Black magic

A very good man and a very good pilot

Leonard Victor Waters, the fourth of eleven children, was born on 20 June 1924 at Euraba Mission between Boomi and Garrah in New South Wales. He left school when he was 13 years old and during the next four years he worked as a shearer. In August 1942, Len applied to join the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and was trained as an aircraft mechanic. Then, in 1943 he applied to do a pilots' course and was one of the few applicants chosen for training. Len Waters graduated among the top five in his course to become Australia's first and only Aboriginal fighter pilot during World War II.

Len's initial training was at No.1 Elementary Flying Training School (1EFTS) Narrandera, NSW, and he graduated as a sergeant pilot from No.5 Service Flying Training School (5SFTS), Uranquinty, NSW. His training continued at Mildura in Victoria with No.2 Operational Training Unit (2OTU).

In November 1944, he was posted to No.78 Squadron where he was allocated a Kittyhawk aircraft fortuitously named 'Black Magic'. Len flew more than 90 operational sorties against the Japanese from Noemfoor (West Irian, Indonesia), Morotai (Indonesia) and Tarakan (Borneo, Indonesia). On 1 January 1945, Len was promoted to Flight Sergeant. He also celebrated his 21st birthday in 1945:

During May most of our time was taken up with Squadron Formation and Battle climbs. It was during this time that we found out that we were going to Tarakan and I also celebrated my 21st birthday. Also during this time the war was finally over in Europe so we had a couple of occasions for celebration. Finally on the 18th of July we took off for Tarakan and three days after we carried out our first raid over Sandakan, North Borneo. Did several flights to Balikpapan [Borneo] and carried out raids from there with mixed results.

[Leonard and Gladys Waters Papers, AWM PR00308]

On 18 January 1946, the newly promoted Warrant Officer Len Waters was discharged from the RAAF. He married Gladys Saunders four weeks after his discharge. Len never flew again. He returned to shearing to make a living. Although it kept him away from his wife and family it was the best paid work that was open to him after the war.

In 1996, the community of Moree in New South Wales dedicated a memorial park to Leonard Waters at Boggabilla, north of Moree. He is also commemorated in Len Waters Street, Ngunnawal in Canberra.


Last updated: 1 February 2019

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), Black magic , DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 28 November 2021, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/world-war-ii-1939-1945/events/last-battles/landings-borneo/black-magic
Was this page helpful?