This Remembrance Day marks the 97th anniversary of the Armistice which ended the First World War (1914-18). Each day, on 11 November, Australians observe one minute’s silence at 11am, in memory of those who died or suffered in all wars and armed conflicts. Nicole Fuge speaks with Mack Seale, who served in the Second World War.
Flight lieutenant Mack Seale stopped attending Remembrance Day and other services years ago for one simple reason – “It’s a reminder of some of the things I don’t want to remember”. Mack, who will turn 95 in December, is the recipient of a Distinguished Flying Cross and two bars, the equivalent of three DFCs, and is the only person in history to have earned such high esteem.
Mack, then aged 22, volunteered for service in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in 1942, while working at the Gundagai branch of the Bank of New South Wales. “The war had lasted a year or more, I decided my policy and the bank’s policy didn’t agree, so when a recruiting train came through Gundagai I nipped down in my lunch hour and joined the RAAF,” he says.
I feel very fortunate to be able to do 70 operations because there weren’t too many (who did).”
Mack yearned to be a pilot and underwent training at Lowood Airfield near Brisbane. He was later remustered to navigator and trained in Winnipeg in Canada, before crossing the Atlantic aboard the Queen Elizabeth I, with 5000 other troops, sharing a two-berth cabin with 20 fellow airmen. “The operational training on Wellington bombers was followed by conversion to the famous four-engined Avro Lancasters,” says Mack.
His crew was then posted to the record-breaking Australian Squadron 460 in Lincolnshire, east of England. “Near the beginning of the war, the RAAF and the RAF didn’t know much about night flying,” he says. “But they were forced to fly at night because in daylight the bombers were being shot down at too rapid a rate, the loss rate was very high, so that meant take off at night, operate at night and land at night. That gave us quite a bit more protection.”
Some nights they would fly 500 to 600 bombers with a loss rate between five and 10 per cent. “It was quite high really, but it would have been a lot higher in daylight,” he says. Having successfully completed the hazardous mandatory tour of 30 operations by night over Germany, Mack was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Then after lecturing trainee crews for several months, Mack volunteered for a second tour of 20 operations, during which the squadron supported the long awaited Normandy landings on 6 June, 1944, known as the D-Day landings. “One tour of operations was 30 trips and that was the first tour,” he says, “if you’re silly enough to do a second tour that was 20 – if you got through 50 you can uncross your fingers.”
Mack was later posted to a special duty squadron No. 357, north of Kolkata, India, whose duties included dropping British and Gurkha commandos behind the Japanese lines from Burma in the north and as far south as Singapore.
After four years of service and three operational tours of duty, Mack retired, aged 26, and at the end of World War II, he was advised by Air Force headquarters he was the only recipient of a triple D.F.C. – a record which still stands. “I feel very fortunate to be able to do 70 operations because there weren’t too many (who did),” he says, reflecting on the thousands of lives lost at war.
Mack’s life has since been rich in love and happiness, married to his wife Lee for 68 years, fathering a loving daughter, and immersing himself in his passion for photography. Sharing his life’s story and holding his service ribbons, reminders of his tours of duty, Mack says he now has no need for the medals he once wore proudly, “Memories can be better than medals”.
Remembrance Day 11 November