Missing airman’s ID tag found in Egyptian desert, 81 years after crash

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Missing airman’s ID tag found in Egyptian desert, 81 years after crash

#1 Post by Karearea » Sat Nov 11, 2023 9:27 pm

The identity tag of an Australian airman has been found in an Egyptian desert, more than 80 years after a plane he was on went missing over the Western Desert during WWII.

Royal Australian Air Force sergeant John Campbell Daley was 30 years old when the plane carrying him, Victorian soldier Ian Aubrey Baines and five other Allied airmen, is believed to have crashed over Egypt on August 3, 1942.

Neither their bodies nor the wreckage were ever found, and they were declared dead in 1948.

But a week ago, two Egyptian tour guides came across a metal tag in the desert in El Alamein, identifying the lost Australian soldier days out from Remembrance Day.

It was one of a number of metal items found. The tag had the name Daley engraved on it, along with the service number 404014 and the letters RAAF. The tag also had the letters PRES, which is believed to represent Daley’s religion as presbyterian. A WWII sergeant badge was also found.

One of the tour guides, who asked not to be named to protect his privacy, said he lived in El Alamein and had been running tours of the battlefield for 13 years, and said little remained of the war except for burnt sand and iron. There’s also a war museum and cemetery in El Alamein.

The Australian War Memorial lists Sgt Daley’s cause of death online as “flying battle”. His name is listed at the Alamein memorial, but this is the first time any trace of the crew or the downed plane has been found.

Daley – whose parents eloped from Australia – was born in South Africa before the family of three moved to Canada, where his younger siblings Betty, Sheila and Peggy were born. But on November 6, 1918, when John was aged seven, both of his parents died of the Spanish flu.

Only days earlier, Daley’s mother had written to her siblings back in Queensland, telling them about the flu sweeping Canada. The authorities were able to find Daley’s aunties and uncles back in Queensland, so the four children went back to Australia to grow up with their cousins.

As an adult, Daley worked as a taxi driver and learned to fly at the Royal Queensland Aero Club.

He enlisted in the RAAF in 1940, and commenced training on April 29, 1940, at 1 WAGS (Wireless Air Gunners School) at Ballarat, part of the first intake of RAAF trainees for WWII.

Daley spent his last Christmas, in 1940, with his family and married his fiancee, Sheila Mildred Prettejohn before leaving for battle.

“He was assigned to the Royal Air Force in Egypt and given various postings around the Middle East until on 19 November 1941, he was assigned to RAF Sea Rescue Flight in the Nile Delta, which was to be his final posting,” said Fiona Hayward, whose grandfather was a brother of Daley’s mother.

The story of Sgt Daley’s final hours form a chapter in the project titled Missing With No Grave, a compilation of war stories derived from the collections of the Australian War Memorial and the National Archives of Australia, authored by Alan Storr.

On August 3, 1942, the aircraft Daley was on was sent to search for a missing Wellington aircraft which had signalled five hours earlier it was forced to land.

Wellington Z 8778 took off at 10am, and by 1pm, it had sent a signal, saying: “Search had up to that time been unsuccessful, but continuing.” However, when an attempt was made to contact the Wellington Z 8778 at 4.42pm, it was unsuccessful. No one heard from them again.

“Following post-war enquiries and searches when no trace of the missing aircraft or crew were found, it was recorded in 1948 that the missing crew had no known grave,” Storr wrote in his project.

Daley, listed as being a first wireless operator and air gunner, was the oldest of the seven airmen aboard the plane, aged 30, and one of two Australians. The other was Ian Aubrey Baines, 23, also a first sergeant wireless operator and air gunner.

Baines lived in Gordon Street, Boort, Victoria, and was a law student before he joined the war. He had no spouse or children, according to ancestry records, but may have had half-siblings.

The other troops on that flight were captain pilot John Thomson Dick, aged 21, from what is now Tanzania, Canadian second pilot officer Harry Gordon Locke, 26, Canadian third pilot and fire control Roy Campbell Prince, 20, English first sergeant navigator Henry Stephen Impett, 24, and Welsh sergeant air gunner Robert Selwyn Hughes, 20.

Hayward said she was shocked to learn an ID tag had been found in the desert more than 80 years after Daley’s plane went missing.

“It was nearly disbelief,” Hayward said.

“But then it went from disbelief to amazement, and then it was emotional too because it’s 81 years that aircraft’s been out there and no one has found it, and they found it, these random guys from El Alamein.”

Hayward said Daley’s story was “an incredible part of our family history”.

Hayward said she was hopeful the family could get its hands on the ID tag and sergeant badge, also believed to belong to Daley.

“We’d all love to go out into the El Alamein desert and see the crash site,” she said.

“We’d love to get there, I don’t think we’re going to, but we are hoping we can get the identity disk and the sergeant’s badge, which is quite likely John Daley’s as well.”
Photographs and further links at Sydney Morning Herald article: https://www.smh.com.au/national/missing ... 5ej0e.html
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Re: Missing airman’s ID tag found in Egyptian desert, 81 years after crash

#2 Post by OneHungLow » Sun Nov 12, 2023 4:49 pm

What an interesting, if poignant story. I am delighted that his ID tag has been recovered and that he and his crew are remembered, and thus in some small way alive again, at least in other's minds and hearts...

The crew's provenance, hearkens back to a better time when the British Empire meant something, and people from other lands would fight for civilized values, despite the very many obvious faults in that very same Empire.

One a lighter note, back in the day eloping in the southern hemisphere meant more than a quick trip to Gretna Green! ;)))
The observer of fools in military south and north...

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