Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Scherf, Charles Curnow (1917–1949)

by John McCarthy

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Charles Curnow Scherf (1917-1949), by unknown photographer, 1944

Charles Curnow Scherf (1917-1949), by unknown photographer, 1944

Australian War Memorial, UK1199

Charles Curnow Scherf (1917-1949), grazier and air force officer, was born on 17 May 1917 at Emmaville, New South Wales, sixth child of Charles Henry Scherf, a New South Wales-born grazier of German descent, and his wife Susan Jane, née Curnow, who came from England. Young Charles attended the one-teacher school at Emmaville and gained the Intermediate certificate. Five ft 9 ins (175 cm) tall, he became a well-known local sportsman. From 1934 he served in the 12th Light Horse Regiment (Militia), in which he reached the rank of corporal. At Holy Trinity Church, Glen Innes, on 23 August 1939 he married with Anglican rites Florence Hope O'Hara.

When World War II broke out, Scherf was working on his father's property. On 12 September 1941 he enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force. Following training at Temora and at Mallala, South Australia, he obtained an 'above average' rating, received his pilot's brevet on 2 July 1942 and was commissioned on 17 September. Next month he was sent to Britain where he undertook advanced flying and operational training. He joined No.418 Squadron (a Royal Canadian Air Force attack unit equipped with Mosquito light bombers) on 13 July 1943.

In August Scherf began 'Intruder' operations against enemy airfields in France. He flew an escorting Mosquito on 15 September when eight Lancaster bombers of No.617 Squadron attacked the Dortmund-Ems Canal, Germany, at low level and suffered heavy losses. On 29 December he was promoted acting flight lieutenant. By the end of February 1944 he had destroyed seven German aircraft on the ground or in the air, and shared the credit for shooting down an eighth. He was made acting squadron leader on 13 March and posted to headquarters, Air Defence Great Britain, as a controller of 'Intruder' operations. When he was off duty he revisited No.418 Squadron and flew combat sorties. During three such so-called 'holiday excursions'—on 5 April, and 2 and 16 May—he added a further sixteen German aircraft to his tally. On 4 April he won the Distinguished Flying Cross for his performance on night missions. He was awarded a Bar to his D.F.C. in May for displaying 'the greatest qualities of gallantry and skill'. His Distinguished Service Order, gazetted in June, recognized his 'enterprise and fearlessness'. In a total of 38 operational sorties, he was credited with 14½ kills in the air, nine aircraft destroyed on the ground, and a further seven damaged.

Scherf returned to Australia in September 1944. Next month he was posted as chief flying instructor to No.5 Operational Training Unit, Williamtown, New South Wales. On 11 April 1945 he transferred to the R.A.A.F. Reserve and went home to Emmaville. He found it difficult to adjust to peacetime life and showed signs of stress. At night he spoke about the war in Europe and the death-toll of people he knew. He also said that 'the Germans he had killed seemed to march across his bed in the darkness'. Subdued and restless, he drank heavily and began to drive his motorcar at high speed. On 13 July 1949 his car hit a tree and overturned on the Inverell road, two miles (3.2 km) from Emmaville; he died later that day from his injuries and was buried in the local cemetery. His wife, and their son and three daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Herington, Air Power Over Europe 1944-1945 (Canb, 1963)
  • L. McAulay, Six Aces (Melb, 1991)
  • Aircraft, 22, Aug 1944
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 Feb, 7 Apr, 4, 18 May, 18 Oct 1944.

Citation details

John McCarthy, 'Scherf, Charles Curnow (1917–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/scherf-charles-curnow-11627/text20765, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 29 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Charles Curnow Scherf (1917-1949), by unknown photographer, 1944

Charles Curnow Scherf (1917-1949), by unknown photographer, 1944

Australian War Memorial, UK1199