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Grant, Charles Robert (1911–1994)

by Aaron Pegram

This article was published online in 2019

Charles Robert Gordon Grant (1911–1994), air force officer and stock and station agent, was born on 7 April 1911 at North Sydney, eldest of four children of Sydney-born David James Grant, wool clerk, and his Melbourne-born wife Nellie, née Browne. Gordon attended Dubbo High School where he gained the Intermediate certificate (1927) before working as a cadet engineer for the Dubbo Municipal Council. Later he became the overseer and book-keeper at Keera station, between Bundarra and Bingara, and served part time in the Citizen Military Forces with the 24th Light Horse Regiment.

Standing five feet seven inches (170 cm) tall and weighing 160 pounds (73 kg), Grant enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) on 16 September 1940 as air crew. He qualified as a pilot after training in New South Wales and Victoria. On 28 July 1941, at All Saints’ Church of England, Woollahra, Sydney, he married Joyce Eurimbla Longworth, a National Emergency Services ambulance driver. In the following month he travelled to Vancouver, Canada, for further training. Arriving in Britain in September, he learnt to fly Wellington bombers for night sorties over Nazi-occupied Europe. He was promoted to flight sergeant on 25 January 1942, and in May he joined Bomber Command’s No. 460 Squadron, RAAF, based at Breighton, Yorkshire. His first sortie was a raid on St Nazaire, France, on 19 May. In the following weeks he flew second pilot in the ‘thousand-bomber’ raids over Germany, bombing Cologne (30–31 May), Essen (1–2 June), and (for the first time as captain) Bremen (25–26 June). For his ‘consistent skill [and] determination’ on numerous operations, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal (1943) (NAA A9300).

Commissioned on 17 July, Grant flew operations over the Ruhr and the Rhineland. After converting briefly to Halifax bombers in August, No. 460 Squadron was re-equipped with Lancasters in October. During a mission over Essen, on 11 January 1943, Grant’s aircraft was holed by flak, the front gun turret rendered unserviceable and the undercarriage damaged. He was able to return the plane to Breighton, wryly commenting that the German anti-air defences ‘didn’t have a chance—we were going faster than the tracer’ (AWM, AWM64).

Two sorties short of his tour of thirty operations, Grant was selected to join the Royal Air Force’s Pathfinder Force, a new, special formation of elite airmen who flew ahead of the main bomber force to find and mark the aiming point with flares. Having agreed to an additional forty-five sorties, he learnt to fly the Mosquito light bomber before being posted to No. 109 Squadron, RAF, Marham, Norfolk, on 20 October. The squadron also carried out diversionary attacks on German targets to draw enemy night-fighters away from the heavy bombers. Grant’s first Pathfinder operation was on 11 November when his squadron bombed Düsseldorf, Germany, while the main bomber formation headed for Cannes, France. On the night of 18–19 November, his and nine other Mosquitos struck Essen while the main force carried out the first of sixteen raids on the German capital as part of the RAF’s costly Battle of Berlin. In January 1944, while returning to Marham, his Mosquito struck a tree at nearby Narborough, injuring him and his navigator.

Grant flew sixty-two sorties with No. 109 Squadron, including a raid on Argentan, France, during the Allied invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944. Promoted to temporary flight lieutenant on 17 July, that day he flew his final sortie, which was to Caen, France. In September he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross as a ‘skilful and determined pilot who has always pressed home his attacks regardless of heavy enemy opposition’ in sorties on targets over north-west Germany (NAA A9300). With ninety operational flights to his credit, he had the good fortune of never having flown over Berlin’s formidable air defences. He returned to Australia in October and his RAAF appointment was terminated on 16 April 1945.

Returning to civilian life, from 1949 Grant worked as manager of Cubbaroo station, west of Wee Waa, New South Wales, then as a stock and station agent at Narrabri. In 1953 he was elected inaugural secretary of the Narrabri Diggers’ Race Club, established to raise funds for the Returned Services League of Australia. Grant was declared bankrupt in 1960 and, after the dissolution of his marriage in 1967, moved to Katherine, Northern Territory. In Darwin he married Antoinette Karen Althouse, a welfare officer, before retiring to Bargara, Queensland. There, survived by his wife and the daughter and two sons of his first marriage, he died on 26 October 1994 and was buried in Bundaberg general cemetery.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Australian War Memorial. AWM64, 321/1 Operations Record Book, No. 460 Squadron RAAF
  • Australian War Memorial. AWM65, 4628 RAAF Biographical files
  • Firkins, Peter C. Strike and Return: 460 RAAF Heavy Bomber Squadron, RAF Bomber Command in the World War. Perth: Paterson Brokensha, 1964
  • Middlebrook, Martin. The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book, 1939–1945. Leicester: Midland Publishing, 1996
  • National Archives of Australia. A9300, Grant Charles Robert Gordon
  • Nelson, Hank. Chased by the Sun: The Australians in Bomber Command in WWII. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2002
  • Pegram, Aaron. ‘There Will Be No Live VCs in 8 Group.’ Wartime 51 (2010): 18–23

Additional Resources

Citation details

Aaron Pegram, 'Grant, Charles Robert (1911–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/grant-charles-robert-28124/text35836, published online 2019, accessed online 20 October 2019.

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