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Premier’s Anzac Spirit School Prize 2019 – Howard Hendrick by Sophie Lipman

Thursday 15 August, 2019

This winning entry was researched and written by Sophie Lipman of Loxton High School


Howard Hendrick was a boy of 17 when World War 2 (WWll) was declared in 1939. Hendrick grew up in Renmark, South Australia, with his mother and father who both originated from England. His father migrated to Australia in 1910 at 16 years of age with an assembly of boys to help farmers clear their land 100 miles out of Albany, Western Australia. In 1914, World War 1 (WWl) was declared, and Hendrick’s father joined the 28th Battalion in Western Australia and began training for the Australian Army, which was heading to Gallipoli, Turkey. Due to a defeat with resources and a loss of men, Hendrick’s father and the Australian Army retreated from Gallipoli, and furthered on to Cairo, Egypt, where he joined the 32nd Battalion and took a boat to South Australia. A large proportion of the men in the 32nd Battalion were from the Riverland, South Australia. Hendrick’s father fought on the Western Front in France, and, towards the end of the war, he became a Sergeant and undertook a course in England to become specialised in a new type of warfare in 1918. When he was there, he would go to dances with a girl that he met in Bristol. After 5 weeks of knowing each other, they became quite friendly, and when Hendrick’s father moved to Renmark in the Riverland after the war, they kept in contact with letters. After the war in Renmark, Hendrick’s father was under a repatriation scheme, where he got a fruit block to grow grape vines. 3 years later, after his block was established, he invited the English girl whom he had met in Bristol, out to Australia. They met in Adelaide and he asked her to marry him. Together they built a house made of iron 1922, on his fruit block.

Howard Hendrick attended Renmark North School during his High School years, with Major Lock as principal. Hendrick excelled in Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry, however failed English every year. He was a 15-year-old pupil when World War 2 was declared in 1939. Hendrick anticipated to be in the war, but unfortunately was too young. He graduated Year 12 in 1941 at the age of 17, when he enlisted himself for war, and subsequently assisted his father on the fruit block until he was 18. Hendrick did not get on well with his father, as he was a very strict, disciplined man, who liked everything completed correctly. Not long after his enlistment, he passed his medical test and joined the Air Force Reserve for training. In 1942, Hendrick was called up for the Royal Australian Air Force (R.A.A.F), much to his father’s dismay. His father desired for his son to work with him on the fruit block, and went to the extent of purchasing Hendrick a block of his own. This idea did not work however, when Hendrick continued to train with the reserves.

The training that Hendrick undertook was situated at Mount Breckan in Victor Harbour, South Australia.  At this camp was a huge estate with a large house that was donated from a British man. All of the 100 aircrew partaking in the training lived in tents, whilst the sergeants lived in the house. The aircrew had only a palliasse to sleep on, wore overalls for working, wore uniforms for going out, completed the required work to a bugle or whistle and followed a very strict routine. Every morning they woke up at 6:30am, ate breakfast at 7:00am, finished breakfast at 7:30am and were to be on the parade ground by 8:00am. Much to Hendricks surprisement, there were no airplanes at the camp. He was also one of the youngest men out of the 100. Early on, the 100 men were divided into thirds, so Hendrick became part of a group of 30 men.

Every week for 4 days, Hendrick and the other men had lectures on different subjects. These subjects consisted of mathematics, aeronautics, aerodynamics, aircraft recognition, Morse code and armaments. Every Friday there was a test on each of these subjects and the percentage on each was recorded. Hendrick completed this ritual for 3 months and the 100 men then became 90, due to fallouts. After the 3 months of training, each person was assigned a role in which they would complete in an aircraft during raids. Hendrick became a pilot and was sent off to Parafield, South Australia, to learn to fly Tiger Moths. Before Hendrick was in Parafield, he had never seen an aircraft in his life. To him, it was a very thrilling moment when he woke up each morning to see 50 airplanes lined up outside of the hangars. During the first month there, Hendrick did not fly a single plane; he helped other experienced pilots. Eventually, after the first month, it was Hendrick’s turn to fly.

With Hendrick in the cockpit and his instructor sitting beside him, he learned the names and role of each of the parts of the aircraft, learnt how to complete rolls, loops, emergency landings, wind direction and how to land safely. After 10 hours, he was then allowed to go solo; and after 3 months he passed his big exam on tiger moths and became a Primary Pilot. From this, he was assigned to become a Fighter Pilot and trained in Deniliquin, New South Wales to fly combat aircraft. This training was much more advanced, as Hendrick learned to drop bombs, fire shots through the propeller and learnt formation flying. After 4 months, he passed his exam, which meant that his role as a Fighter Pilot was secured.

Hendrick was then sent to Mildura, Number 2 Operational Unit, to learn to fly Kittyhawks. As soon as he arrived however, the mentors called 4 names out, including Hendrick’s, telling the 4 men that they were to report to Adelaide. Hendrick himself was bewildered because he had not completed his training.  When he arrived in Adelaide, they sent him to Brisbane with no explanation; he was simply forced to go.


It was night when Hendrick and the 3 other pilots were put on a bus, and then a ship called The Willard Holbrook. The next day, Hendrick’s ship passed a hospital ship called The Centaur, which was travelling to New Guinea and was boarded with several doctors and nurses. The day after, all the aircrew on The Willard Holbrook were to be trained in how to use the lifeboats and how to watch for submarines.  This was because a Japanese submarine sank The Centaur the previous night, and everyone feared that their own ship would be next. The Willard Holbrook was out at sea, travelling to Brisbane, for 3 weeks.

When Hendrick landed in Brisbane, he was told by the Australian Government that he would be sent by ship to fight the Germans, as the war was raging immensely. Since all aircrew on the ship did not know where they were headed, the Navigators used their knowledge in astronavigation, and figured the ship was heading to America. Soon later, Hendrick arrived in San Francisco, boarded a train for 1 week and arrived in Boston where he stayed for 1 month.

By this time, it was winter in 1943 and Hendrick boarded the ship The Queen Elizabeth in New York, to be sent to England. On this ship were 20,000 American troops and only 100 Australian aircrew. When Hendrick arrived in England, he was firstly led to a holding unit and then furthered onto Brighton where it was bombed by the Germans. This circumstance meant that the Germans knew everywhere that the Australians were, so Hendrick was forced to further on.

All Fighter Pilots were told that it was time to bomb the Germans. Britain was extremely confident in doing this as they had been building Lancasters, Allbasters and Mosquitos for 3 years. They ere also confident because Germany made a huge mistake when they put all of their resources into fighting Russia. Fortunately, this gave Britain even more time to produce everything that was needed for warfare. To Hendrick’s disappointment, Britain aspired to have Bomber Pilots, so he then had to retrain on twin engine and four engine aircraft.  He was very unhappy about the decision because his absolute dream was to become a fighter pilot in spitfire.

Hendrick retrained for 3 months in foggy and stormy British weather, and eventually learnt how to fly Lancasters. He picked up a crew of 7, half of them were Australian and half of them were British. Hendrick then trained for another year, and was soon told that he would be going on his first flying raid to Brunswick, 198 kilometres from Berlin by airplane. Before a bombing occurs, pathfinders light up the target with parachute flares of a certain colour, so that when the bombers get there, the target can be easily pinpointed. The pathfinders were also known as the Suicide Squad, because they were often lost or shot down. Since it was Hendrick’s first raid, he flew with an experienced aircrew. After his first raid, he did 30 more trips, known as a tour, with his own aircrew. Hendrick and his crew had 2 majorly frightening experiences when in the air.

All of the crew at Base are split into flights. One flight is made up of 15 crews, and 3 flights make a squadron. Hendrick was in 460 Squadron and on A Flight. Hendrick’s airplane was a Lancaster, and was denoted by the 3 letters on the side, A.R.B. Each letter of the alphabet had a certain word that corresponded with it, so that the letters were not misheard over the two-way radio transceiver. Therefore, A.R.B was said as ‘Able, Roger, Baker’. On this particular morning, Hendrick’s Flight was called to the briefing room, where on the board, Hendrick’s name was written up. This meant that he and his crew were to partake in a raid that night.

During the day, each person in Hendrick’s crew had a specific job in which they had to complete, ready for the raid at night. Hendrick, as a pilot; tightened the tyres, checked the 3 wing tanks in each wing, tightened screws, checked the fuel load and put the covers on the aircraft down properly. Later at night, Hendrick and the other 40 crews ate their meal of eggs, spam and some sort of vegetable in the mess hall, and furthered onto the briefing hut. On the way into the room, Hendrick was forced to hand over personal belonging that he had on him, and was given an escape package. In the package were tablets to purify water, ‘wakey wakey tablets’, a map, compass, knife, medication, bandages, iodine, safety pins and foreign money used for bribing. At briefing, Hendrick’s crew found out where they would be heading that night. They were allocated to bomb a railway junction in Frankfurt, Germany. This bombing was very important because that particular railway carries troops that are supplied with ammunitions, guns and uniform, and allows them to travel to various areas.

On this night, buses took all of the crew out to their aircrafts, ready for take off. The navigators in each crew worked out the exact time that they would combine to fly to the target. As Hendrick and his crew were flying towards the target, a searchlight came on their aircraft, and within minutes, many other searchlights found them too. German Fighter Aircrafts soon closed in on them and began firing sighter bullets, where every fifth bullet would light up red to allow the tracking of their shots. These bullets were flashing past Hendrick’s cockpit window. Soon enough, more searchlights were tracking the aircraft down, making Hendrick a sitting target to be fired upon. The gunner was watching the Germans from behind and communicating with Hendrick, when he yelled “CORKSCREW, GO!” Hendrick took a substantial risk and dropped the 8-ton bomb load to make the aircraft more moveable and flew the aircraft in an almost vertical dive, with the German Fighter Aircrafts following behind. At the end of the dive, Hendrick aggressively turned the aircraft into darkness, pulled it up, rolled over and dove down again. He did 2 more corkscrews to finally lose the Germans.

Hendrick’s second petrifying experience was in Leipzig, Germany. Hendrick was assigned to bomb the major target of a storage depot that held aircraft, tanks and ships. This was a massive raid, with 1000 aircraft undertaking the mission. The target in Leipzig was a very long 8 hours away from Base, so Hendrick and his crew had to complete a ‘dogleg’ to get there. Some crews were lost along the way. The task of dropping the bombs was made simple, due to the searchlights being there before Hendrick arrived at the target. Hendrick and his crew were out of the target area and on their way home, when suddenly a deafening explosion shuddered throughout the aircraft. A cannon had hit the aircraft’s number 1 engine and the wing was in blistering flames. Hendrick immediately pressed the button to initiate the fire extinguisher from the wing, and was distressed that the whole wing would catch on fire since it contained all of the fuel. To avoid this, he flew the aircraft in a vertical dive and increased the speed rapidly. Eventually, the flames went out at 600 kilometres per hour. The force of the dive was so great that the wing could easily have come off. Hendrick was pulling with all of his weight, but still had to get the engineer to help him pull the aircraft out of its dive. The aircraft got to 700 kilometres per hour and later, fortunately, got to a horizontal position, and neutralised its speed. Hendrick could not believe that the airplane did not disintegrate, due to the GeForces. The burnt engine had failed to work and the engine next to it was working, but it was damaged with half the power. Hendrick had to shut the second engine down and fly back with only 2.  The crew was still 5 hours from Base.

By the time that Hendrick’s crew reached the Dutch coast, they were half the height that they started at because they were running on only 2 engines. The Navigator explained that the aircraft would end up ditching in the sea if it continued like it was. The crew together discussed 3 options: to bail out over Holland and become Prisoners of War (POW), risk ditching in the sea as Lancasters took longer to sink and they could use life jackets, or they try to get back to England. They took the third option and powered up the engine, which they knew still worked, but was damaged. Fortunately, the aircraft made it back to England. The next morning, Hendrick was called before the Flight Air Marshall to explain what had happened to the aircraft.  He described what had happened, and the Flight Air Marshall told him that the aircraft was never to fly again, due to the damage.


After the 30 trips that Hendrick completed, he attended an Instructors School in Bristol, where he learnt how to teach other pilots to fly Lancasters for 6 months. He was then sent to an aerodrome where he met a girl on the squadron that he became friendly with.  Soon after, he was sent away for a couple of months, and it was when he was away that he decided to marry her.

After the war had ended, Hendrick’s father wanted him to go back on the fruit block. Again, Hendrick did not want to, so he applied for British Airways to become a pilot. British Airways had the same engine as Lancasters, and since Hendrick had been teaching people to fly, they took him on right away.

“Then I flew all over the world for 4 years.  I went to Nigeria, South Africa, India, Sydney. After 4 years, they got new aircraft and they wanted to send me to America to learn to fly jets.  I had had enough of flying by this stage and it was when I was in Sydney I called AMA??, another flying company and they flew me to Mildura.  My father met me there as it was not far from Renmark, and showed me all these fruit blocks so I applied for a block of my own, a soldier settlement block and I got one in Loxton so then I went back to England and gave notice. I had the block for 35 years where my family grew up and the children went to school in the local area at the Catholic School.

I had 2 girls who both became teachers and they each had 2 children = 4 grandchildren. 

They all come and visit once or twice a year and stay a few days and I go and visit them a couple of times a year.  They are dispersed around the country: Coober Pedy, Roxby Downs, Adelaide, Sydney.

I’m going on the radio with Peter Goers.  I listen to him when I go for my walks every night.  I have my Fitbit and I do 12 -15000 steps every day for the past 2 years however, I have a hip problem at the moment so this prevents me from doing as much exercise as I would like so I can only do 6000 steps.  I have been told by the doctors not to exercise as much!

When I finished my tour (30 trips), I was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for bringing the crew back on every trip.  They said it was for a lot of skill but I called it a lot of luck.  My gunner, also had flying skill, and I would up skill him on flights so that if I got injured I had confidence that he could fly the plane back to safety.

No crew of mine is still alive today.  After the war, I didn’t keep up much correspondence with my crew, only a handful.  My gunner who loved fishing came to stay with me a couple of times and fished on the river. 

I got an award from the French because I bombed all those places on the front Calais, La Havre and Caen, there all places on D-Day where they were going to cross over because we bombed that, but the French never give out bravery medals to foreigners.  We were the only Australians operating on that day at Normandy. I was awarded the French Legion of Honour and citizen of the year and from Australia the OAM (Order of Australia Medal).

I give talks to the local community on war history and my life.  I am lucky because I have lived a long life.  I realise how fortunate I am and all the blessings I have been given to have gone through life with all the mishaps that can happen. I was scared back 35 years ago I had a double bypass – I had to shift a huge load of bark on the property.  I felt a terrific pain in my chest but then it went again. The next night I finished off the other half of the truckload and I felt it again. This time my wife took me straight to the doctors. As it happened to be, the doctor  at Berri said that he did not like the sound of what type of pain I was having, so he sent me to the cardiologist and put me on this stress machine. I was under there for about 10 seconds and told him that I felt okay. However, he said that I was not because my heart was going mad at something and he booked me into Adelaide for a double bypass. Nothing has ever happened since, but now I have a check-up once every year. When I have my check-ups, I always have a very high cholesterol reading, around the 8 or 9 mark, when the average is around about 5. That was why one of my arteries got clogged up and when I perform any extra energy, my heart pumps like mad and I can’t get enough blood.

My brother is still alive and drives cars, and my sister is alive too and is healthy as anything, but can’t remember anything. She lives in Adelaide and has 5 children there.  They take her for walks 3 times a week to keep her healthy.  I ring her a couple of times a week to have a chat.  She remembers me only for about an hour but she can remember all her music.

All my life I have wanted to learn.  I have a computer, an Ipad, an Iphone.  I am interested in photography.  I love the garden and I try to exercise my brain as much as my body.  I volunteer at the local catholic school working with students in reading and teaching maths and I’m there every second day doing the flowers and the garden.

I love the physical work on my block.  I have drip lines going on for miles watering the garden, 2 pumps down at the river and there is always one playing up which keeps me busy.

I joined the Flying Club in Renmark and fly locally to keep my brain exercised and occupied.  Firstly, I fly with an instructor who watches me ‘like a hawk’ and instructs me to do 2 or 3 landings just to make sure I am not forgetting anything and then he lets me go and fly solo.

I am 95 years of age.  My mother died of cancer at 49 and father died at 75. 

I was born (I’m 95), my brother Tom (94), my sister Beulah (93). My mother died of cancer at 49. 

My life has been so charmed.  All throughout my life I have been so lucky.  Firstly to be chosen to be a pilot out of 100 aircrew go in only about 16 or 17 finished.  After that I did a tour, no harm, no injured.  After all the things that happened, after the tour (30 trips) they find you a job.”


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