ISBN 0 642 26500 3
In March 1917 aircraft of No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, carried out a bombing mission against a Turkish railway in Palestine. During the attack 23-year-old Lieutenant Frank McNamara, although himself wounded, landed to pick up a fellow pilot who had been downed near a force of enemy cavalry.
It was this exploit, described by the official war history as ‘a brilliant escape in the very nick of time and under hot fire’, which won McNamara—a country town schoolteacher in civilian life—the first and only Victoria Cross awarded to an Australian airman during the First World War. To colleagues in his unit, though, he was ‘the last Officer for whom that high honour would have been predicted’.
Joining the post-war Royal Australian Air Force, McNamara went on to attain the rank of air vice-marshal and serve in senior commands with both the RAAF and the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. But his career was a classic illustration of the dilemma of a basically ordinary man plucked from obscurity and accorded the status of national hero.
Here is recounted the difficulties of living with the expectations placed on someone in his unenviable position, being both constantly lauded by admirers or belittled by jealous detractors. Ungratiously retired in 1946, the only non-posthumous VC winner ever to serve in the RAAF lived out the rest of his years as an angry exile in England.