FLIGHT LIEUTENANT Reginald Ronald Witham DFC
SLC Old Boy: 1934
Service Number: 425800
Date of Birth: 20 September 1918
Date of Enlistment: 26 April 1942
Rank: Flight Lieutenant
Unit: No. 138 Squadron (RAF)
Service: Royal Australian Air Force
Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
Award: Distinguished Flying Cross
Award Citation: Skill and fortitude in operations against the enemy.
Date of death: 27 November 1944
Place of death: North West Europe
Cause of death: Flying Battle
Cemetery or memorial details: Runnymede Memorial, Surrey, England, United Kingdom
Source: AWM148 Roll of Honour cards, 1939-1945 War, Air Force
Location on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial
Reginald Ronald Witham’s name is located at panel 132 in the Commemorative Area at the Australian War Memorial.
Photo: The Distinguished Flying Cross
Biography of FLIGHT LIEUTENANT Reginald Ronald Witham DFC
Reg Witham was born in 1918 at the end of World War I. His father, Bill, was a Master Butcher who opened his shop on Ipswich Road in 1912. He had two older brothers Cyril and Leonard, as well as one younger sister Mary. He completed his primary schooling at Mary Immaculate Convent School in Annerley before following his brothers to St Laurence’s. He was a student under the legendary Principal Brother P Foley (1930-1935) and finished Junior in 1932.
After leaving school it was through his father’s connections in the butchering trade that Reg got his first job, as a clerk at the Redbank Meat Works. Reg’s passion, even as a young boy, was flying. He would carve aeroplanes out of wooden clothes pegs with a wooden propeller attached by a pin so it would spin. At the age of 18 Reg joined the RAAF and was sent to train in New South Wales where he flew Tiger Moths. In 1942 he was sent to the training school in Yorkton Canada where be completed his training as a bomber pilot. Then in 1943-44 Reg was attached to the RAF in England eventually joining the legendary 138 Squadron in May 1944 at RAF Tempsford.
Wartime security was such that only those directly concerned, knew of Tempsford’s special mission – that of fostering the Resistance Movement in Nazi occupied countries. The crews were all hand-picked men who had proved their worth on at least one completed tour – comprising 30 operations in Bomber Command. Tempsford was the headquarters of the RAF unit which specialised in flying saboteurs to lead and maintain communication with the underground movement and in supplying arms, ammunition, radios, food and pigeons to the Resistance. Operations ranged over 19 countries.
Crews always flew alone at night without fighter protection and often flew so low to escape the radar that the waves lapped the wings of their plane. Often the only landing guide they had was the light of a torch held by a patriot. Sometimes when they came in to land the Gestapo were there with guns held to the heads of the patriots, and the pilot had no choice but to abort the landing. According to Reg’s Log Book many trips were made to France, Norway and Denmark. Reg and his crew had Danish Passports and flew in civilian clothes in case they were shot down.
On the 27 November 1944 Reg’s Stirling bomber nicknamed ‘Rosalie’ was attacked by an enemy fighter plane near the town of Assens, Denmark, and crashed into the sea between Fuen and Jutland. The crew of seven (with average age of 23) all perished. The crew’s mission, Operation Tablejam 69, to Denmark was to deliver a cargo of 26 boxes of explosives and a direction finding device, known as a Eureca.
In 1990 the Danes built a Memorial at the entrance to Rebild National Park which reads – “On support operations to the Danish Resistance Movement during the occupation 1940-45, 69 Allied Airmen lost their lives. They defied the dangers of the darkness and wickedness for the Fight for Freedom and Peace. Therefore they shall be remembered eternally with Denmark’s gratitude.”
Reg Witham’s aircraft was recovered from the shallow sea off Jutland in 1995 exactly 50 years after the end of World War II.
When he was lost in 1944 Flight Lieutenant Witham was at the height of an outstanding career in the Air Force.
He was a contemporary of other decorated Old Boys in the RAAF including Frank Nugent DFC, Michael Partridge DFC and Ron Tardent DFC with whom he trained in Canada.
Reg Witham was faithful to his Catholic beliefs. He was an altar server at Mary Immaculate as a boy and at his Tempsford RAF base as a serving flying officer. On Christmas Day in 1943 he served three Masses at Westminster Cathedral in London. Reg’s mother had a letter from the Padre at Tempsford saying “Reg was a regular Mass goer on the station and often served Mass for me, even after just coming in from a raid. He had attended Mass on that last morning.”
He was awarded the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) posthumously for displaying the ‘utmost fortitude, courage and devotion to duty in air operations against the enemy’.
The commemorative scroll commemorating his service concludes with the blessing, ‘May his sacrifice help to bring the peace and freedom for which he died’.
(Source: Lauries Inspirations Volume 1)Next