Leonard Netherway, of Quantong, enlisted in the RAF and became a pilot with the RAAF 458 Squadron. His son Mike writes about his father Len, who "had a wonderful memory of events in WW2 and indeed the squadron's activities in the Middle East during WW2 and its post war activities". Len Netherway was aboard a Wellington Bomber - or a Wimpy - on the day he and his crew went down in the Mediterranean.
Len Netherway was trained as a pilot under the Empire Air Training Scheme at Victor Harbor, Parafield and Bradfield Park before embarking for Canada where he trained with Group 55, gaining his "Wings" on 28th August 1942.
He joined the squadron in April 1943 and operated for a short time out of Protville, before co-piloting John "Dougie" Douglas on the fateful flight on 2nd August 1943. At around 4:15 am, as Dougie banked MP713 to attack a destroyer off the coast of Sardinia the air craft crashed and sank at once, leaving burning fuel all over the sea.
Dad and Dougie (and maybe Sgt Cec Ryan) exited via the overhead hatch and Sgts "Sailor" Wheatley and W McClellan from further back. There was however, no sign of the rear gunner, Sgt Herbert Konzie, a Canadian from Manitoba.
After capture dad and Dougie were taken to Rome for interrogation before being sent on 28th September to the POW camp at Bologna where they met up with Bill Fordyce, also of 458 who'd "gone in the bag" over a year earlier. However, the stay was only short as Italy capitulated and custody of the prisoners was taken over by the Germans on 9th September. Sgts McClellan and Wheatley escaped from Camp 54 at Fara Sabina early in August and were liberated by the advancing Canadians on 2nd November.
Dad, Dougie and Bill were transported by cattle truck to Strasburg and then on to Stalag Luft 3 at Sagan. This camp was hub of the prison system and famous for The Great Escape. All mail was received at Luft 3 and censored before being sent on to other camps
Dad had a fine tenor voice and sang first tenor in the camp choir's Christmas 1944 concert in the Camp Theatre (the theatre's underfloor space had been greatly reduced by the amount of tunnel sand excavated for the "Great Escape", earlier that year) and also carried out sand dumping and "stooge duty", as did many POWs assisting in the escape.
Dougie was running the "Foodacca" co-op which provided the "Kriegies" with a diversity of food and goods. He continued in the RAF after the war and died in England in 2002.
The POWs were expelled from the camp on the 28th January 1945 in front of the Russian advance. They marched overland, hauling roughly-made sleds made from chairs, beds or whatever across the winter landscape. A number were killed in strafing attacks by allied air craft and Dad ruefully commented many years later on his astonishing faith in the ability of a 6 inch birch tree trunk stopping a 20mm cannon shell. After many stops and starts and 76 days on the road, they were finally liberated by British forces on 4th April 1945.
He was discharged on 6th October 1945 and returned to his wife, Mavis, at Quantong (outside Horsham, Victoria) where he'd grown up. They raised four children over the years, but Mum died in 1984 and he married Reabie Maxwell in 1989. He and Reabie lived for a short time in Melbourne before moving to Tallangatta, where they lived for about 10 years before moving to Yeppoon early in 2001. He is survived by Reabie and his four children.