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John Lerew

Senior Royal Australian Air Force officer

Died when: 83 years 186 days (1002 months)
Star Sign: Leo


John Lerew

John Margrave Lerew, DFC (20 August 1912 – 24 February 1996) was an officer and pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) during World War II, and later a senior manager in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

As commander of No. 24 Squadron, based in New Britain, he became famous in the annals of Air Force history for his irreverent response to orders by headquarters in Australia during the Battle of Rabaul in January 1942.

After his squadron was directed to assist in repelling the invading Japanese fleet with its one serviceable bomber, and to keep its damaged airfield open, Lerew signalled headquarters with the ancient Latin phrase supposedly used by gladiators honouring their Emperor: "Morituri vos salutamus" ("We who are about to die salute you").

He also defied an order to abandon his staff, and organised their escape from Rabaul.In February 1942, Lerew led a low-level bombing raid on enemy shipping in New Guinea that set two vessels on fire.

He was shot down but managed to evade capture, and returned to safety nine days after being reported missing.Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, he subsequently commanded the RAAF's first flying safety directorate.

After leaving the Air Force in 1946 as a group captain, Lerew took up a position with the newly formed ICAO in Canada.

He was responsible for several of its administrative and technical reforms, and rose to Chief of Flight Branch in 1969.Retiring from ICAO in 1972, he travelled extensively before settling in Vancouver, where he died in 1996 at the age of eighty-three.

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