3 Squadron LIFETIMES

3 Squadron RAAF HOME / Search


Commander and Gentleman.


By Gordon Steege, Air Commodore RAAF (Ret.) - Written 2007.

Al was born at Fremantle, Western Australia, on 31st July, 1918, but subsequently he became resident at Ivanhoe, Victoria.

He joined the RAAF as an Air Cadet and graduated from No. 1 Flying Training School, Point Cook, with a Short Service Commission in July 1939.  This was the last of the pre-war cadet courses to graduate before war broke out in September 1939, and from it he was posted to No. 2 Army Co-operation Squadron at Richmond, flying Hawker Demons.

Transferring to 3 Squadron, he went to the Middle East in July 1940.

In Egypt in September 1940 he was in a flight equipped with the venerable Gloster Gauntlet for Army Co-operation and ground attack in the Western Desert.  However, 3 Squadron's role was soon changed from Army Co-operation; equipped with Gladiators it commenced operations as a Fighter Squadron.  Al was then in operations with Gladiators and, later, Hurricanes, in the first advance to Benghasi, and the rapid withdrawal just ahead of the newly-arrived Rommel's Forces, through six airfields in as many days, to Egypt, with Rommel held at Tobruk.

In April 1941, 3 Squadron was taken out of the desert to rest at Lydda, in air defence of Palestine.  Here the Squadron was re-equipped with Curtiss Tomahawks and Al was soon in action again in the Syrian campaign.  In a single engagement on 28 June, 1941, he shot down four Vichy French Martin 167 Bombers.

Members of No.3 Squadron RAAF examine the wreckage of a French Glen Martin bomber aircraft that they had shot down. 
[AWM P12424.058]

After the Syrian campaign, in September 1941, Al returned with 3 Squadron to the Western Desert and he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross the following month.

He was then posted to 71 OTU in the Sudan as an instructor, but a month later was recalled to 3 Squadron to take command, and he saw considerable action during 'Operation Crusader'.  He was awarded a bar to his DFC and in December was attached to HQ Middle East to form and command an Air Firing Unit.

Returning to Australia in 1942, he assisted in forming a Fighter Operational Training Unit, becoming Chief Flying Instructor.  In May 1943 he formed and commanded No.79 Squadron, with Spitfire Mk.Vs, leading it to Papua New Guinea to operate from Goodenough Island and as a unit of No.73 Wing from Kiriwina in the Trobriand Islands.

Goodenough Island, D'Entrecasteaux Group, Papua.  26 June 1943.
No.79 (Spitfire) Squadron RAAF Operations / Crew Room on Vivigani
airfield with the aircraft and pilots' status board on the right, and racks for
parachutes, life jackets and personal flying equipment in the background.
At right: A386 Squadron Leader A. C. (Alan) Rawlinson DFC & Bar, Commanding Officer. 
[AWM P02875.120]

Late in 1943 he returned to Australia and commanded the Parachute Training Unit, which supported the formation of the Australian Parachute Battalion and the training of the Z Special Forces.

In May 1945 he took over command of No.78 Fighter Wing at Tarakan, Borneo, returning to Australia in December 1945. 

With the war over, Al took a permanent commission in the post-war RAF in the UK as an Acting Group Captain.  He had a short spell at HQ Fighter Command and then commanded No.54 Squadron at Odiham with Vampires in 1949, becoming Wing Commander Flying there and being awarded the Air Force Cross.

He served at Southern Sector, then commanded RAF Filton, leading a Wing of 501 and 614 Royal Auxiliary Air Force Squadrons.  In 1953 he formed and commanded the UK's first Guided Weapons Trials Unit, testing beam-riding missiles for the Meteor Night Fighter Mk.11 in Wales and then at Woomera, South Australia.  He flew as a Guided Weapons Test Pilot, using pilotless Fireflies and Jindivik drones as targets.  For his guided weapons work he received an OBE in 1958. 

In 1960 he commanded RAF Buchan Sector in Scotland, but in 1961 elected to retire as Group Captain and returned to Australia.

Al and Gwen lived in the Adelaide Hills for some time, and then for many years at Narracoorte in South Australia, where Al died recently.

I remember my first meeting with Al when he arrived at 3 Squadron, Richmond, with Jock Perrin in July 1939, after they graduated from Point Cook. I recall now being impressed with the likeable personalities of these two.  Al flew with me many times in Gladiators and Hurricanes in 3 Squadron's first tour of operations in the Western Desert and Libya in 1940 and 1941. 

Western Desert.  October 1941.  Two RAAF members awarded the DFC, for determination, courage and devotion to duty.  They are Flight Lieutenant A. Rawlinson and Flight Lieutenant Pete Turnbull, of No. 3 Squadron RAAF.  [AWM 010166]

Later in the South-West Pacific, as Commanding Officer 79 Squadron Spitfires, his unit was under my command as an element of 73 Wing operating from Kiriwina.  I was indeed sorry to lose him when he was returned to Australia late in 1943.

I did not see Al again until he came over from South Australia to march back into Richmond with veterans of 3 Squadron on the 50th anniversary (in 1990) of their 'marching out' for the Middle East in 1940.  Then, about thirteen years ago, he and Gwen lunched with Jenny and me in Adelaide.  About three years ago in Adelaide I did enjoy a long telephone chat with him down at Narracoorte.  Gwen has told me that in his last years, sadly, Al was affected by Alzheimers Disease.

Al was a professional officer of the highest standards and a man of the highest personal standards.  From my serving with him in North Africa and the South-West Pacific I know that he was held in high esteem by his superiors and with respect and affection by all who served with him.  He was one of the three last of us remaining of the pilots of the 3 Squadron that departed Richmond for the Middle East in July 1940.  I know that the other (now) of only two of us, Alan Boyd of Western Australia, will share my high regard for Alan.  He was a natural gentleman.

3 Squadron LIFETIMES

3 Squadron RAAF HOME / Search