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SGT Gilbert Jan - OAM - RAAF – Catalina Flying Boats – Pacific – WW2.

Gibert Jan OAM was born in Darwin to his Chinese parents. When Darwin was bombed during WW2, many families moved to other cities with Jan’s family, relocating to Sydney.

Gilbert, wanted to serve in the war and volunteered to join the Australian Army, and Navy but was unwelcome by both.


Undeterred Gilbert Jan was accepted by the RAAF and after training was promoted to Leading Aircraftman and posted to the Catalina Flying Boats squadron, as a radio operator.  


Gilbert saw many dangerous missions but did not speak of them… only to other WW2 veterans as is the norm. Those that knew him well, spoke of his courage, determination, and his wit.


In 1946, while flying from Hong Kong to Sydney in a C-47 Dakota plane, both engines failed (one after the other) and was forced to crashed into the sea, with 4 crew and 5 ADF passengers on board. Six survived… the 4 crew members and LAC G. Jan (aged 22) and S/Lieut., W. Bennett, were rescued by the British destroyer HMS Tenacious.


Gilbert always said he was grateful to the Pom’s for rescuing him.


As a result of surviving a war plane crashing at sea, this entitled him to become a member of the famous UK Goldfish Club, which states the following:


The RAF and Allied Airmen who have escaped from their distressed aircraft over the sea and possibly used an Emergency Dinghy are invited to become members of the Goldfish Club. A certificate of membership and a badge with name engraved, is given to all members in appreciation of their Gallant Conduct.’  Gilbert was very proud of this membership.


Asked why both engines failed, Gilbert was reported by good mate Ted Goodman, as saying, ‘We used Japanese prisoners of war (POW’s), to refuel the planes in Hong Kong, and I think they mixed water with the fuel.’


Gilbert Jan 68 years later, made the headlines when Tom Fogg, who was one of the sailors who help plucked Gilbert from the rough cold waters of a stormy South China Sea, was about to visit Sydney to attend his grand daughter’s wedding. Tom rang Gilbert from the UK and asked him if he could meet up whilst he was in Sydney.




During the conversation Tom mentioned to Gilbert that he will be staying in Pavilion St., Queenscliff and if it was near where Gilbert lived. Jan’s reply was… ‘I’ve got a good idea where Pavilion St is’, yep fate was in play again, as Gilbert’s Pavilion St home was only a few doors away. See the attached 2014 Manly Daily article and photo.


One more coincidence happen within a few days… one of the other British sailors who came to Jan’s recue was Norman Windeatt … the ‘helmsman’ on HMS Tenacious on that crucial night. Norman married a Sydney girl and was now living at Mt. Ku-ring-gai… Norman’s sister-in-law happen to see the article in the Manly Daily and quickly informed Norman.


Sixty-Eight years on, after Gilbert’s RAAF plane crashed into the seas, 320km out of Hong Kong… faith brought these three men together… and were reunited a few days after the Manly Daily report. See newspaper story attached.


Jan was one of over 1,200 Chinese Australians who served in WW2, many were discriminated against. Gilbert served with honour and after the war he joined the Harbord RSL sub-Branch.  After serving 50 years as member of the RSL, Gilbert Jan was awarded a certificate of ‘Long Service’ by a grateful RSL Australia.  


Gilbert pioneered the identification of Chinese Australians who served in both world wars and in other conflicts. As a volunteer he worked on a number projects, with the Museum of Chinese Australian History taking up his work, establishing the Honour Roll of Chinese Australians who served in both worlds’ wars. 


This work saw the establishment of an impressive permanent memorial for Chinese Australians who served the ADF with distinction in both worlds’ wars and other conflicts. The memorial was unveiled on 11th November 2002, and is situated in Dixon St., in Sydney's Chinatown, and was funded by NSW government, the RSL movement and Chinese Australian Veterans. See photo attached, which includes, SGT Gilbert Jan.  


Gilbert Jan was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia, for his outstanding volunteering work. Gilbert was a highly regarded member of Harbord RSL sub-Branch, sadly he passed away early in 2023 aged 98.5yrs.


The Harbord RSL sub-Branch was honoured to place his name plaque on our Wall of Remembrance in Jacka Park Freshwater on ‘Remembrance Day’ 11th of November 2023, with many family and friends in attendance.


A big thanks to Roslyn Jan and Gilbert’s good mate and Dee Why RSL sub-Branch member, Tom Goodman, who spoke highly of Gilbert in an interview with the writer on the 17 November and supplied the following news clippings.


Lest We Forget.


Manly Daily Front Page - 4th January 2014


Manly Daily – follow-up article - 11 January 2014


1946 news report


SGT Gilbert Jan - OAM

RAAF – Catalina Flying Boats – Pacific – WW2.


Manly Daily page 9 – full report 4th January 2014.


A young Gilbert 1940’s


The Permanent Memorial of the Honour Roll of Chinese Australians who served in both worlds’ wars.  Situated in Dixon St in Sydney's Chinatown.

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