Flying Officer Francis Noel Miller PETCH

Flying Officer Francis Noel Miller PETCHFlying Officer Francis Noel Miller PETCH

Francis Noel Miller Petch was born in Ballarat on the 24th December 1921.  He was educated at Queen Street Public School and later at the Ballarat Grammar School through a scholarship. He was dux of the school in 1938. Frank’s first job was a position at the Ballarat Trustees where he started as a message boy. At the age of 17 Frank was promoted to the position of acting manager of the Liverpool London and Globe Insurance Company, which the trustees were agents of. At the age of 18 he was called up to join the Army but accepted a job as accountant at the Ballarat Hospital.

On the 20th August 1942 Frank enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force  Frank had later said he wanted to join the Air Force ever since he was eight years old when he flew with the famous aviator Bert Hinkler when he visited Ballarat on his first solo flight from England to Australia in 1928.

After enlistment Frank did a rookie’s course at Shepparton then to Corowa to do guard duty. Due to eyesight problems Frank was ruled out from pilot training and after Initial Training at Somers was posted to No. 1 W.A.G.S Ballarat. Here he passed  Course 34/35 in Wireless. Frank began course 34 but ended up in hospital with bronchitis so he resumed his training in Course 35.

 “All the Victorians in 34 course got posted up to the islands and the West Australians. And there was I, don’t know of any of them that survived. In 35 course the Victorians and the West Australians from 34 course got posted over to England and only 12 out of them. Twelve out of the hundred there survived. The loss in the air force was one in two. But unfortunately, with these postings they went to the different squadrons and they happened to end up being the one in two that were lost.”

Frank was then posted to Sale Victoria to complete the Gunnery Course flying in Fairy Battles aircraft.

 After qualifying as a WAG Frank was  posted to Bradfield Park Sydney and then Brisbane where he boarded the ship Matsonia to America. Once in New York he boarded the ship Queen Elizabeth to Brighton, England.

Whilst at Brighton Frank manned a machine gun on black out patrol. His next postings in England were a commando course at Whitley Bay, an Advanced Flying School in North Wales, an Operational Training Unit at Stafford and a Conversion Course for four engine planes [Halifax aircraft] at Sandtoft [ "nick-named Prangtoft because of all the crashes of R.A.F bombers." ] Frank then completed a short course on Lancaster [bombers] before joining the 550 Squadron R.A.F.  Here he completed seventeen Operations.

Frank’s first Operation was a bombing raid over Germany with several other Lancaster’s from the 550 Squadron.

“Twilight came and it was eerie to see the grey shapes of Lancaster’s all around us. We had pride in the fact that we were in a such a fleet that we thought would eventually win the war over Europe.”

He then had a series of Operations of night flying to bomb airfields in Holland and anti-aircraft guns on Vlissingen Island, narrowly escaping being bombed by another R.A.F. bomber. On an Operation to Calais Frank’s aircraft was ordered down to bomb from 3,000 feet however his plane bombed from 2,000 feet to ensure accuracy. Bombing Operations continued with a daylight raid on Essen and three consecutive trips to Cologne [one where Frank didn’t have a parachute]. On a raid to Duisburg Frank counted 12 Lancaster aircraft hit. His crew were sent back to the same target resulting in 28 hours of flying duty.

Throughout these operations over Germany Frank’s Lancaster evaded search lights, collisions with other Lancaster’s, unexploded bombs, night fighters, flack, cork screw dives, gale winds and adverse weather conditions. He often referred to the crew’s survival during these raids as down to the ‘skill of their pilot’.

Next posting was to 150 Squadron R.A.F [a new 4-engine bomber squadron] where Frank completed his tour of thirty Ops. At this stage Frank’s Wireless/Air Gunner duties would have finished however he volunteered for five more Ops. which turned into 6. During his posting with the 150 Squadron operations consisted of bombing raids over the main cities of Germany: Duren, Bochum, Frankfurt, Dortmund and Nuremberg. [And others]

 Frank recalled later that he suffered from nightmares. “Nuremberg is only one of two raids that gave me nightmares. Not because of what happened but what could’ve happened.  I thought the bomb aimer was never going to drop his bombs and we’d be blown out of the sky at any moment. ”

The other was” the Duisburg raid with half a body on a parachute coming out of the smoke, and fire, and twelve aircraft blowing up all around us wasn’t very pleasant. “.

 “I think we had a guardian angel looking after us”.

After his tour of 36 Operations Frank became an instructor at Lichfield Operational Training Unit and then an instructor at Enstone.

Frank sailed home on the ship Stratheden after celebrating VE [Victory in Europe] Day and VJ [Victory over Japan] Day in England.

Frank was discharged from the RAAF on the 28th November 1945 with the rank of Flying Officer.

Frank returned to Ballarat, his home town, where he took up a job as pay officer at the Ballarat Hospital. From the hospital he went to the Ballarat orphanage as accountant, and from the Ballarat Orphanage to the Queen Elizabeth Geriatric Centre as accountant and finance officer. Frank was there for 33-years. He was made a Life Governor of the Ballarat Orphanage, a Life Governor of the Queen Elizabeth Geriatric Centre, and a life member of the Bomber Command Association in England. He also won the Les Blackburn Award for services to sport.

Information used and direct quotes were taken from Frank Petch’s interview with Australians at War film archive. See LINK below for completel interview.

OBITUARY

PETCH. - Francis Noel Miller (Frank) Flying Officer 419537 Late R.A.A.F 24.12.1921 - 19.2.2009 Adored husband of Mollie. Much loved son of Neil and Leila (both dec.). Loved brother of June and Geoffrey (both dec.). A full and varied life PETER TOBIN FUNERALS BALLARAT 

Published in Herald Sun on Feb. 21, 2009.

LINK: Click here to link to Australians at War Film Archive - Francis PETCH

Date of interview 07 July 2004

Flying Officer Francis Noel Miller PETCH
Flying Officer Francis Noel Miller PETCH - 1 WAGS
Flying Officer Francis Noel Miller PETCH - 1 WAGS
Flying Officer Francis Noel Miller PETCH - 1 WAGS 1943
Flying Officer Francis Noel Miller PETCH - 1 WAGS 1944
Flying Officer Francis Noel Miller PETCH - Crew 1944 R.
Flying Officer Francis Noel Miller PETCH - 1 WAGS

 

 

Acknowledgements

UBC Web DesignAustralian War MemorialCity of BallaratNational Archives of AustraliaRSL Virtual War MemorialDepartment of Veterans+39 Affairs