RAAF crew decorated 82 years on

Courtesy of Department of Defence

More than 80 years after coming down in the sea off Papua New Guinea, the crew of a Hudson bomber are being remembered and celebrated for their heroism.

On 22 July 1942, while on a reconnaissance mission, the lone Hudson was engaged six Japanese Zero fighters. Instead of fleeing, they turned their aircraft to dogfight with the enemy, but were eventually shot down near Popondetta.

In 2023, Governor-General David Hurley announced posthumous gallantry decorations for six aviators lost in the War, including the four aviators of 32 Squadron on that ill-fated flight.

Those aboard the Hudson were Pilot Officer Warren Cowan, Sergeant Russell Polack, Sergeant Laurie Sheard and Pilot Officer David Taylor. They have all been awarded the Medal for Gallantry.

A special ceremony was held on 19 April at Government House in Melbourne. The family of Pilot Officer Taylor was presented with his Medal for Gallantry, with Pilot Officer Taylor’s daughter, Margaret Ekberg, officially handed the medal by Victorian Governor Professor Margaret Gardner AC.

‘My family was very proud to receive the medal on behalf of my father, as recognition of the service and ultimate sacrifice of him and the other crew members on their mission 82 years ago,’ Ms Ekberg said.

‘We are amazed that this has been acknowledged after such a long time, and very pleased that it has been awarded while I am still here as the last member of the family to have intimately known my father, although I was only eight at the time he left for the war.

‘Our family only received a brief telegram in 1942 advising of the missing aircraft, and another in 1945 advising of the discovery of the crash site, and we were never given any further official information. 

‘It was extraordinary when we became aware of the research surrounding this action, in particular the amazing advocacy of Saburo Sakai who was seeking recognition for his adversary.

‘We are so grateful to finally learn the full story behind my father’s last moments and for the Australian Government’s continued advocacy of the RAAF and 32 Squadron.’

Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Robert Chipman joined Warrant Officer of the Air Force Ralph Clifton in visiting the gravesites of the four aviators as part of the Anzac Day Dawn Service at Bomana Cemetery, just outside Port Moresby in PNG.

The cemetery is a site of historic significance to Australia as it holds the remains of more than 3000 known Commonwealth soldiers, and about 237 unknown Australians who fought in and around New Guinea during the War.

Medals for Gallantry ceremonies for the other three members of the Lockheed Hudson A16-201 from 32 Squadron will be held in South Australia and New South Wales later this year.

Victorian Governor Professor Margaret Gardner AC (right) presents Margaret Ekberg, the daughter of Pilot Officer David Taylor, with his Medal for Gallantry for heroism in PNG during the Second World War.

Middle-aged woman poses with elderly woman holding a medal