Spitfire pilot turns 100

14 September 2023
  • History & commemoration
  • Veteran stories

WWII pilot Warrant Officer John Shoesmith (Retd) celebrated his 100th birthday on 9 August.

WWII pilot John Shoesmith

Warrant Officer John Shoesmith during his time in the RAAF

By Flight Lieutenant Rob Hodgson

A Sherwood-Indooroopilly RSL Sub Branch Life Subscriber, John flew a clutch of ‘classic warbirds’ for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) during the war, including the CAC Boomerang and Supermarine Spitfire.

Enlisting during the dark days of early 1942, John was selected for pilot training. What followed was intensive training, progressing from the classroom to cockpit. Upon receiving his Wings, he moved through several flying Squadrons, culminating in active service flying Spitfires in 452 and 79 Squadrons.

“I received no instruction before my first flight in a Spitfire – but there was a training manual on the cockpit seat,” he says.

What followed was active service in what is now Indonesia, as the Allied forces pushed the enemy back. A key role of the Spitfire – and one that it was not initially designed for – was ground attack.

“It took great skill to dive bomb a bridge and drop 250-pound bombs whilst under fire,” he explains.

WWII pilot John Shoesmith celebrating his 100th birthday with family and friends

John celebrated his 100th birthday surrounded by family, friends and members of the RAAF

At the conclusion of the war, John – like many of his generation – returned to civilian and family life. But he continued to hold strong memories of flying the Spitfire – undoubtedly one the most well-loved aircraft in aviation history.

“It was the best plane I flew – and it had such a surge of power at maximum throttle,” he says with a twinkle in his eye.

In later years, John maintained his passion for the aircraft – and ‘kept his eye in’ – tackling missions on the Microsoft Flight Simulator computer game with Spitfire add-in.

Group Captain Dennis Tan, Senior Australian Defence Force Officer at RAAF Base Amberley, Queensland, represented the Air Force for an early birthday celebration at John’s home on 8 August, presenting him with some Air Force mementos.

These included a framed image of one of 100 Squadron’s flying Spitfires, based at Temora, New South Wales, signed by Commanding Officer Jason Easthope. 100 Squadron is a historical squadron which was re-formed in 2021 to coincide with the Air Force centenary and maintains and operates heritage aircraft. 

Himself a pilot, GPCAPT Tan considered it a special honour to be able to present the mementos to John and ‘talk flying’ with a fellow aviator.

“All the aircraft that Warrant Officer Shoesmith flew would be considered ‘classic warbirds’ these days, and what an amazing collection of aircraft to have in a pilot’s logbook,” GPCAPT Tan says.

“It is a very special honour for me to spend some time with one of our veterans who has flown them.”

The current Commanding Officer of John’s old unit, 79 Squadron, noted the importance of remembering those who had gone before in his unit.

“79 Squadron has been formed for times of conflict and those who served in the unit during these times did so with courage and resilience,” Wing Commander Grant Taylor says.

“It is a joyous occasion for the current members of 79 Squadron to wish John a happy 100th birthday as one of the men who faced the enemy at a time when Australia needed it the most.

“The skills John demonstrated against the enemy during WWII are now being taught to the future generation of fighter pilots, continuing a legacy which underpins the need for high quality training in high quality people.”

WWII pilot John Shoebridge

After graduating from pilot training, John saw active service in Indonesia during WWII

Today, 79 Squadron forms part of 78 Wing of the Air Combat Group and is headquartered at RAAF Base Pearce, Western Australia. The Squadron operates BAE Hawk 127 aircraft and has the mission of training and graduating aircrew for follow-on conversion to fast jet aircraft. 

The Squadron also supports Australian Defence Force operational training.


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