Flight Sergeant Ronald Lanham, No. 14 Squadron, RAF
Ronald Lanham was born on 15 August 1922, the eldest of three sons born to Timothy and Olinda Lanham of “The Wattles”, a farm near Cowra in New South Wales.
Known as “Starchy” to his family and friends, he attended the Cowra Public Intermediary High School, where he excelled at technical drawing and football. After school, Lanham joined the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney in Cowra, and later, Bombala, near Victoria.
In April 1942, Lanham joined the Royal Australian Air Force and began training.
As part of the Empire Air Training Scheme, he was one of almost 27,500 RAAF pilots, navigators, wireless operators, gunners, and engineers who, throughout the war, joined RAF squadrons or Australian squadrons based in Britain.
He spent five months training in Canada, and in February 1944 was attached to No. 14 Squadron RAF in Britain.
Lanham attained his wireless badge in January 1943 and his air gunners badge in February. He was described by a superior officer as “above the average as an air operator” and “very keen and hardworking”. By August 1943, he had been promoted to the rank of flight sergeant.
With No. 14 Squadron, Lanham participated in sorties across North Africa and the Mediterranean. In early 1944, he was part of a RAF detachment based at Ghisonaccia, on the east coast of Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea. His crew were tasked with patrolling and reporting on ship movements off the coasts of Spain and France.
At 8am on 29 March 1944, Lanham took off on a reconnaissance mission from Corsica aboard the Royal Air Force Marauder aircraft “T for Tare”. The crew of six were all Australian, four of whom, including Lanham, had served together since training in Canada. They were to fly to the neutral Spanish coast south of Barcelona, then head north towards German-occupied France, reporting on any shipping sightings.
Lanham served as wireless operator on the flight, as lookout for enemy aircraft, and if under attack, helping to direct defensive fire.
At 11am, “T for Tare” was flying five kilometres off the coast of Mataro, north of Barcelona, when they spotted a small merchant vessel. Lanham’s aircraft, flying at extremely low altitude, made a lap of the ship, and as it completed its circle, crashed into the sea.
All six were killed:
• Flying Officer William McDonald
• Flight Sergeant Charles Peedom
• Flight Sergeant Frank Lamond
• Flying Officer John Lewis
• Flight Sergeant Michael Woods, and
• Flight Sergeant Ronald Lanham, 21 years old
In the immediate aftermath, local fishermen rowed out to look for survivors. None were found, and the bodies of five of the crew, Lanham included, were recovered. The following day they were buried at the Mataro Roman Catholic Cemetery. Hundreds attended the ceremony.
One of Lanham’s childhood friends, Peter Dawson, devoted great energy to try to find the cause of the crash after the war. Yet the exact cause remains unknown.
David Sutton, Historian, Military History Section
Image: Group portrait of 158 Squadron RAF