Squadron Leader James Catanach was the youngest son of William Mercer and Ruby Catanach. Joining the RAAF in 1940, ‘Jimmy’ began his career strongly, consistently scoring ‘Above the Average’ in his training missions. Jimmy joined the 455 Squadron in 1942 and received the DFC in June of the same year for ‘3 occasions despite severe damage aircraft returned to Base safe.’ This behaviour lead Jimmy to become the youngest Squadron Leader to command a squadron in the RAAF and the RAF.
In September 1942 Catanach was forced to land his Hampden AT-109 behind enemy lines and was captured and interned in the German prison camp Stalag Luft III. On the night of the 24/25th March 1944, 76 prisoners, including Catanach, escaped from the camp in an episode that has become known as ‘the Great Escape’. Within weeks, however, all but three of the escapees had been recaptured by the Gestapo. Hitler ordered 50 of these men to be shot and Squadron Leader James Catanach was one of them.