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SQNLDR Cunningham McIntyre Cassels

Squadron/s43 SQN RAF
35 SQN
38 SQN
Rank On Discharge/Death Squadron Leader (SQNLDR)
Mustering / SpecialisationPilot
Date of Birth11 Aug 1923
Date of Enlistment08 Sep 1941
Contributing Author/sCharles Cunningham
Karen Paterson
The Spitfire Association, 2023

Cunningham 'Jock' Cassels lives in Richmond, Victoria. He lives in the house he built in 1968, after he had emigrated from the United Kingdom in 1966, with his wife, Maureen, and their three children.

Maureen became a service wife when she married Jock in Gwelo, South Rhodesia (now Gwero in Zimbabwe) in 1951.

As is usual in service families, the children were born in different locations; one daughter in Wales, one daughter in England, and one son in Iraq.

Jock comes from a family whose members have served in the armed forces over two generations. His father and uncle served in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in World War I. His father was wounded in France and his uncle killed in the Dardanelles campaign. In World War II, his brother and sister served in the army, with Jock and another sister serving in the RAF.

Jock was born in Kirkintilloch near Glasgow, Scotland, on 11 August 1923, the third of three children. Leaving school in 1938, aged 15, he worked as a clerk for three years before joining the RAF as a cadet pilot in September 1941.

He was posted overseas in March 1942, and after a six-week troop ship voyage, he arrived in South Rhodesia to commence flying training, which he completed in June 1943. On gaining his wings he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer and posted to the Middle East for operational training.

The journey to the Middle East was unique as it involved two weeks of overland travel through Southern and Central Africa, as far as Kampala on Lake Victoria, then by flying boat to Cairo, via Khartoum. After hanging around transit camps for three months, Jock was finally posted to No. 73 OTU at Ismailia and completed his operational training on Spitfires in December 1943. From Egypt he went to North Africa and finally to Italy where he spent three months flying communication aircraft from Naples.

Then came the long-awaited posting to operations. Jock joined No. 43 Spitfire Squadron in April 1944, at a base just north of Naples. In May, the squadron moved onto the Anzio bridgehead, operating in support of advancing Allied armies. On 31 May 1944, while on patrol north of Rome at 25,000 feet, he lost an 'argument' with a Messerschmidt 109G. Jock had to bail out, parachuting into the hands of a big German sergeant with a big machine pistol, who put an end to Jock's war by taking him prisoner.

A spell in hospital and a transfer to Germany saw him end up in Stalag Luft 3 near the Polish border. In January 1945, with the Russians advancing from the east, the Germans moved their prisoners (by a 10-day forced march and a cattle truck rail journey) to Luckenwalde just south of Berlin. In late 1945, the camp was overrun by the Russian troops attacking Berlin. Jock and a few others got across the River Elbe into American hands and finally arrived back in the United Kingdom in May 1945. An extended period of leave followed.

Jock then completed a flying instructor's course and spent the next five years as a flying instructor on Tiger Moths, Harvards and Wellingtons. This involved a period in Rhodesia where in 1948, he was granted a permanent commission. Having had his fill of instructing, he spent the next three years in Coastal Command, with No. 230 Squadron, flying Sunderland flying boats. This included a two-month involvement supporting the British North Greenland Expedition, operating 77 degrees north.

In 1953, he was promoted to Squadron Leader and posted to a staff appointment at the Air Ministry, London, which didn't excite him. However, in 1956 he was posted to RAF Habbaniya, Iraq, as Operational Commander, Flying. The Commanding Officer of the base was a famous Australian, Group Captain Hughie Edwards VC. The posting had its moments, for in July 1958 a coup d'├ętat by the Baath Party (Saddam Hussein's mob) against the monarchy. This resulted in RAF Habbaniya being occupied by the Iraqi Army and personnel, families included, being 'confined to camp'. After an unsettling four weeks, Jock and his family got back to the UK (in August 1958). The next three years was spent as Group Intelligence Officer at HQ 19 Group, Plymouth. Then, in 1961, another overseas posting followed; this time to Hong Kong as OC, Administrative Wing at RAF Kai Tai until 1964, one of the better postings of his career. Back to the UK again for the final posting of his RAF career, on the staff at HQ 18 Group, Dunfermline, Scotland. It was from here that Jock retired from the RAF in 1966, at the age of 43.

Still keen to fly and having answered an RAAF advertisement in a UK paper for 'pilots up to the age of 43', Jock was offered a four-year engagement with the RAAF as a Flight Lieutenant. He arrived at RAAF Richmond in November 1966. He completed a conversion on a Caribou aircraft and served in New Guinea before joining No. 35 Squadron in Vietnam in 1968. After Vietnam he rejoined No. 38 Squadron (in 1969) and finally retired from flying in 1970, on reaching his 47th birthday.

Jock was offered a permanent commission in the Administrative Branch and remained at Richmond, serving with No. 2 Aircraft Depot and Base Sqn. HQ. He was promoted to Squadron Leader in 1972 and spent some time on recruiting duties at HQ Support Command in Melbourne, Victoria. From there, he was appointed CO of Dept of Air Unit in Canberra in 1974, before taking up his final RAAF posting as CO of HQ Operational Command Unit in 1975. In January 1979, Jock finally retired after 37 years of service in the RAF (25 years) and RAAF (12 years).

Learn more about the squadron/s in which Cunningham served.

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