Flying Officer Donald Edwin Lewis
Don Lewis was born to Keith Bannatyne Lewis and Doris Lewis on 1 February, 1922, in Hobart, Tasmania. After school, he became a draughtsman and moved to Melbourne where he joined the Lands and Survey Department.
Following his medical and Oath declaration, Lewis enlisted in Melbourne on 23 June 1940. His training followed that of other Royal Australian Air Force recruits, through No.2 Initial Training School and No.5 Elementary Flying Training School before joining No.1 Services Flying Training School at Camp Borden in Canada. During his training he flew both the North American Yale and Harvard II. On completion of his flying training at No.5 Elementary Flying Training School, he was promoted to Pilot Officer. On 10 March 1941 he arrived at No.57 Operational Training Unit, RAF Harwarden, to convert to the Spitfire. At over six feet, Lewis probably found the cockpit quite cramped even with the seat lowered. After nine weeks at the OTU he was posted to 452 (RAAF) Squadron at RAF Kirton-in-Lindsey along with Pilot Officer W D Eccleton, Pilot Officer J H O’Byrne, Pilot Officer W D Willis and Sergeant G B Chapman.
A curious incident occurred not long after Don Lewis arrived at Kirton-in-Lindsey. He recalled the incident to “The Sunday Sun”, of Sydney: “Once when I ran out of petrol in a lonely area I returned and found the tyres deflated and the car out of action…A policeman told me, ‘A shady character wearing an imitation R.A.F. uniform disappeared from here.” The paper went on to explain the uniform was “the distinctive Australian blue” but the airmen were not allowed to wear Australian shoulder tabs. It continued “In addition to Fifth Columnists, they are also often taken for Free-Frenchmen and Norwegians.” Being mistaken for Fifth Columnists was not the only difficulty they faced either: “The Australians often shoot clay pigeons to sharpen their eyesight. While waiting to take off recently some of them went rabbit shooting in the neighboring fields. Only the explanation that they were Australians, and ignorant of the British Game Laws, saved them from being arrested as poachers.”
Like all new pilots, Lewis entered a period of further training with the squadron, his first operational sortie not being recorded until 6 June. For the remainder of the squadron’s time at Kirton-in-Lindsey, Lewis continued his training, interspersed with convoy patrols, standing patrols and interceptions of friendly aircraft.
Following the squadron move to Kenley on 21 July, Lewis flew his next operational sortie on the morning of 23 July when he was involved in a “medium cover” sweep to St Omer. He flew three more sweeps on 23 and 24 Julybefore going on four days leave on 26 July. On his return, he rejoined the action, participating in escort sorties and the (in)famous Circus 68 on 9 August, which saw the squadron lose three pilots missing (Eccleton, O’Byrne and Chapman) plus the downing of Douglas Bader from the Tangmere Wing. Notably 452 flew their first operational sorties with the Spitfire Mk.V the following day however they did not fully convert to the Mk.V until 29 August. Don Lewis was promoted to Flying Officer on 12 August 1941.
Don Lewis made his first claim in action, when on 21 September, as part of Circus 101, he claimed a Me.109 damaged. Other pilots in the squadron also claimed five destroyed and another damaged, with Flight Lieutenant “Paddy” Fincane and Pilot Officer “Bluey” Truscott claiming three between them. As the summer turned to autumn, Lewis continued to be involved in Circuses, Rhubarbs, Sweep and Rodeos. He made his second “damage” claim on 6 November 1941 when the squadron, as part of the Kenley Wing, flew escort cover for a Tomahawk reconnaissance mission over Cap Gris Nez. The combat was fierce when the squadron was attacked by six enemy aircraft. The squadron claimed two enemy aircraft destroyed and four damaged, losing two pilots in the process. One of the “damaged” aircraft was later upgraded to “destroyed”. 452 had established a reputation for over-claiming, this seems likely to be another instance although the squadron enjoyed a 2 to 1 advantage over the enemy.
The sortie rate for the squadron declined as winter drew on but there were still fighter sweeps, convoy patrols and Ramrods to take part in. Christmas 1941 saw Flying Officer Lewis depart on four days leave, on his return he took part in a convoy patrol on 29 December before embarking on a further six days leave on 4 January 1942. His first sortie after his return also proved to be his last. On 22 January, whilst providing cover for minesweepers in the Channel, his Spitfire Vb (AB992) developed engine trouble. He attempted to make land but was forced to bale out and was lost. The Squadron Diary for 22 January 1942 noted:
Squadron proceeded to Manston to stand by to operate with 602 Squadron on QO. Operation – protection of minesweepers. During the course of this operation, P/O Lewis called up on the RT, saying – “I’m going into the sea”. He gave his position as 270. Sgt Harper noticed oil on P/O Lewis’s windscreen. A search was carried out on the course given, and P/O Lewis was seen lying on his back in the water with his parachute alongside. F/Lt. Smith is of the opinion that P/O Lewis was unconscious. F/Lt. Smith ordered his section to stand by while he climbed to 3000ft to give fixes on “Channel C” and report on Channel C. Unfortunately the rest of his section mistook his instructions and followed him up. After transmitting long and slow messages. They came down to 100ft again but could find no trace of P/O Lewis. Haze was thick up to 1000ft. After orbiting for 40 minutes, the section returned.
Flying Officer Lewis died ten days shy of his twentieth birthday.
Flying Officer Donald Edwin Lewis is commemorated on Panel 110 of the Runnymede Memorial. The inscription reads:
“Remembered with Honour”
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.