LATHAM, Phillips Stonham
Leading Aircraftman Phillips Stonham Latham (32932) was born on 22 May 1916 in Sydney to Leslie Frederick and Gladys Caroline Latham. When Latham enlisted on 5 August 1940, he was living with his family at 'Burragurrum' 635 Mayfield Rd, Baan Baa, New South Wales. The 1949 electoral roll also lists his brothers, Guy Rodney and Kenneth Bertram, living at the same address with his parents.
Latham was previously in the 24th Light Horse Regiment (Militia), where he held the rank of Trooper (65135), but he requested a transfer to the RAAF in 1940. Latham wrote on his application for enlistment as an Airman that he had driven tractors, trucks and cars for the last seven years on his father’s property and wished to serve as a truck driver. He was described as 'very good type, keen, very good manner, neat appearance' and recommended for Driver Motor Transport. The Australian War Memorial’s Roll of Honour Circular for Latham also gave his occupation as a farmer and grazier.
Latham was serving at RAAF Station Headquarters when Darwin was bombed on 19 February 1942. At the time of the first raid, Latham was driving a truck loaded with bombs to Batchelor. He returned to Darwin to check on his younger brother who was also serving with the RAAF. When the second raid began, Latham jumped into a trench with Barton, Neaylon and Smith. The trench received a direct hit and all four were killed instantly.
The only aerial defence during the bombing was provided by a squadron of Kittyhawks from the 33rd Pursuit Squadron USAAF. Led by Major Floyd Pell, the Kittyhawks had just arrived back in Darwin after turning back from a flight to Koepang because of bad weather. Four pilots, including Major Pell, were killed as they fought bravely against the overwhelming number of Japanese Zeros.
Seven RAAF Station personnel also died on the ground, including Leading Aircraftman Latham. He was twenty-five years old. Buildings and facilities on the airfield were also severely damaged but the base continued to operate throughout the war.
Latham’s brother, Guy, describes in a letter (NTRS 1442) to his family how he first thought his brother was out of Darwin and therefore safe, but later learnt that he had been seen in the mess after the first raid. Guy then began searching for his brother but was finally taken aside that evening and told the bad news. Although Latham had been buried under 18 inches of earth in the blast, some of the other servicemen managed to pull him out during the raid. He was eventually buried at Adelaide River War Cemetery.
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