In 1938, as the storm clouds gathered over Europe, the Australian Government decided that as the coast of Australia was unprotected and surrounded by potential enemies, a surveillance capability was required. The Government approved the purchase from Britain of eight new Short Sunderland flying boats to patrol the coastline.
An order was placed for the aircraft on 1 July 1939, and No 10 Squadron was formed. Air crew travelled by ship to England for training on their new aircraft. Following the declaration of war with Germany on 3 September, the Squadron remained in England to operate with the RAF ; ground staff followed by sea to England soon after. The Squadron was to remain based in England for the entire war. On 25 April 1942, No 461 Squadron was formed from trainees of the Empire Air Training Scheme and manned mainly by Australians; it was called the “Anzac Squadron”. Like No 10 Squadron, it operated in the European theatre until the end of the war.
The two Squadrons became a part of the RAF Coastal Command and were involved mainly in Convoy Escort and U Boat Search and Destroy operations. The Sunderland aircraft were found to be good general workhorses and were used for many unusual jobs, such as flying troops out of Greece and Cyprus during the withdrawal, attempting to spirit madame De Gaulle and her children to England after the fall of France, (this operation resulted in the first fatalities of No 10 Squadron crews). The Squadron also flew Lord Gort to Malta with the George Cross when the Island was awarded the bravery decoration. They also undertook many other unusual operations.
After the war, members of the two squadrons met at various places around Australia and formed a Branch of the RAAF Association, the Sunderland Squadrons Association. Its aims were: “To continue the friendship and spirit of mateship that existed during the war” and “To perpetuate the memory of mates who failed to return”.
After nearly 70 years. the branches are still active and on the 10th April 2013, one of the greatest efforts was realised – the dedication of “The Sunderland Memorial Wall” – took place at Rathmines. The old base was created especially for Sunderlands of 10 Squadron but never used by them.
The Memorial & Walls in memory of the men & women who served with and died flying Catalina’s during the war, was dedicated on 19 September 1984. Some time later the Sunderland Association suggested a wall should be erected for Sunderlands and their crews, to provide balance for the two iconic aircraft of WW2. Accordingly, the Sunderland Memorial Wall was dedicated on 10 April 2013.
At the dedication ceremony, Mr Peter Jensen, President of the Sunderland Branch, spoke of the losses sustained by the two squadrons. As the squadrons were engaged in mostly maritime operations, the members who gave their lives in combat and those who fell victim to the wild weather of the Bay of Biscay, now lie at the bottom of the sea. They have no grave and the memorial has brought squadron mates together in a place to rest and to be remembered.
Wing Commander Peter Friend, Chaplain of RAAF base Williamtown, dedicated the Memorial Wall.
On cue, a P-3C Orion from RAAF Edinburgh, South Australia, overflew the Memorial.