ANZAC Legends: Andy 'Nicky' Barr

Mon, 19/04/2021, 06:21 am
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
Wallaby portrait Andrew Barr (left) and Stanley Bisset

Ahead of ANZAC Round, Rugby.com.au along with Honorary Statistician Matthew Alvarez has taken a look back at the incredible efforts by Wallabies who served, beginning with the flying flanker Andy Barr.

Andy “Nicky” Barr was born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1915 with his family moving to Melbourne when he was six years of age.

It was evident that Nicky was a natural athlete, winning the Victorian Schoolboys' 100 yards championship in 1926, 1927 and 1928.

There were many factors that influenced his career but what was more important was his association with Power House Club from the age of 15 years.

The Governor of Victoria, Lord Somers, adapted the concept to Australia as young boys were invited to the camp “to fully learn the spirit of service and duty and to understand that he had responsibilities to himself and others”.

This is where Barr was introduced to the Power House Rugby Club, attracting him from Australian Rules and Hawthorn after an invitation to play a game when they were a man short.

He was hooked in more ways than one, switching between hooker, perhaps the fastest one of all time, and his normal position of flanker.

Barr joined a Victorian team in a ‘golden era’, including the likes of wingers Rudy Dorr and Max Carpenter, fly-half Bill Hammon and forwards 'Weary' Dunlop, Cliff Lang and Stan Bisset, all of whom would be selected to play for Australia.

When the Australian team to tour England in 1939 was selected, four Victorians made it, George Pearson of Melbourne University along with Carpenter, Bisset and Barr.

Australian team photograph on board ship to United Kingdom - 1939
Australian team photograph on board ship to United Kingdom - 1939

Soon after arrival, Neville Chamberlain declared that Britain was at war, so a game was arranged on the way home in Bombay for players who hadn't played for Australia to earn their cap.

While in England, Barr tried to join the Royal Air Force, however as he was not encouraged, went back to Australia and volunteered for the RAAF. When he was selected, he bought a book, “How to Fly in Five Easy Lessons”, and read it voraciously.

The career of Andy Barr in the RAAF is the stuff of which legends are made according to Peter Dornan’s biography on Barr.

“He graduated to 'wings' standard in September 1940 and was posted to No 23 Squadron Brisbane at Archerfield. While here, he became aide-de camp for Queensland Governor Sir Wilson,” it reads.

“He and Dot married in Melbourne on August 12, 1941. Three weeks later, he was posted to No.3 Fighter RAAF Squadron in the Middle East.

“By November 17, 1941, he began his fighter pilot career flying Tomahawks. The Desert Air Force and the British Eighth Army desperately trying to relieve the besieged Tobruk Fortress in Libya. No.3 Squadron was the pre-eminent fighter squadron among 20 allied squadrons fighting Rommel's famed Afrika Korps, and he was soon in battle.”

Portrait in Air Force Uniform Andrew William Barr
Portrait in Air Force Uniform Andrew William Barr

Over the next few months, such was the attrition rate and his stature, he quickly rose through the ranks to become Squadron leader.

In January 1942, he was awarded his first DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) after a particular mission flying a Kittyhawk, he shot down three enemy planes in quick succession. He was then shot down himself, crash landing into the desert.

He was injured and stranded kilometers behind enemy lines, but was saved by friendly Arabs who guided him to safety.

Once again, he was shot down on June 1 during the 'Battle of the Cauldron', an intense land and airbattle outside of Tobruk, eventually saved by a British army team.

On June 26 he was shot down for a third time into flames, however, this time, he was not as lucky as he was taken as a wounded prisoner, badly burned and shot through the leg, to Italy.

When he recovered, he tried to escape by crawling naked and freezing through the sewerage system, but was caught by guards not far from the Swiss border. After a severe beating, he was transported to Germany but escaped by jumping out of a moving train.

For the next six months he linked up and worked with Special Operation Forces who had parachuted into Italy, harassing and blowing up German trains and troo trucks. He was caught twice more but escaped each time.

Eventually, after 20 months behind lines, he became sick with malaria and malnutrition and led a group of allied prisoners of war to safety over the Apennines in Italy. He received a Military Cross for his services.

Joey palming defenders off for fun.

Back in England, he flew 108 operational missions from Britain, where he attained the rank of Wing Commander, eventually known as Wing Commander AW.

Barr was officially credited with 12.5 aircraft destroyed, making him tenth amongst Australian Fighter Aces of World War II.

After the war, he became general manager of the civil engineering firm, Thiess Brothers, in Brisbane.

He would later become general manager of Meggitt's Ltd, a company in the oilseed crushing industry, eventually becoming executive chairman as he was awarded an OBE for his services to agriculture.

Nicky Barr died in June 2006 at 90 years of age, a few months after his wife. Four F/A-18 Hornet jet fighters from the No 3 Squadron overflew his funeral service on the Gold Coast, Queensland.

He had a remarkable life, and at his death, he was officially Andrew William Barr OBE, MC, DFC and Bar.

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