While COVID-19 may have prevented usual birthday celebrations, there was no stopping RAAF Amberley’s “Dauntless” personnel from commemorating No. 23 Squadron’s 83 years of esteemed history this month.

Commanding Officer of No. 23 Squadron Wing Commander Mark Thompson, along with Squadron Warrant Officer Mike McDonnell, have been promoting snippets of No. 23 Squadron’s history to unit personnel in lieu of a more formal birthday event, usually held on May 3.

“This has been a squadron anniversary like no other I have experienced,” Wing Commander Thompson said. 

“While we could not gather together for a formal celebration, we believe it’s important for our members to have the opportunity to learn more about the history of their squadron. 

“The contribution our squadron has made since its formation prior to the commencement of the Second World War is significant and should not be forgotten. 

“Even in the face of COVID-19, we felt it appropriate for our cooks to prepare an anniversary cake to mark the important milestone.”

Corporal John Hancock and Aircraftwoman Kelly O’Brien spent three days creating the 10kg red velvet, chocolate and white truffle masterpiece, complete with the head of a Leopard and “Dauntless” written underneath. The cake was cut and safely distributed in takeaway containers to squadron members, along with a series of emails highlighting important moments in the squadron’s history.

No. 23 (City of Brisbane) Squadron was officially formed in 1937 and in 1939 was based at Archerfield as a reconnaissance and training unit with Avro Anson aircraft.

It was progressively re-equipped with Wirraway and Hudson aircraft at the outbreak of World War II, then with Vultee Vengeance aircraft in 1943 and B-24 Liberator aircraft in 1944. From 1944 until the Japanese surrender, No. 23 Squadron conducted strike and bombing operations out of Darwin and later Morotai, on land and maritime targets, including Balikpapan.

While we could not gather together for a formal celebration, we believe it’s important for our members to have the opportunity to learn more about the history of their squadron.

At the end of World War II, No. 23 Squadron withdrew to Tocumwal, NSW, for demobilisation before relocating to Amberley and in February 1948 was redesignated as No. 6 (Bomber) Squadron. In the following April, No. 23 Squadron was reformed at Archerfield as “No. 23 (City of Brisbane) Citizen’s Air Force (Fighter) Squadron” and equipped with Mustang fighters.  

Flying operations ceased in 1960 and the squadron was re-tasked as an “auxiliary squadron”. Again, in 1980, No. 23 Squadron was re-tasked as an “RAAF Active Reserve” Unit to "train members to contribute to contemporary Australian Defence Force Operations". 

In July 2010, No. 23 Squadron was reinstated as a “RAAF Operational Squadron” and tasked with its current responsibility for airbase operations support at RAAF Amberley. 

Nobody is prouder of No. 23 Squadron than Warrant Officer (retd) George Hatchman, the squadron’s official historian.

“The personnel of No. 23 Squadron have always been held in high regard. Interestingly, No. 23 Squadron’s first commanding officer had served in the trenches of Gallipoli, so we all came from good stock,” Mr Hatchman said. 

“I know this thanks to my research and recent meetings with the man we believe is our squadron’s oldest living member - ex-WWII 23 Squadron airman 98-year-old Leading Aircraftman Esdale Davis, who enlisted into the RAAF at Archerfield 79 years ago on May 14, 1941.

“Mr Esdale now resides in an aged care home at Bethania, south of Brisbane.

“He is a proud former member of our squadron and I am disappointed I wasn’t able to take him some birthday cake because of COVID-19. Hopefully next year!”