Amberley memorial to honour long-lost bomber crew

RAAF bombers. | Newsreel
Four RAAF 100 Squadron Beaufort Bombers head for Wewak, North New Guinea, in 1945. | Photo: Supplied by RAAF and Australian War Memorial.

An ANZAC day memorial service at Amberley is the final chapter in a years-long search for a World War 2 bomber crew lost off the coast of Papua New Guinea, involving an Australian billionaire and cutting-edge DNA technology.

The memorial at the RAAF base, west of Brisbane, will be bittersweet for the families of a 100 Squadron World War 2 Beaufort aircraft (A9-186), first reported missing in 1943, along with its four crew members.

While the crash site was identified in 2020, the RAAF said the aircraft was only recently discovered after a challenging mission in the waters south of Gasmata, in Papua New Guinea.

The crash site was discovered by a dive team working for billionaire businessman Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, as part of an ongoing search for his uncle, Flying Officer David Forrest, who was lost during a mission to Gasmata, piloting a similar RAAF 100 Squadron Beaufort.

In February 2022, the team returned to the site to identify the aircraft with two members of the RAAF Directorate of Historical Unrecovered War Casualties (HUWC), who confirmed it was the A9-186.

Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Robert Chipman said the A9-186 wreck site was located in 43m of water, which meant identifying the remains of the aircraft after 79 years took considerable time, effort and teamwork.

Air Marshall Chipman said specialist divers worked on an aircraft that was extensively damaged by fire and covered in layers of sediment and marine growth.

He said small amounts of bone material recovered during the identification mission were analysed by anthropologists and DNA specialists.

“The RAAF’s HUWC team collated the evidence and a Defence Identification Board identified the remains as those of Warrant Officer Clement Batstone Wiggins and Warrant Officer Russell Henry Grigg,” Air Marshal Chipman said.

“Unfortunately, it’s with a heavy heart we can confirm that no remains of the other two crew members, Flight Sergeant Albert Beckett and Flight Sergeant Gordon Lewis Hamilton, were recovered.

“A memorial service for the families of all four crew is being planned for April 26 at RAAF Base Amberley, Queensland,” he said.

Air Marshal Chipman said that no further recovery was planned for the “challenging” crash site.

The crew of 100 Squadron Beaufort A9-186:

  • Warrant Officer Clement Batstone Wiggins: Born in Gatton, Queensland, he worked as a school teacher before enlisting in Brisbane in March 1941. Warrant Officer Wiggins was 28 when killed in action.
  • Warrant Officer Russell Henry Grigg: Born in Brisbane, Queensland, he worked as a fruit grower before enlisting in Brisbane in March 1941. Warrant Officer Grigg was 34 when killed in action.
  • Flight Sergeant Albert Beckett: Born in Launceston, Tasmania, he worked as a builder’s apprentice (carpenter) before enlisting in Tasmania in November 1941. Flight Sergeant Beckett was 22 when killed in action.
  • Flight Sergeant Gordon Lewis Hamilton: Born in Brisbane, Queensland, he worked as a baker’s assistant before enlisting in Brisbane in July 1941. Flight Sergeant Hamilton was 26 when killed in action.

2024 ANZAC Day Services 

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