Sergeant James Neate Hanigan
James Neate Hanigan, the son of George William Percy and Amy Eliza Hanigan, was born and raised in Hurstville New South Wales.
He left school in 1933 and completed two years service with the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve between 1936 and 1938. When he signed up for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), he was working as a clerk for the Care Halifax Insurance Co. Ltd in Sydney.
Like many new RAAF recruits, after he signed up on 9 April 1940, Jim Hanigan went to No. 2 Initial Training School at Bradfield Park. Here he was joined by “Dick” Gazzard and “Barry” Haydon, all three following identical training paths through No. 5 Elementary Flying Training School at Narrowmine and No.3 Service Flying Training School at Calgary. Whilst in Calgary, Hanigan’s flying training focused on the twin-engined Avro Anson, before he joined No. 57 Operational Training Unit at RAF Hawarden on 13 February 1941 along with Gazzard and Haydon.
Here began his conversion to the Supermarine Spitfire. The training at Hawarden provided the basics in Spitfire handling and manoeuvring, but left a lot more to be learned, this would have to be done on a squadron. After just nine weeks training on Spitfires at Hawarden, the trio were posted to No. 452 (RAAF) Squadron on 21 April 1941, two weeks after its formation, at RAF Kirton-in-Lindsey.
The squadron was in what would now be termed a “work up” phase, building proficiency in flying as sections and as a whole squadron. The Squadron became “officially fully day operational” on 2 June, 1941 and Jim Hainigan took part in his first operational, an abortive intercept, on 6 June. The month for Hanigan continued to be a mix of intercept launches, both real and practice, combined with convoy patrols.
11 July, 1941 brought the Squadron its first offensive operation when it took part in a sweep over France as part of Circus 44. To participate in the Circus, the Squadron forward deployed to RAF West Malling to refuel. On the sortie, Hanigan flew as “Red 3” behind his squadron leader Bob Bungey and was able to give confirmation to “Paddy” Finucane’s claim to have downed an Me.109 near Lille. On the return flight Hanigan got lost and missed the Kent coast, after running out of fuel he made a forced landing at Peldon in Essex where his Spitfire was severely damaged. All was not lost however, as he made an impromptu guest appearance as “The Airman from Australia” at the local school fete. He returned to Kirton-in-Lindsey the following day after being retrieved from Peldon by a Westland Lysander.
13 July saw Hanigan posted away, but the move was cancelled without coming into effect. 16 July saw Hanigan, as part of “B” Flight led by Flight Lieutenant Finucane, deploy to the coastal airfield at RAF North Coates for alert duty. It seems to have been an uneventful day but such deployments were common for the squadron at this time with RAF Digby also being used.
452 Squadron moved to Kenley, at short notice, on 21 July and immediately began sorties under 11 Group, flying a Channel sweep the following day. Jim Hanigan’s first operational sorties occurred on 23 July when he flew on two Channel sweeps. 24 July saw the squadron undertake its first long range operation when, after deploying to Merston near Tangmere, they flew on “Sunrise 2” to Cherbourg during which Flying Officer Humphrey shot down an Me.109. With the weather rather indifferent at the end of the month, Hanigan joined a series of squadron “Rhubarb” sorties on 30 July.
The tempo of operations increased dramatically in August with Hanigan flying on seven “Circus” operations, escorting small formations of Bombers from 5 Group. Although the squadron engaged enemy aircraft and made claims on 3, 9, 16, 26 and 27 August, it does not appear that Hanigan was involved in any of these combats. Hanigan’s final operational sortie occurred on 4 September when the squadron took part in Circus 93 to Mazingarbe – it turned out to be an uneventful operation.
Perhaps trying to improve his airmanship and chances of successfully engaging the enemy, Jim Hanigan was practising “dummy attacks” in company with newly arrived Sergeant K V Williams on 7 September, when their Spitfires collided and crashed in the grounds of Cane Hill Hospital /Hollymeoak Rd area. Neither pilot survived.
Sergeant James Neate Hanigan was buried with full military honours, on 11 September, 1941 along with Sergeant K V Williams in St. Luke’s Whyteleafe. The inscription reads:
To live in the lives of those we leave behind is not to die.
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.