Stories

Missing in Action - The Thomas Roberts Millar Story

by Anne Millar Storm

Thomas Roberts MillarFlying Officer Thomas Roberts (Bob) Millar
Royal Australian Air Force 1942 - 1944
1939-45 Star, Italy Star, Defence Medal, War Medal 1939-45, Australia Service Medal 1939-45, Polish Home Army Medal 1939-1945, Warsaw Insurgents Cross 1944

AUSTRALIA

Thomas Roberts Millar Bob was born in Narromine NSW and educated in Sydney becoming Dux of his schools in 1932 and 1934. He graduated from Sydney University in 1939 with a Bachelor of Economics degree and then obtained an administrative position with the Sydney Gaslight Company.

In January 1942, he married Elizabeth Grace Thompson before enlisting in the RAAF on 22nd May of that year as a volunteer for flying duties. Their daughter, Anne Elizabeth, was born on 3rd February 1943.

His initial training was at Bradfield Park, Cootamundra, Sale, Nhill, and in due course he was commissioned on 4 February 1943. One month later on the 6th March, he embarked at Melbourne and sailed to San Francisco, through the United States by train to a transit camp in Massachusetts, and then finally on to Pier 21, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. On 9th April, he embarked on the troopship "Pasteur" which was unescorted on its voyage to England. He arrived at 3 Personnel Reception Centre, Bournemouth, England on 18th April.

BRITAIN

In England, he undertook further training commencing at 4 Air Observer School, West Freugh, Wigtownshire, Scotland (the unit changed its name on 11.6.03 to 4 (Observers) Advanced Flying Unit). Afterwards, he proceeded to Upper Heyford, Swinderby and Moreton-in Marsh in England.

In May, he spent some time with the PEDDER family of Kenilworth whilst on 'local' leave. The family kept in touch with the Millars including sending Christmas cards with a picture of their house. Nearly 60 years later, Bob's daughter, Anne, was able to identify and visit the house using this picture. Subsequently Anne spoke with the two daughters & son of the family & visited one of the daughters.

ITALY

In January 1944, Bob was transferred to Italy joining 205 Group 104 Squadron RAF until July 1944, taking a Leading Bombaimer course during part of June /July 1944. He was stationed at Foggia Main air base, west of Bari and took part in sorties to Italy, Yugoslavia, Austria, Hungary and Romania.

In August he was seconded as Leading Squadron Bombaimer to 31 Squadron, South African Air Force and stationed at Celone Air Base, Foggia. Very soon he was flying to Warsaw dropping supplies to beleaguered partisans who had risen against the German occupation forces. Supposedly, Russian armies were approaching Warsaw to relieve the city but they held back at this point leaving the Polish citizens to fend for themselves.

The Warsaw operation was dangerous. Flying time to Warsaw was 5 hours and on arrival, aircraft were obliged to fly at a height of not more than 500 feet and sometimes as low as 100 feet taking care to avoid high buildings. According to Neil Orpen's 'Airlift to Warsaw', published by W.Foulsham & Co., and where there are references to Bob on pages 74 and 77, there were 186 sorties from Italy to Warsaw in a six week period and 31 aircraft were lost. Hence Bob was fortunate to survive these trips. The skill of the experienced South African pilot, Major Urry, and his crew no doubt helped the survival.

THE LAST MISSION

On 12 October 1944, 16 Liberators of 31 Squadron and 4 of 34 Squadron SAAF took off on a supply dropping mission to Italian partisans in the mountains of northern Italy. There were 4 different drop zones with five planes allotted to each site. Each plane had 8 crew. They took off in late afternoon knowing that they would be flying in the night as they approached the north. Bob was aboard 31 SAAF Liberator KH158 piloted by Major Urry, SAAF - drop zone [DZ] "Morris" ENE of Genoa.

The crew was truly representing the Commonwealth being composed of 5 SAAF, 2 RAF & 1 RAAF as follows:

Major S.S. Urry SAAF, age 29 born South Africa, 1st Pilot Lt G.A. Collard SAAF, age 19 born South Africa, Navigator 2 Lt P.J.Lordan SAAF, born South Africa, Air Gunner WO 1 L.B. Bloch SAAF, born South Africa, Air Gunner Lt N.W. Armstrong SAAF, born South Africa, Air Gunner F/O G.E. Hudspith RAF, age 29 born England, 2nd Pilot Sgt R.C. Fitzgerald RAF, age 19 born England, Sgt Air Gunner F/O T R Millar RAAF, age 28 born Australia, Observer/Bombaimer.

The weather was bad with poor visibility and few crews were able to see the drop site fires so many drops were aborted. Of the 20 planes that set out 6 failed to return. Four crashed high in the mountains, one crashed near Cantalupa but the sixth disappeared without a trace. The wreckages of the crashed planes were eventually found but there was no news of the sixth Liberator. The crew members of the sixth Liberator, KH158, with Bob among the crew members, were officially posted missing - a sad ending for brave men. The disappearance of KH158 has yet to be solved.

The citizens of the Italian towns have been most appreciative of the heroic actions of those lost in this operation and a commemorative service was held in Bra, northern Italy on 25th April 2001. This was attended by the citizens and ex-partisans of Bra and relatives of the crews. The Mayor welcomed and offered hospitality to the relatives and, at a dinner held in the evening, Anne Storm was asked to read the letter her father had written her on her first birthday.

BOB's LETTER
1/2/44 F/O T.R.MILLAR RAAF Aus 422612 - 104 Squadron RAF CMF Italy

My Dear Daughter,
This is the first time I have written to you and although you are as yet too young to read it perhaps mother will save it up until the time comes when you can read it yourself. In 2 days time it will be your first birthday anniversary-a great event for your parents. My regret is that I cannot personally be there to help you blow out your single candle but believe me lassie I will be there in spirit.

I am writing this from a place called Italy which is far away from our fair land-a place where I would not be by choice so far away separated from a wife & daughter so dear to me. But I am here ,precious one , because there is a war on caused by certain people who wished to rule the world harshly & despotically, imperilling an intangible thing called democracy which your mother & I thought all decent people should fight for. You will understand as you grow up what democracy means for us & how it is an ideal way of life which we aspire to put into practice.

All I ask of you, Anne dear is that you stay as sweet as your mother & cling tight to the subtle thing we call Christianity, which has been the core of her way of life & her mother's & mine. I hope that you will love & respect me as I love & respect my father.

That's all young lady. Have a happy birthday -may they all be happy birthdays. I hope to be home again one fine day. In the meantime lots of love to you & to mother.

From Dad, Bob Millar

Since attending the Bra commemorative service Anne Storm has been researching the disappearance of KH158 and continues to welcome those contributions from ex-service personnel who have had knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the event. Meanwhile she is pleased to have found and spoken to relatives of all the crew members.

At a commemmorative event held at Pretoria in 2003, James Storm, Bob's grandson laid a wreath. On 26th September 2004 there was a formal 60th ANNIVERSARY COMMEMORATION also at PRETORIA. By now the interested parties had formed themselves into the ALPINE 44 CLUB.

A further event took place in LYSA GORA Poland, in 2007 which commemorated the loss of a 31 Squadron SAAF aircraft participating in the Warsaw airlift.

Submitted by daughter, Anne Millar Storm



Photos


Thomas Roberts Millar Sortie Report
Thomas Roberts Millar Sortie Report