Mullalyup to Mississippi – An RAAF Airman’s Journey.

In many ways, Flight Sergeant Edgar Horace Hawter was not unlike the thousands of other Australians of his generation who volunteered to serve their country in the Second World War and never returned. He was certainly not alone in being recorded, initially, as ‘Missing.’ Hawter’s remains, however, were found, but could not be positively identified and thus separated, from the remains of the two other members of his flight crew who also perished at the same time. Because these two other individuals were Americans, the group of three remains, including Hawter’s, were eventually buried in the U.S. state of Mississippi. Though there was a name on a gravestone for Edgar Horace Hawter, RAAF, far from home and in a country he had neither visited nor fought in, in a sense, the closure was incomplete. One might argue that he remained, and forever will remain, Missing.

This story though, while it is primarily about one individual, is also indirectly a testament to the efforts of those who, years after the smoke had settled and almost all of the living combatants had been discharged, continued to search for their countrymen who had not been given the opportunity to step back into civilian life. In this story, it was the R.A.A.F. Searcher Party and Australian War Graves who sought the answers.

 

Edgar Horace Hawter was born on the 5th of June, 1904 in Donnybrook, Western Australia, to Jacob and Edith of Mullalyup. He was one of four sons (Kenneth, Fred and Lyall) and one daughter (Phyllis). Edgar Horace attended Guildford Grammar School, where he gained his Junior Certificate in 1919. Seven years later, in May, 1926, his father Jacob Hawter, who was apparently very respected in the district, died.

Hawter was a ‘commission agent’ prior to enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force (hereafter RAAF) at No.4 Recruiting Centre, Perth, on the 15th of August, 1940. At the time, he was just over 36 years of age, too old to be accepted for an aircrew position, which was his preferred mustering. To get around this challenge, and not unlike others at the time in a similar position, Edgar ‘borrowed’ his younger brother Clive Hector’s birth certificate – Clive had been born on the 10th of August, 1913 – and from that point onwards, served under the name of Clive Hector Hawter, 27 years of age.

Edgar Horace, or ‘Clive Hector’, was, according to his initial RAAF records, of average height (5ft 11.5in/181cms) and weight (156lbs/70.1kg), had brown eyes, dark brown hair, and a dark complexion.

Hawter must have exhibited a degree of competence, as he rose through the ranks while undergoing the various training courses and postings, eventually becoming a sergeant pilot.

At his second posting to the North East Area, in early-to-mid 1942, he was attached to the Third Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Corps. On the 25th of July, he flew as the co-pilot in a B25C Mitchell, No.41-12792, performing two bombing runs over Buna, Papua, where the Japanese South Seas Force had begun to land four days earlier and push overland to Port Moresby via the Kokoda Track.

On the following day, the 26th, the crew of the same aircraft volunteered to fly a mission to bomb the seaplane anchorage at Gasmata on the south coast of New Britain, a challenging task as the location was at the extreme of the B25’s range, and any interception – which was expected – or extra manoeuvring, meant that a safe return to their base was unlikely. If they survived attack, they would have to crash land somewhere and hope for the best.

The crew for the flight, which was to accompany another four of the same aircraft type for the mission, consisted of the Pilot, 0-329735 Captain F.P. Bender; Hawter as the co-pilot; 14006568 Sgt. V. McBroom, the Aerial Engineer; 691204 Technical Sergeant A.M. Thompson, the upper gunner; 7002713 Sgt. R.T. Middleton, the bombardier; and the second RAAF member, 405378 Sgt. I. C. Hamilton, the lower gunner.

Sure enough, the Japanese were again active in the vicinity of the Papuan beachheads, and the flight made it no further than the vicinity of Gona before they were intercepted. The details differ slightly between reports, but Hawter’s aircraft was one of two shot down by fifteen Japanese Zero-type fighters, the remaining three being damaged and pursued back towards Port Moresby by the aggressive enemy.

Captain Bender was one of only two survivors from his crew, though a third, was initially believed to have parachuted safely and been taken prisoner (the latter being pure speculation). In his first after-action report while recuperating in hospital in Australia, Bender noted that “One of the shells [of the Japanese fighters] severed the elevator cable thus making it impossible for the pilot to control the plane, and he ordered the crew to bail out. Three of the crew succeeded in getting clear, but unfortunately the remaining three members were apparently unable to extricate themselves and went down with the plane as it spun and crashed to the earth.”

Edgar Hawter was not one of those who survived.

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

[References are available on request].

 

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