Tuesday 14 August 2012

Vale Francis Walter Cale, 15 August 1940

Vale Francis Walter Cale 15 August 1940

Francis Walter Cale was born in Perth, Western Australia on 24 February 1915. His father, Walter, a railway refreshment room proprietor came from Rydal in New South Wales and his mother, Constance Simm, was born in Quirindi, also in New South Wales.

He attended Perth’s Guildford Grammar School 1928–1931, and his school years overlapped Dick Glyde’s, who was a student from 1927–1930. Francis was a day boy and a member of St George’s House. He was intelligent—he had been awarded the Blennerhassett Scholarship which was an academic scholarship—and he was sporty. He was a member of the school athletic team, and particularly noted for the hurdles. He had Full Colours, and so was allowed to have the athletics symbol embroidered on his blazer pocket. He passed the junior certificate and the 1st year leaving certificate.

After leaving Guildford he joined the Vacuum Oil Company as a clerk and completed the intermediate examination of the Federal Institute of Accountants as well as the final auditing unit and three law subjects.

He loved flying took lessons at Perth’s Maylands Aerodrome. Apparently he would fly over the Dunrees Golf Course and buzz his sisters as they played.   

While at Guildford, he joined the school cadet corps and, as an adult, he served a year with an artillery unit with the Citizen Military Forces and on 4 September 1937 enrolled as a Sergeant-Airman pilot with the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve. He was discharged on 28 February 1939 to take up a short service commission with the Royal Air Force. He sailed on the Ormonde, which left Melbourne on 31 January 1939. He was in the second last group of Australians to be accepted for short service commissions with the RAF. After completing his elementary flying training he was granted his commission in May 1939.

After completing his flying training he was posted to 266 Squadron in November 1939. The flight commanders were flight lieutenants James Coward and Ian ‘Widge’ Gleed.

The squadron went into action for the first time over Dunkirk on 2 June 1940, patrolling at 20,000 over the beach area from 7.45 hours to 8.30 hours. Of the twelve pilots who flew that day, eight engaged with the enemy ‘the definite results of these’, according to the Operations Record Book, ‘were difficult to obtain owing to the height at which the engagements took place and the large number of aircraft engaged in dog fights’.

266 Squadron, which was based at Wittering, carried out only a handful of patrols and raid investigations during June and July and the first half of August, with Francis flying most of them.

On 15 August, using almost its entire resources, the Luftwaffe launched a day-long series of attacks designed to saturate RAF defences. Almost all of Britain was within range of enemy bombers. Nine of 266 pilots were ordered up at midday and at 16.00 hours, they were again in the air to intercept enemy aircraft off Dover. It is not certain if Francis flew in the first encounter, but he scrambled in the afternoon. He encountered the enemy, was shot down. His burnt out Spitfire crashed on the banks of the Medway at Teston, near Maidstone. Later that evening, the county police reported that they had found his parachute, with the straps burnt but not sign of Francis. He was found the next day in the river and Teston. He had been married to Joan Perry, a fellow Western Australian who he had met in London, for just one month.

His fellow squadron member, Denis Armitage, remembered him as a much loved member of their little band of pilots. ‘It was terribly sad to lose him so early in the battle.

Francis Walter Cale was the sixth Australian entitled to the Battle of Britain clasp to be killed in Battle. He was buried in Westminster City Cemetery. His headstone was engraved ‘in loving memory of my dear husband’.

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