Prisoner of war
This officer at all times displayed outstanding leadership, initiative and determination.
[Official citation, award of Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) to Pilot Officer David Paul. 28 March 1944. NAA: A12372, R/210106/H]
On 4 December 1943, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) pilot David Paul set off on what should have been the last reconnaissance mission of his tour of duty with No 454 Squadron.
Paul was one of the squadron's original members. He was also one of its most experienced pilots (he logged almost 800 hours flying hours during the war).
Within hours of Paul and his crew leaving the base, their Baltimore Bomber was brought down by a German Messerschmitt fighter. He would spend the rest of the war in a German prisoner of war (POW) camp.
David Paul grew up on Sydney's North Shore. His great-grandmother, Lucy Fraser, was an Aboriginal woman from the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales. But Paul did not reveal his Indigenous ancestry until after the war.
Paul left school before finishing his Intermediate Certificate. He accompanied his parents to outback Queensland and worked for a while as a station hand on farms in New South Wales and Queensland. His family returned to Sydney where Paul found a job as a dry cleaner.
By this time, war was a real possibility. Paul wanted to be a pilot but knew he did not have the necessary education. He went back to school at the local technical college in 1939. In January 1941, his application to join the RAAF was successful. Aged 20, he was posted to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to begin training under the Empire Air Training Scheme.
Paul's flight training report shows he was a consistent, calm and hardworking student with above-average common sense and problem-solving skills. He scored 90% in his armaments exam and 80% for airmanship. Following his training, Paul was posted to No 454 Squadron as a pilot.
Members of No 454 Squadron were based in North Africa and flew patrols over the Aegean Sea. Their living conditions were hot and difficult.
The enemy was also the wind, which whipped up sandstorms within minutes that lasted for hours and made flying and maintenance work impossible. Tents would be ripped apart, equipment covered in mounds of sand and the men themselves would find the sand got everywhere, aggravating cuts, stinging eyes and noses and making life generally unpleasant.
[Mark Lax, Alamein to the Alps: 454 Squadron, RAAF 1941-1945, 2006:33]
By late 1943, German forces occupied Greece and controlled the Aegean Sea. Paul's job was to watch the area for German ships and submarines so allied convoys could make their way through. These missions were long, difficult and dangerous. There was always the risk that German fighters, ships or anti-aircraft guns would shoot them down.
At 6:35 am on 4 December 1943, Paul boarded his Martin Baltimore light bomber for a photo reconnaissance patrol of the western Aegean Sea. His crew were:
- Warrant Officer, George Townson Agg, navigator
- Warrant Officer, Jim Rennie, wing operator and air gunner
- Warrant Officer, Ralph Simpson, turret gunner.
Rennie was a Scot attached to the Royal Air Force (RAF). Simpson and Agg had gone through training with Paul. All were highly experienced.
Some time after 9:30 am, their plane was attacked by two German fighters, just off the Greek island of Keos (now Kea). The aircraft caught fire, and Paul told his crew to prepare to ditch (crash-land on water).
After the plane hit the water, the crew swam to the surface through burning fuel. There was no sign of Ralph Simpson who had parachuted out, but Rennie, Agg and Paul were not seriously injured.
The 3 survivors were rescued by the Germans. After they were interrogated, Paul and his crew endured a week-long journey across Europe in a closed goods wagon. They arrived at Stalag IV-B at Muhlberg, 100 km north of Dresden in eastern Germany.
By early 1944, Stalag IV-B was the largest of Germany's POW camps. It was overcrowded with primitive hygiene facilities, and disease was common. Food was limited, although most prisoners were receiving Red Cross packages.
Paul was a prisoner at Stalag IV-B until the end of the war. While imprisoned, he was notified that he'd been awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).
Paul returned to Sydney after the Allies liberated the camp. He joined the NSW Police Force and the RAAF Richmond Reserve, where he was promoted to Squadron Leader in 1971.
Aged only 53, Paul died of a heart attack on 14 May 1973.
He is commemorated at the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial in Ballarat, Victoria.
- 454 and 459 RAAF Squadrons Association. 2018. Flight Lieutenant David Valentine PAUL 454 RAAF Squadron. https://www.454-459squadrons.org.au/pauldv
- ADF-SERIALS. 2014. RAAF Martin Baltimore Mk.III, IIIA, IV & V 454 & 459 Sqns, RAAF. http://www.adf-serials.com.au/baltimore.htm
- AWM. 2020. David Paul, Australian War Memorial Memorial Box 3. https://www.awm.gov.au/learn/memorial-boxes/3/online-resources/paul
- AWM. 2019. Stolen Years: Australian prisoners of war - Prisoners in Germany. Australian War Memorial, Canberra. https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/exhibitions/stolenyears/ww2/germany
- David Valentine Paul, World War Two Service Nominal Rolls, Department of Veterans' Affairs. http://nominal-rolls.dva.gov.au/veteran?id=1205603&c=WW2#R
- National Archives of Australia: Department of Air, Central Office; A12372; PAUL David Valentine : Service Number - O210106 : Date of Birth - 10/06/1920 : Place of Birth - , NSW : Conflict - WW2; R/210106/H, 30701642, 15 Jul 1940 - 12 Jun 1973.
- National Archives of Australia: Department of Air, Central Office; A705; AGG George Townson - (Flight Sergeant); Service Number - 400954; File type - Casualty - Repatriation; Aircraft - Baltimore; Place - Agean Sea; Date - 4 December 1943; 166/3/148, 1060955, 1929 - 1960.
- Vercoe, Tony. 2006. Survival at Stalag Ivb: Soldiers and Airmen Remember Germany's Largest POW Camp of World War II. Jefferson, McFarland.