Remembering our fallen

John Lamb Mehaffey and Mervyn Whittenbury were among the many locals who died while serving their country.

John Lamb Mehaffey was born at Naracoorte on February 25, 1894, and was educated at Naracoorte. After leaving school, Jack, as he was known, worked as a clerk at his father’s business Mehaffeys Naracoorte Supply Stores.

After passing his medical to join the 1st Australian Imperial Force Jack reported for training at the Mitcham Camp on August 4, 1915. He was allocated as a reinforcement for the 10th Infantry Battalion which was fighting on Gallipoli. Jack embarked from Adelaide on October 27, 1915, disembarking Egypt November 30, 1915 where he continued his training. On February 29, 1916 Jack transferred to the newly formed 50th Infantry Battalion (South Australian). The battalion left Egypt for France on June 5, 1916, disembarking France July 4.

The 50th Battalion’s first major battle in France was at Pozieres (Mouquet Farm) August/September 1916 and during this battle the 50th Battalion suffered over 500 casualties. By this stage Jack had been promoted to Sergeant and had managed to get through Pozieres unscathed. Between September 1916 and March 1917 the 50th spent its time alternating between front line duty, training and building new trenches during that bleak winter of 1916/17. In early 1917 the Battalion participated in the advance that followed the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, where it would attack Noreuil.

At 5.15am on April 2, 1917 the 50th Battalion commenced the attack to capture the village of Noreuil. They encountered very heavy German artillery and machine gun fire. At around 8am Jack was badly wounded by machine gun fire in the leg. While his wound was being dressed he was hit by further machine fire in his back and was killed at just 23 years old. Although they had secured the Village of Noreuil it had proved very costly for the battalion: 119 killed, 179 wounded and a further 62 taken prisoner in 24 hours fighting. The Naracoorte members of the 50th Battalion who went into action on that day suffered even heavier casualties. Of the 15 members of the attacking force 5 were killed, 4 wounded and 2 taken prisoner. Sadly Jack’s brother Campbell Mehaffey was killed in action in Belgium during the battle for Passchendaele on November 5, 1917 aged 21.

Mervyn Whittenbury was born at Naracoorte on November 18, 1922. Educated in Naracoorte, he was a keen footballer, hockey player and swimmer. On July 18, 1942 Mervyn joined the Royal Australian Air Force and was selected for aircrew training. After training at Victor Harbor Mervyn was posted to the 1st Wireless and Air Gunners School at Ballarat to be trained as an air gunner.

During March 1943 Mervyn was posted to West Sale for further training before being posted overseas. On May 5, 1943 Mervyn sailed for England and disembarked there on July 6. On July 20 Mervyn was posted to the 27th Operational Training Unit Staffordshire England.

While here he trained under operational conditions with his crew as a rear gunner. On October 19, Mervyn and his crew were posted to the 1656th Conversion Training Unit in Yorkshire. This was the final stage of their training and while here they would train on the aircraft they would fly on operations, the Avro Lancaster Bomber, which had a crew of seven.

After 15 months of training Mervyn and his crew were posted to their Operational Squadron 460 RAAF Heavy Bomber Squadron Binbrook Lincolnshire on February 25, 1944. Mervyn flew his first operation as rear gunner to Stuttgart on the night of March 15, 1944.

On March 30, 1944 Mervyn and his crew participated in the disastrous attack on Nuremburg when 700 bombers attacked the German city. Several German night fighters were seen by Mervyn but they did not attack. During this attack RAF Bomber Command lost 105 bombers with another 60 damaged. 545 aircrew were killed, 460 Squadron lost 3 bombers.

Over the next three months Mervyn and his crew flew a further 19 operations running the gauntlet of German night fighters, flak and search lights. While returning from bombing the Gelsenkirchen oil plant in Germany on the night of June 13, 1944 Mervyn and his crew were attacked by a German night fighter and were shot down and killed. Mervyn and his crew are buried at the Olst Cemetery, Netherlands.