This Day in History: 1917-03-20

LT Frank McNamara landed behind enemy lines to rescue a fellow pilot on 20 March 1917, in an action for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Born in Rushworth, Victoria, 1894 Frank Hubert McNamara was educated at Shepparton High School and then the Teachers Training College, Melbourne, before becoming a teacher. Having joined the cadets at school, McNamara was commissioned in the militia in 1913 and mobilized at the start of World War 1. After serving in local garrisons during late 1914 and early 1915, he was accepted into pilot training at Point Cook and graduated as a pilot in October 1915. He was then posted to No 1 Squadron after completing some flying and further training in England. On 20 March 1917 McNamara was flying one of four Martinsyde aircraft in a bombing mission against Turkish positions in preparations for an allied offensive in Gaza. After dropping three bombs and then being injured by a fourth bomb pre-detonating in his cockpit, McNamara noticed fellow No 1 Squadron airmen CAPT Rutherford on the ground beside his crashed BE2 aircraft. Despite Turkish cavalry rapidly approaching Rutherford’s position, McNamara el ected to rescue his trapped colleague. McNamara landed near the crashed aircraft and Rutherford jumped onto the wing of McNamara’s single seat aircraft and McNamara tried to take off. The aircraft then crashed and the two airmen went back to Rutherford’s aircraft, repaired the fault while providing covering fire against the advancing Turks and then took off successfully. In severe pain and close to blacking out due to loss of blood from his wounds, McNamara managed to fly the aircraft 70 miles back to base. Lt McNamara was awarded the Victoria Cross for his courageous actions on the day; the first ever Australian Airmen, and only Australian airmen of World War 1, to receive the honour. He is one of only four Australian airmen to have ever been awarded the Victoria Cross over the last 100 years. Although forced to leave the AFC in 1918, McNamara joined the RAAF in the 1920’s and rose to the rank of Air Vice Marshal serving all of his time in World War 2 overseas and never returning to Australia. Source: AWM; AFA SA Division

Lt Frank McNamara at Point Cook in 1916.