Australian Distinguished Flying Medal, GVI, 2982 Flight Sergeant J.L. Burnham, 10 Squadron, R.A.A.F., who participated in the historic sinking of U-26, RAAF’s first U-Boat kill and Coastal Command’s 2nd Victory over the U-Boats.
Officially engraved: “AUS 2982 F/Sgt J.L. Burnham R.A.A.F.” A rare D.F.M. named to the Royal Australian Air Force.
James Leslie Burnham, was a lifelong engineer, he left England during the Great Depression following his Apprenticeship to work in Australia as an Engineer, after many years of experience in a number of engineering jobs he joined the R.A.A.F. in 1937, and rose up the ranks as a fitter.
He was on the crew of the very first Sunderland flights of No 10 Squadron R.A.A.F. as senior fitter, including the flight that sunk U-Boat 26, leading to his Pilot’s DFC award but no recognition for himself.
He would most likely be found in the workshops or working on the Sunderlands, usually with his pipe in his mouth, as director of 10 Squadron’s workshop he made a number of new inventions that greatly helped the squadron leading to an MiD and the award of the D.F.M.
He can be found on many photographs of No 10 Squadron held by the Imperial War Museum.
With original application for Commission, application for appointment with the New Zealand Public Service circa 1959, RAAF discharge letter, original MiD certificate in envelope, 3 original photos, one on the day he was awarded the DFM, one in flight suit and another in full uniform, with 3 wartime badges including his engineer’s wing badge.
His named WW2 medals are not present, only his ribbon bars.
D.F.M. London Gazette 29th September 1942.
Recommendation from 9th February 1942: “This N.C.O. has been a fitter in operations flight since 1939 and has completed 1120 operation flying made up of 329 hours night and 791 hours day. Since becoming senior fitter, he has been responsible for the crew morale remaining at such a high standard. His untiring efforts to retain the maximum serviceability together with the continual cheerfulness of all maintenance personnel have been outstanding over a long period of operations.”
Remarks by Station Commander: “I fully concur in the Squadron Commander’s remarks. Although this N.C.O.’s work is of the less spectacular type, I consider his record is well worthy of an award and I recommend him fro the award of the Distinguished Flying Medal.”
He was additionally awarded a Mention in Despatches in the London Gazette of 11th June 1942.
James Leslie “Jim” Burnham, was born on 4th August 1905 in Warwickshire, England.
He began his engineering career in August 1919, after finishing his education at Northampton County School he worked as an Apprentice until September 1924 with Messrs Groom and Tattersall Ltd, Station Works Towcester.
He left to move to Australia, starting his own partnership from January 1925 until March 1928 as an Engineer.
Following the dissolving of his partnership he joined Listers in Townsville from March 1928 to Sept 1929 as an Installation Engineer, but left his job to pursue a higher position.
From January 1930 to December 1930 he joined Lewis Holdsworth and Walsh manufacturing chemists in Roseberry as a maintenance fitter, until the first closed down shortly afterwards.
He next job was from 11th June 1932 to May 1933 with Australian Iron and Steel Lithgow, he again left to improve his position and joined Elenora Country Club in N.S.W. to work as Foreman fitter and Mechanic from 6th August 1933 to August 1937.
His next idea was to enlist in the Royal Australian Air Force on 23rd August 1937.
He rose up the ranks from Corporal, to Sergeant, to Flight Sergeant and Warrant Office on 1st February 1943.
During his service he was first training at Laverton Victoria as an Aero Fitter, followed by service with No 3 Squadron, 23 Squadron, 10 Squadron operationally in England.
Then in U.S.A. on Transit work, followed by No 3. Officer Training Unit and the W.O.E. Course, with his last posting with No 40 Squadron, before pursuing a commission in the Engineering Branch R.A.A.F.
During the war he had flown on many operations with 10 Squadron, R.A.A.F., as Air Gunner and Flight Engineer on Sunderlands.
10 Squadron R.A.F. was the first Australian unit to go to war during WW2, they were quickly put to good use hunting U-boats as part of Coastal Command.
He took part in the historic “First Kill” of the RAAF when they sunk U-26, popularised in fiction when a model of U26 appears in Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was at the time borrowed from the filming of Das Boot which was supposed to be a model of U96 which they made into U26.
An article by Dr Karl James of the Australian War Museum details the flight and notes that “The other members of the flight also survived their tour in Britain, although Havyatt, then a wing Commander in Command of 20 Sqn, RAAF, was killed in May 1944 when his Consolidated Catalina was lost off the coast of Bali during a mine-laying mission. Corporal Jim Burnham and Leading Aircraftsman Arthur “Snowy” Couldrey, the senior fitter and the rear gunner, were later awarded Distinguished Flying Medals for their service with the Squadron.”
The crew on the flight onboard Sunderland Flying Boat P9603,
Flight Lieutenant “Hoot” Gibson as Captain, Flying Officer G. Havyatt (First Pilot), Sergeant H O’Connor (Observer), Corporal J. Burnham (1st Fitter), LAC W. Vout (2nd Fitter), Corporal J. Grubb (W/T Operator), LAC K. Phillips (W/T Operator), LAC De Wynne (Rigger) and LAC Couldrey (Air Gunner – Rear).
For the action Flt Lt Gibson was awarded the DFC, U26 having sank 8 allied ships during 6 patrols since the start of the war under Kapitanleutnant Heinz Scherringer.
Jim Burnham was a sought after and most experienced Engineer, he created a number of inventions which ‘contributed to the general efficiency of the workshops at No 10 Squadron RAAF, which he directs.”
He was also proficient in sports such as Tennis, Football, Sailing, Swimming and Motor Cycle Racing.
After his discharge from his commission as Engineer Officer and A.andS.D.
He joined the NZ Ministry of Works from 17th January 1955 to 9th December 1956, leaving to take a position as a Shift Engineer at Interional Contractors Wairakei from December 1956 until the Auxiliary Power House closed down