John “Willy” Williams DFC


Squadron Leader – John “Willy” Williams DFC

Back in the Great Depression days of the early 1930’s, this corner of Manly beach was home to a youngster named John Williams.

His family lived nearby; he attended the local village school; he was a talented surfboard rider and swimmer, and an Australian champion surfboat rower with a Manly Life Saving Club crew; all his skills developed in these waters.

He was also bright enough to earn entry to Sydney University’s School of Medicine, but 18 year old John Williams decided, in 1938, to join Britain’s RAF and prepare for the inevitable World War 2.

A talented flyer, he became an instructor to young men preparing for the Battle of Britain. Aged just 21, he was a flight lieutenant and eager for action.

He was sent to the Middle East, serving in three separate UK units before a dream was realised; “Willy” was assigned Squadron Leader of the Harassers… the Australian 450 Squadron.

Eventually shot down, “Willy” was a leader among 76 men who escaped Germany’s infamous prison camp Stalag Luft 111, in March 1944. He was tracked down and executed, aged just 24. These events were the basis of the movie, The Great Escape.

History regards “Willy” as a British flyer… here in Manly, we are proud to remember John Williams as one of ours.

Warringah Australia Remembers Committee – 2018

Plaque funded by Dee Why RSL Sub-branch




Louise Williams is the niece of John “Willy” Williams.

Louise has written about her Uncle’s exploits during WW11 from the earliest battles to his roll in the Great Escape from Stalag Luft 111 on the night of 24/25 March 1944. John’s escape and subsequent recapture is full of twists and turns. His execution begs the establishment of the memorial plaque in honour of his exploits to be placed adjacent to the Manly Surf Life Saving Clubhouse. Read on.

Published in 2015 by Allen and Unwin ISBN 978 1 74331 389 3