Strathern, William Makepeace

Date of birth:
(Invercargill/Southland, New Zealand)
Date of death:
May 1950
Service number:
NZ.42476
Nationality:
New Zealander (1907-1947, Dominion UK)

Biography

Before the war Bill Strathern worked as an electrician.
In 1942 he enlisted in the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a Service Pilot. In January 1942 he sailed for England and was posted at an advanced training unit, where he flew Airspeed Oxfords. After a spell with Bomber Command he was posted at No. 138 Squadron at RAF Tempsford. Like men as Percy Pickard, Hugh Verity and Bunny Rymills his work consisted of dropping secret agents into occupied Europe, work that was to carry him over France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Norway and Denmark.
On the night of 28 August, 1944, his sortie involved the “Blind” dropping of three agent in the Netherlands, near the town of Voorthuizen, on the “Appelse Heide.” Two of these agents, Joop Kuylenaar and Jaap Hindrick were caught by the Germans and shot.
Strathern’s last operational sortie was on the last night of December 1944, when his Stirling was attacked by a Me-210 whilst on a sortie to Norway carrying 15 containers and 4 packages. The rear gunner suffered severe head injuries in the first burst from the enemy aircraft, which made four attacks in all. With his tail plane riddled, starboard elevator shot off and starboard inner engine shot out, Strathern nevertheless managed to pilot his plane safely back to England where he landed at Peterhead. It was this incident that brought him the well earned award of a bar to his D.F.C.
Bill Strathern flew 36 clandestine sorties, dropping S.O.E. supplies and agents into enemy occupied territory, with No. 138 (Special Duties) Squadron
In 1945 he was posted at No. 1667 Bomber Defence Training Unit before joining No. 511 Squadron Transport Command
He remained in the R.A.F. after the war with Transport Command and flew passengers in York aircraft between England and Singapore, and was engaged in the Berlin Airlift. He was killed in May 1950 in a flying accident whilst stationed at Manston, Kent, whilst out testing a Vampire jet when it blew up over Istres in France.

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Period:
Second World War (1939-1945)
Rank:
Acting Flight Lieutenant
Unit:
138 Squadron, Royal Air Force (138 Squadron, Royal Air Force)
Awarded on:
December 8th, 1944
Citation:
"F/Lt Strathern has now completed 28 sorties, all of a special nature. Throughout he has shown the greatest enthusiasm for operational flying and a determination to press on to his target at times in adverse weather conditions. On two occasions his aircraft has been attacked by two enemy fighters simultaneously, but each time, by carrying out the correct combat manoeuvres, he has evaded them without any hits being sustained by his aircraft. At the same time the enemy aircraft have not escaped unscathed which is a fine tribute to F/Lt Strathern and to the excellent crew co-operation he has instilled into his crew."
Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC)
Period:
Second World War (1939-1945)
Rank:
Acting Flight Lieutenant
Unit:
138 Squadron, Royal Air Force (138 Squadron, Royal Air Force)
Awarded on:
March 9th, 1945
Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC)
Citation:
"This officer was the captain of an aircraft detailed for an operational sortie one night in December, 1944. For his crew, this was their first sortie. During the operation the aircraft was attacked by a fighter, from which a burst of machine-gun fire caused much damage. The rear gunner was badly wounded and his gun turret was rendered unserviceable. The port elevator was shot away and the fuselage was hit by bullets in many places. Flight Lieutenant Strathern, from his position in the second pilot’s seat, immediately took control. By skillful manoeuvring, he succeeded in finally evading the attacker. The starboard inner engine was now out of action and the aircraft had become exceedingly difficult to control. Nevertheless, by a superb display of airmanship, Flt. Lt. Strathern flew the badly damaged aircraft back to base. In most harassing circumstances this officer displayed outstanding coolness, great courage and model captaincy."
Second DFC (immediate) awarded as a bar for on the ribbon of the first DFC.

Sources

  • - Fourth Supplement to The London Gazette Issue 36831 published on the 5 December 1944
    - Fourth Supplement to The London Gazette Issue 36975 published on the 6 March 1945
    - Dix Noonan Webb