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Connely, Harold Frederick (Harry) (1921–1976)

by Peter Burness

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Harold Frederick Connely (1921-1976), by unknown photographer

Harold Frederick Connely (1921-1976), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 044420

Harold Frederick (Harry) Connely (1921-1976), air force officer, was born on 26 March 1921 at Breakfast Creek, Brisbane, son of Frederick Henold McCoomb Connely, draper, and his wife Theresa Maud, née Saltrick, both Queensland born. A Catholic, he was educated at St Joseph's College, Gregory Terrace. Harry worked as a clerk and from 24 January 1940 was employed as a wireless operator with the Royal Australian Air Force. Six feet (183 cm) tall and solidly built, he enlisted as aircrew on 16 August, trained in Australia and Canada, and was a sergeant air observer on his arrival in England in July 1941.

Posted to No.97 Squadron of the Royal Air Force's Bomber Command, in November Connely was promoted flight sergeant. On 20 April 1942 he went on his first sortie, a strike against Rostock, Germany. In an attack on Gennevilliers, Paris, on 29-30 May, his Lancaster aircraft was repeatedly hit by light anti-aircraft fire which wounded a gunner and damaged two engines and the tail. On the following night Connely participated in a 1000-bomber raid against Cologne. His plane flew low over the city while the crew took photographs: Connely's close view of the destruction was seared in his memory. Promoted warrant officer that month, he was designated navigator in July. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal (1942) for his work.

On completing his tour, Connely volunteered for a second and was sent to No.207 Squadron. His Lancaster crew-members, among whom he was the only Australian, became known throughout Britain after a team from the British Broadcasting Corporation accompanied them on a raid against Berlin on the night of 3-4 September 1943. The dramatic coverage of the flight was interrupted by an enemy fighter which attacked the bomber as it approached its target. Tension eased on the return journey and next day listeners heard the tape-recording on which Connely sang Annie Laurie 'because he felt happy'. It had been his fiftieth sortie.

He experienced his worst moments in the air on his fifty-fourth trip. Cannon-shells from a night-fighter wounded the wireless operator and a gunner, put two turrets out of action and started fires; burning incendiary bombs had to be jettisoned; Connely attended to the wireless operator and probably saved his life. Connely was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (1944). Having completed fifty-seven missions, he was transferred to an operational training unit as an instructor and subsequently commissioned on 1 December 1943. He returned to Australia on 21 October 1944, was posted to the General Reconnaissance School at Laverton, Victoria, and later flew on transport operations in the South-West Pacific theatre.

Remaining in the R.A.A.F., Connely was promoted flight lieutenant in September 1948. From February to November 1951, during the Malayan Emergency, he served in Singapore with No.38 Squadron. Ill health necessitated his transfer in 1955 to the Special Duties Branch as an air-traffic control officer; he was placed on the Retired List on 4 April 1962. Connely never married. He lived in Brisbane where he served as an Australian Rules football and surf life-saving administrator. A diabetic, while holidaying in Scotland he died of myocardial infarction on 18 November 1976 in Edinburgh and was cremated. His medals were presented to the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Johnson (ed), R.A.A.F. Over Europe (Lond, 1946)
  • Australian War Memorial records
  • private information.

Citation details

Peter Burness, 'Connely, Harold Frederick (Harry) (1921–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/connely-harold-frederick-harry-9810/text17343, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 18 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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