Len & Gladys

Gladys Saunders met her dashing ‘flyboy’, Leonard (Len) Waters on her seventeenth birthday in February 1946. Drawn together by fate, Len and Gladys found common ground in their shared wartime experiences.

By Queensland Museum Network

Gladys Saunders and Len WatersQueensland Museum Network

After a whirlwind courtship of two weeks, the marriage of Leonard (Len) Waters & Gladys Saunders spanned 46 years and produced six children. 

We invite you to reflect on the lives of two people, Len and Gladys, who volunteered to serve their country and their courage and persistence to achieve this against the odds.

Len Waters

Len is recognised and celebrated as the only known Aboriginal fighter pilot in World War Two. Yet on his return to civilian life in 1945, Len’s wartime flying achievements received little recognition. He said to most people he was ‘just another blackfella’.

Gladys Saunders

Less well-known is Gladys’ contribution as a Women’s National Emergency League driver for the United States Army in Townsville – a job she applied for after a friend sneeringly remarked, "they wouldn’t take the likes of you"

Aircraftman Leonard (Len) WatersQueensland Museum Network

When Len Waters received his pilot’s wings in June 1944 it was the realisation of a boyhood dream. When he wasn’t labouring in dusty shearing sheds in South-West Queensland, Len spent his time 'engrossed in the feats' of heroic aviators like Hinkler, Kingsford Smith and Johnson.

"There was so much history being made... I made a silent vow to one day take to the skies myself. Little did I imagine that it would take a world war to realise my ambition...I... never lost my desire to fly. ... When the war broke out in ‘39 I couldn’t get into it quick enough."

In joining the RAAF, Len himself made history flying a total of 95 sorties, mostly ground attacks, from bases in New Guinea and the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). Among Len’s awards were the Australian Service Medal, Pacific Star, 1939-45 Star, British War Medal and Dutch War Commemorative Cross.

Model Aircraft Curtiss P-40 ‘Kittyhawk’Queensland Museum Network

Black Magic

Famous for its association with Len Waters, the aircraft known as ‘Black Magic’ was initially named by Flight Lieutenant Denis Russell Baker, DFC, 78 Squadron, RAAF.

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