nemmingen near Frankfurt, after which he was posted to Stalag IXC to await repatriation.
Information regarding the other crew members was vague and sketchy; but even before the war had ended it was evident that Flying-Officer Lynch was the sole survivor. The crew, in addition to Lynch, was:
Squadron-Leader E. D. Jarman, DFC
Flight-Officer M. W. Carroll, D.F.C.
Flight-Officer R. L. Neal
Flight-Officer H. R. Harrison
Flight-Officer F. G. Jackson, D.F.C.
Sergeant D. G. Champkin (RAF MHS)
Lest we forget.