House debates

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Statements by Members

Bell, Flight Lieutenant John Napier (Dinger)

1:37 pm

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Today marks the 80th anniversary of the tragic wartime accident that took the life of John Napier (Dinger) Bell. John was born on 25 April 1916, son of a local storekeeper and raised at Farina, now a ghost town with a group dedicated to its restoration in South Australia's far north. John joined our RAAF in 1935 and spent time training pilots to fly the Seagull amphibious biplane, launched off the HMAS Sydney and other ships with a 100-pound cordite charge. The Seagull V became known as the 'Walrus' with the RAF and the RAAF.

Because of his experience, Bell was directed to carry out a secret mission to evacuate the wife and child of the French president Charles de Gaulle, who was already in exile in England, from the French village Ploudaniel as the nation fell to the invading German forces. In the early hours of 18 June 1940, under direct orders from Winston Churchill, Bell flew with three crew from England to Brittany on that top secret mission. It ended in disaster and all four lost their lives when the aircraft crashed in heavy fog and burned. Tragically, Madam de Gaulle and her children had managed to escape from the port of Brest just hours earlier by boat.

The townsfolk of Ploudaniel recovered the bodies and buried the crew with full honours in the local church cemetery as the Germans invaded. The graves were carefully tended by locals throughout the duration of the war, and each year they hold a march.