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How four Australian WWII pilots ended up buried in Pakistan

Rawalpindi War Cemetery, Pakistan, via Commonwealth War Graves Commission (L) and an image of Australian airmen during WWII, via Australian War Memorial. Source: SBS

They died during active service in the Second World War, but the story of how Pakistan became the final resting place of four Australian airmen had all to do with mateship.

Pilot Officers George Logan Allan and Gregor Harold Milne, and Flying Officer John Robert Spalding are buried at the Karachi War Cemetery, while Flying Officer Geoffrey Colin Scott is buried at the Rawalpindi War Cemetery.

These men died in active service during World War II while serving in the Royal Australian Air Force in South Asia, modern-day Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India and Myanmar.

We take a look at the events during that time, the role of RAAF in the region and how RAAF pilots spent their lives during wartime.

Australia goes to war

At 9:15pm on September 3, 1939, Australians listened to the following words that marked the country’s entrance into the Second World War.

“Fellow Australians, it is my melancholy duty to inform you officially that in consequence of persistence by Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her and that, as a result, Australia is also at war,” Prime Minister at the time Robert G. Menzies said in a live speech.

Australians joined the allied forces and fought in several regions around the world, including Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

By late 1944, more than 182,000 personnel and 6,200 aircraft in 61 squadrons were involved in the war. Australia had the fourth-largest air force in the world in 1945 (after the USA, USSR and UK), according to the RAAF.

Aircrew members inspect the Bristol Beaufighter aircraft which arrived at the Karachi airfield on completion of the ferry flight from Cairo. (c 1944)
Aircrew members inspect the Bristol Beaufighter aircraft which arrived at the Karachi airfield on completion of the ferry flight from Cairo.(c 1944)
Australian War Memorial

RAAF in South Asia during World War II

Professor Peter Stanley of UNSW Canberra told SBS Urdu that during the war many Australian airmen were trained as part of the 'Empire Air Training Scheme'.

“They trained in Australia and then Canada, and later were posted to British, Australian or other British Empire units [usually squadrons] wherever they were needed - mainly in Britain, but also in the Middle East and the Far East," he said.

“The four Australian airmen [who died in Pakistan] served with the British units, that is, although they were members of the Royal Australian Air Force, they were serving as part of the [British] Royal Air Force.

“So while there were no Australian air force units in undivided India between about 1941 and 1945, there were about 1500-2000 Australian airmen serving there.

“RAAF aircrew in India could have served in any of the various kinds of squadrons in the RAF in India - in fighter, bomber, transport or training units.

“Some were in units that were being rested or re-equipped having served in Burma and some were in units that were training."

RAF Wellington aircraft engine kicks up a cloud of dust after it had been started by the ground crew before taking off on the operation in Burma (C 1944-48)
RAF Wellington aircraft engine kicks up a cloud of dust after it had been started by the ground crew before taking off on the operation in Burma (C 1944-48)
Australian War Memorial

Who were the four airmen and how did they die?

Royal Australian Air Force Historian Martin James shares details about the airmen who died in Pakistan.

Pilot Officer George Logan Allan (No. 8 Squadron - RAF) was from Alexandria in Sydney and enlisted in the RAAF on July 19, 1941.

PO Allan was a member of '8 Squadron' which flew Wellington bombers based at Aden, modern day Yemen, which was a British protectorate at the time.

“George Allan was a wireless operator air gunner on a Vultee Vengeance aircraft. ‘Vultee Vengeance' was a single-engine dive bomber used by the RAAF during the Second World War," Mr James said.

“According to his report, he was in a transit flight from one airfield to another when they got caught in very bad weather in a mountainous area. With very poor visibility, they flew up to a valley in between a couple of mountains. Unfortunately, the valley got smaller and smaller the time they realised they were in a lot of trouble, and they didn’t have any room to maneuver.

“They flew to a mountainside at about 9,000 feet. A couple of days later a rescue and search party was able to find the wreckage site and recovered the dead bodies of the four people that were killed in that particular accident.” 

PO Allan died at the age of 27.

Headstone of 3 airmen at Karachi War Cemetery, Karachi, Pakistan.
Headstones of 3 RAAF airmen at Karachi War Cemetery, Karachi, Pakistan.
Findagrave.com

Image (above) – Courtesy: www.findagrave.com; (memorial pages for Pilot Officer George Logan Allan, Pilot Officer Gregor Harold Milne and Flying Officer John Robert Spalding. Karachi War Cemetery, Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan.  Maintained by IWPP Custodial Account (contributor ID 46820445) (memorial ID: 67349629).

Pilot Officer Gregor Harold Milne’s birthplace was Armadale in Victoria. He worked as an accountant before joining RAAF. He enlisted on November 8, 1940.

PO Milne (223 Group - RAF) was part of the ‘223 Group’ which was one of the main RAF formations in north-western India. A 'Group' is a group of several squadrons.

“He had a crash just after take-off on 17th May 1944. He was flying a ‘Proctor’ aircraft which was a small (now called a light aircraft) plane typically used for communication work and pilot training.” Mr James said.

PO Milne died at the age of 22.

Flying Officer John Robert Spalding (No. 60 Squadron - RAF) was born in Toowoomba, Queensland, and was an Engineer Salesman by profession. He enlisted in the RAAF on September 13, 1940.

FO Spalding was a member of '60 Squadron' which operated Blenheim light bombers, based at Asansol, West Bengal, having suffered heavy losses against the Japanese in Burma in 1942.

“FO Spalding was flying a civilian aircraft in Lahore on 5th May 1942. He was doing a series of aerial maneuvers and unfortunately entered into a loop, at a much too low an altitude. While coming out of the loop, he clipped a public building that damaged the aircraft resulting in a crash," Mr James said.

“Spalding suffered severe injuries and died the next day of the accident.”

FO Spalding died at the age of 26.

Flying Officer Geoffrey Colin Scott (194 Squadron - RAF) was from Clare in South Australia and enlisted in the RAAF on September 14, 1940.

The 194 Squadron was a transport squadron, based in Lahore. It was equipped with two-engined Hudsons - light transport planes that were used to carry passengers or small amounts of freight between major cities.

“FO Scott contracted Addison’s disease while he was working in India and unfortunately he didn’t respond to treatment and passed away.” Mr James said.

He died at the age of 27.

RAF Armourers preparing bombs for loading into a Liberator in readiness for a raid on Rangoon.C. 1944-11
RAF Armourers preparing bombs for loading into a Liberator in readiness for a raid on Rangoon. (C. 1944-11, India.)
Australian War Memorial

Why are the RAAF pilots buried in Pakistan?

There are 1.7 million graves and memorials of Commonwealth servicemen and women who died during the two world wars. They are at 23,000 locations in more than 150 countries and territories.

Their upkeep is looked after by the Commonwealth Grave Commission (CWGC) which was built on the notion that ‘everyone – regardless of their military or civil rank, race or creed – should be remembered equally'.

“It was felt that if you allowed families to bring the bodies’ home, only the rich could have done it and that wasn’t right," Peter Francis, CWGC spokesperson said.

The same principle applied for the four RAAF pilots who were then buried in Pakistan.

“The troops were asked at the time [WW1] and they overwhelmingly said they wanted to be buried with their mates if they were killed. So this is what was done In WW1 and the same policy applied to WW2,” Mr Francis said. 

A former pilot of the Pakistan Air Force, Wing Commander (retired) Naseem Ahmed told SBS Urdu that there were several cemeteries in Pakistan that were built by the British when they arrived in the sub-continent.

“We call them ‘gora qabarustaan’ which means ‘white graveyard’ as English are buried there," he said.

“During the First World War and the Second World War, the British needed help from the locals in terms of manpower and raw material to maintain the bases in several cities.

“Though there were no actual fights along the Russian front since the forces started living here, they established cantonments. The Australians lived in them too.

“The public, in general, has no knowledge about the Australian soldiers, however, the people above the age of 80 years (in Defense Forces) still remember the foreign crews including Australian pilots at the Karachi base.

“The forces’ veterans commemorate the fallen soldiers and recall the dog-fights during the war that today don’t take place any more.”

How Australia commemorates its soldiers buried in other countries

At the Australian War Memorial, the Roll of Honour records and commemorates members of the Australian armed forces who have died during or as a result of war or warlike services and operations.

Each evening, the Australian War Memorial farewells visitors with the Last Post Ceremony.

The names of those who have died are projected onto the exterior of the Hall of Memory.

Pilot Officer George Logan Allan's name will be projected on:

•             Fri 31 May 2019 at 8:29pm

•             Tue 13 August 2019 at 7:11pm

Pilot Officer Gregor Harold Milne’s name will be projected on:

•          Sat 25 May 2019 at 2:03am

•          Fri 30 August 2019 at 3:21am

Flying Officer John Robert Spalding’s name will be projected on:

•          Thu 06 June 2019 at 11:32pm

•          Fri 30 August 2019 at 12:56am

Flying Officer Geoffrey Colin Scott’s name will be projected on

          Tue 18 June 2019 at 4:02am

•          Mon 02 September 2019 at 12:54am


SBS Urdu would like to thank Martin James, RAAF Historian and Prof. Peter Stanley, UNSW Canberra who provided invaluable information about the airmen for the article.


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