A fighter ace, Australian Andrew William “Nicky” Barr’s exploits during World War II are unique. As a star player on Australia’s 1939 International Rugby Team, he developed the strength and sense of teamwork he would need in combat. While the team toured England, war was declared. Unable to enter flight training in England, he joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) as a trainee pilot, and was appointed a pilot officer in September 1940. In November, Barr was posted to 23 Squadron flying CA-3 Wirraways on patrol around Queensland. He entered the ongoing African campaign in October 1941 when posted to 3 Squadron in the Western Desert.
As on the rugby field, he displayed aggressiveness flying P-40 Kittyhawks in the air over Africa. During his first 35 operational hours, Barr flew 22 missions, engaged in 16 aerial combats, and was credited with destroying 8 enemy aircraft. On 11 January 1942, during an attempt to rescue a downed pilot, he became engaged in a dogfight with Me-109s and was shot down 25 miles behind enemy lines. Although wounded, he evaded for 5 days and even gathered information on the enemy. After a brief recovery, Barr returned to combat, and in May assumed command of 3 Squadron. Keenly aware of the teamwork needed, his squadron fought to halt General Rommel’s advance into Egypt. At one point, 3 Squadron flew a record 64 fighter and dive bombing missions in 1 day–he completed a record 6! On 26 June 1942, during his third morning flight, Squadron Leader Barr was shot down. Badly wounded, he was captured by Italian forces. By that time, he had flown 84 combat sorties and scored 12 victories.
He spent the next 5 months in military and POW hospitals in Italy. He escaped once but was recaptured and sent to the Italian fortress prison of Gavi–a place from which no one ever escaped. After 8 months, he was being sent to Germany; however, enroute he once again managed to escape. He evaded the enemy in Austria and Italy for 8 months. During this time, he joined the remnants of an Allied Special Airborne Services unit conducting clandestine operations in and around Field Marshal Kesselring’s Headquarters at Aquila, Italy. Finally, in March 1944, 21 months after his initial capture, Barr infiltrated the German lines and rejoined the Allied forces. For his exploits in enemy territory, he received the Military Cross. Wing Commander Barr left the RAAF in October 1945 and became a prominent Australian business leader. Since retirement, he has devoted his energies to yachting and supporting Australia’s defender in the 1987 America’s Cup, the Kookaburra III.