Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Francis Lawrence Curr (1920–1944)

by Alan Fraser

This article was published:

Francis Lawrence Curr (1920-1944), air force officer, was born on 21 June 1920 at Clayfield, Brisbane, third son of Frederick Carlton Curr, grazier, and his wife Maude Alice, née Rogers, both Queensland born. Educated at Downlands College, Toowoomba, Frank worked as a jackeroo, studied accountancy and obtained a private pilot's licence. He enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force on 26 April 1940, one of the first to be selected under the Empire Air Training Scheme.

Graduating as a pilot, Curr was promoted sergeant in December 1940 and sent to the Middle East where he joined No.38 Squadron, Royal Air Force, in April 1941. He took part in fifty bombing sorties before moving to England in April 1942. From August to October he flew Wellingtons of No.75 Squadron, Royal New Zealand Air Force. For pressing home attacks from low altitudes, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal (1942). In November he transferred to the R.A.F.'s No.156 Squadron, Pathfinder Force, which operated Lancasters. His determination and fearlessness in raids over Italy and Germany won him a Bar to his D.F.M. (1943): he was one of only two R.A.A.F. airmen to be so decorated. Although an exceptionally experienced and successful captain of heavy bombers, he was not commissioned until 18 October 1942. Australian newspapers had criticized his lack of advancement.

Back in Australia in July 1943, with some seventy-five operations to his credit, Curr was employed on instructional duties. Following an unenthusiastic performance, he was posted in March 1944 to No.33 Squadron, R.A.A.F., to fly Dakota transports from Milne Bay, Papua. He continued to be discontented by R.A.A.F. policy which generally debarred those with extensive operational experience elsewhere from postings to combat units in the South-West Pacific Area. On 28 August, while ferrying a Tiger Moth from Australia to Milne Bay, he was stranded on Daru Island off the south coast of Papua; he remained there for several weeks awaiting a spare propeller.

On 24 September 1944 the aircraft was again serviceable. Against the advice of local army authorities, and accompanied by a soldier who did not have permission to travel with him, Curr took off at 6.20 p.m., apparently intending to fly back across Torres Strait to Horn Island. In failing light and adverse weather, and in a single-engined, light aircraft, with no radio, dinghy or extra fuel, he embarked on a risky venture. The Tiger Moth did not arrive. Despite extensive searches, no trace of it or its occupants was found. Frederick Curr offered a reward of £500 for his son's rescue. A court of inquiry attributed the accident to Curr's making 'an unauthorized flight at night without adequate night flying equipment, safety equipment or an escort'.

A Catholic and a bachelor, Curr was 5 ft 11 ins (180 cm) tall and 12 stone (76 kg) in weight, with brown eyes and hair. He was an outspoken and high-spirited young man, never amenable to authority, but very well liked by his contemporaries. His somewhat turbulent character probably accounted for the delay in granting him a commission. The refusal of the R.A.A.F. to approve his requests to return to bombing operations resulted in a deterioration in his flying performance and morale, and, considering the circumstances of his last flight, his judgement.

Select Bibliography

  • J. F. Mooney, Downlands, the First Fifty Years (Toowoomba, Qld, 1981)
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 9 Oct 1944
  • Australian War Memorial records
  • AT2010/4, file 166/8/663 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Alan Fraser, 'Curr, Francis Lawrence (1920–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 9 December 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2023

Life Summary [details]


21 June, 1920
Clayfield, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


24 September, 1944 (aged 24)
at sea

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.