|Rank On Discharge/Death||Flight Lieutenant (FLTLT)|
|Mustering / Specialisation||Pilot|
|Date of Birth||16 Jul 1918|
|Date of Enlistment||12 Sep 1941|
|Contributing Author/s||Author Unknown|
James, or Jim as he was known to his friends, was born on the 16th July 1918 at Millhill, United Kingdom. His family migrated to Australia in 1925 and he was educated at Brighton Grammar School and Haileybury in Victria. He enlisted in the RAAF in Melbourne on the 12th September 1941.
After he completed his training, he embarked for England, but was stopped in Canada where he became a flying instructor. He was eventually posted to 457 Squadron in August 1945. At that stage of the War, 457 Squadron was involved in the Borneo Campaign as part of No. 81 Wing. Based on Labuan Island off the north-west coast of Borneo, the Squadron operated alongside 76 Squadron RAAF. Their primary roles were to provide air support to Allied troops in the area and air defence for the island.
During the War, Jim flew Harvards, Hurricanes, Mosquitos and Spitfires – and survived swatting his Mossie (see photo) to tell us his tale.
Being a cadet journalist before the War, Jim, not surprisingly, wrote a diary during his service years – what is now a unique historical account. Like today's reality TV shows, Jim's diary provides an intimate personal insight into typical daily life of an RAAF service man – revealing his training, his duties, his thoughts, his adventures, his loves, his hopes, his fears, his guilt, his Aussie humour, and some tragedies of this war…and his thoughts on arriving safely home. Below are some quotes from Jim's War Diary:
"Each morning we are supposed to get up at 6.15 for physical training, but as we don't get enough sleep we dodge it when possible (i.e. usually). Those who go on the physical training parade have to sign their names on a list to show they were there. The list is left in the hall while the instructors are conducting the physical training and thereby hangs a tale. Usually one or two of us get up and wait till everyone is outside bending and stretching then quietly enter by the back door and sign the names of all the Aussies! Deep snores echo from our hut while outside they puff."
"Today, I had my first trip in a Mosquito…Went solo after three more circuits and then pranged….I thought I'd had it."
"This morning, a couple of pupils had a collision while dog fighting and one crashed in flames and was killed, and the other managed to get down, but attempted to make a forced landing with his wheels down and pranged badly, going over on his back. However, he got out all right…In that crash, the instructor, Flight Lieutenant Patterson, did a pretty good job. When the planes collided, the pupil's cockpit top was jammed and he could not bale out. Patterson could have baled out and left the plane to crash (it was practically out of control) but he stuck to the plane and managed to make a forced landing, and so saved the pupil's life – a good show."
"…flew over a place where a couple of Canadian girls I know live and looped and rolled, did rolls off the top (immelmans) stall turns, etc… It was just sheer showing off and it is the first time I have done this in a plane, but it made me feel better. Later I found out the girls were not in!"
"At mess, we are supposed to wear ties and jackets. Although most of the Englishmen, Canadians, Americans, etc. etc. obey this regulation, none of the Aussies do, and turn up in shorts with open shirts. Today, when we arrived for lunch, Corporals were on duty and sent all the Aussies back to put on the regulation uniform. The boys came back wearing their ties as bow-ties, with their hats on sideways like highwaymen, or pushed out at the top cowboy fashion, trousers rolled half way to the knees, etc. The whole mess was in fits as they came parading in past the NCO's."
"… I wasn't quite sure where we were when we were some distance from the drome and as I (the flying instructor) didn't want to let him (my student) know I was lost, I told him to set a course for home and left him to it…We got there OK."
Rare is a combat biography (Jim's War Diary) where action pictures of fighter aircraft and a squadron history seem superfluous such is this wonderful biography of a young Australian endowed with indomitable spirit, wry humour and fellowship. James John Vickers-Willis – You will never be forgotten!
Jim was discharged on the 20th February 1946 from 457 Squadron. Embarking on a new career, he became the most popular square-dance caller of the day, and at one stage one of Australia's highest paid entertainers. At the age of 36 he contracted polio; his website gives an account of his affliction with the disease. This ended his career as a square dance caller and this signaled the end of the square dance boom. The doctors gave him around 5 to 10 years to live but he defied medical opinion and lived for another 50 plus years.