It is September 15th and the Tavern remembers.
One of few to whom we owe a great debtFLIGHT Lieutenant Stuart Crosby Walch was the only Tasmanian to die in the Battle of Britain.The battle was fought over the skies of England against bomber and fighter attacks by the German Air Force, with the main aim to force Britain to the negotiating table. If that failed, it was hoped too that by destroying British naval and air defences, Hitler could invade the British Isles.
British PM Winston Churchill said on June 18, 1940, “I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin”, and within weeks it had. It culminated on October 31, when Hitler realised the Brits were not going to give in, let alone surrender.
The most ferocious attacks occurred on September 15 and that has been designated Battle of Britain Day.In Tasmania, the battle will be commemorated with a fly-over, ceremonies and a dinner.
Walch was born in Hobart on February 16, 1917, into Hobart business family, J Walch and Sons, founded in 1846 and although it no longer exists it is well remembered by many. His parents were Percival and Florence Walch.He enrolled at Hutchins School in 1927 and became a good sportsman, exceeding at cricket, football, running and rowing. While at school, he took an interest in aviation.The Hutchins School Magazine (December, 1940) wrote that in his later years “was one of the most popular boys in the school, not that he ever sought popularity”.In 1934 he left to work at the family business. Two years later, he entered Port Cook, where he obtained his wings.Although the Royal Australian Air Force was growing, greater opportunities were to be found in the Old Country, and Walch, with 25 other Aussies, accepted an offer to transfer to the Royal Air Force. In 1937 he was stationed in England at a time the RAF was using new Hawker Hurricanes.War in Europe was declared on September 3, 1939, and by then Walch had been promoted to Flying Officer. In January 1940, with 151 Squadron, he was promoted to Acting Flight Lieutenant. Just months later, the Battle of Britain began. In July, he was appointed Flight Commander with 238 Squadron at Tangmeere. He was soon credited with kills while flying a Hurricane fighter.
He was only 23 years old, but known as the “father of the squadron”.On August 11, 1940, leading his team of six, he encountered an enemy force of more than 150 Heinkel and Junkers bombers escorted by Messerschmitts. It was his 55th sortie. Undaunted by the overwhelming numbers, he met the onslaught.
He and his section leaders plummeted to the water about 10km south of Swanage.
He was the third Australian to die in the battle over Britain. Sadly, like many airmen, he has no grave.Walch had accounted for two destroyed enemy aircraft, two shared destroyed, one unconfirmed shared destroyed and one damaged.He wrote of his experience: “Some of the combats I have been in have been rather wild while they lasted. So far I seem to have been in the show with my section only. Still my boys are damn good and have proved themselves very reliable supporters, as you can imagine because once we (the three of us) met 30 and got a couple. Once my flight (six of us) which I was leading met 80, and again when I was on my own I got mixed up with 15. You have got to work hard for a few hectic minutes on those occasions.”His Commanding Officer wrote: “We would like Stuart’s family to know how highly he was valued in the squadron. We have lost a gallant officer and we miss him badly.” Another, a fellow pilot, wrote: “It was while he was trying to rescue two boys from a hopeless situation that the was killed.” His family, as can be imagined, was devastated by losing their only son.After the war, an old Hutchins boy, businessman Len Nettlefold, donated a racing form rowing boat to the school and named it Stuart Walch. The boat was kept at Sandy Bay, but in 1967 the shed burnt down, destroying the boats. A part of the Stuart Walch shell was rescued and preserved. It is now mounted in the mess room of Hutchins Boarding School. He is also remembered on the school’s World War II Honour Roll in the Chapel of St Thomas.When the battle was over, Churchill wrote:
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
We raised our glasses to a fine young man. A Tasmanian.Stuart Crosby Walch was one of those few.