Australia’s first Aboriginal fighter pilot, Len Waters

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Leonard “Len” Victor Waters was the only known Australian Aboriginal fighter pilot of the Second World War. He flew 95 operational sorties with 78 Squadron from 1943–1945, operating from Noemfoor, Morotai and Tarakan.

Len Waters joined the RAAF on 24 August 1942 and was trained as a flight mechanic. He was later accepted for pilot training where he graduated as a Sergeant pilot from 5 Service Flying Training School, Uranquinty, NSW. His training continued at 2 Operational Training Unit (2OTU), Mildura, Vic, from where he was posted to 78 Squadron on 14 November 1944.

78144 Sergeant (Sgt) Leonard Victor Waters
78144 Sergeant (Sgt) Leonard Victor Waters, 78 Squadron, RAAF, sitting in the cockpit of a P40N Kittyhawk c. 1944–1945.
Source: Australian War Memorial, collection P01659.001.

His eldest daughter, Lenise Schloss, recalled how he overcame difficulties in his upbringing and prejudice at the time against Aborigines to achieve success in the RAAF: 

“He was accepted as an equal because he worked so hard and he was admired so much by his fellow comrades.”

A group of pilots from No. 78 Squadron RAAF.
A group of pilots from No. 78 Squadron RAAF.
Left to right: Max Davey; Mike White; Flight Sergeant L. V. (Len) Waters; Jack Eagles (extreme right, standing). Seated: Frank Smith.
Source: Australian War Memorial, collection P01757.003.

Sergeant Waters was promoted to Flight Sergeant on 1 January 1945 and to Warrant Officer on 1 January 1946. He was discharged from the RAAF on 18 January 1946. 

Len Waters was interviewed by Australian Defence Force historian Dr Robert Hall for his book The black Diggers : Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in the Second World War. Dr Hall recalls “an amazing bloke” who worked as a shearer, ring barker and cook for most of his life after leaving the RAAF. 

Leonard Waters died on 25 August 1993 after a fall in Cunnamulla, in south-east Queensland.