Richard Nigel Cullen, DFC

Flight Lieutenant, 80 Squadron
Service number 39967
Died 4 Mar 1941
Buried Tirana Park Memorial Cemetery, Albania
Age 23

Richard was born 6 June 1917 in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia to British born Horace Cohen and Australian born Hero Miriam nee Marks. The fathers of both Horace and Hero served as President of The Great Synagogue, Sydney. Richard had an older brother Neville and two younger sisters Angela and Susan and their father worked as an electrical engineer. Horace’s brother Ralph died in WW1 in 1915 serving in Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers) at the Battle of Kosturino. After this loss, Horace took his young family back to England, and served in the British army as a Captain.

Both Neville and Richard attended Sherborne school in Dorset and it was around this time that the family changed their surname from Cohen to Cullen. Richard then studied at the college of Aero Engineering in Chelsea. He competed in motorbike racing at Brooklands in 1934 and saw action as a member of the International Brigade during the Spanish civil war, where he suffered a stomach wound and was repatriated back to England.

Richard was living in Putney when he enlisted into the RAF in 1937 where he was granted a short-service commission as a pilot officer and was promoted to flying officer on 31 December 1939. He was given the nickname ‘Ape’ because of his physical stature. He was posted to the Middle East serving in 267 Squadron, a transport unit ferrying passengers and freight to Egypt. He asked for reassignment and was sent to 80 Squadron in September 1940 flying Gloster Gladiator biplanes in North Africa. The squadron was sent to Greece where it converted to Hawker Hurricane monoplanes in February 1941. By that time, Richard had claimed six Axis aircraft, been promoted to Flight Lieutenant and: “was a big, smiling, thick-set fellow, nicknamed ‘The Ape’.” On 28 February over Albania, he: “was pilot of one of a formation of aircraft which attacked a large force of enemy bombers escorted by at least thirty fighters. Displaying remarkable skill, Flight Lieutenant Cullen shot down five of the enemy’s aircraft in the ensuing action,” for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, with the citation concluding: “He has now destroyed 11 enemy aircraft and has consistently shown great resource and courage.”

Richard claimed another four aircraft on 3 March. The next day, he was flying one of four Hurricanes returning to Albania from bomber escort duties on five Italian warships. Richard Cullen’s aircraft V7288 was shot down by a Fiat G.50 and crashed near Himarë killing Richard.

Flight Lieutenant Richard Nigel Cullen was buried in Tirana Park Memorial Cemetery, Tirana, Albania. He was the first Australian-born Jew to be Killed in Action in WW II. The total number of Cullen’s victories is estimated as 16. A detailed tribute to him can be found in Australian Jewry’s Book of Honour WW II by Gerald Pynt.

Thanks to the Australian Jewish Historical Society

Richard’s father Horace requested no religious symbol on the headstone
Richard Cullen beside his Hawker Hurricane of No. 80 Squadron RAF at Paramythia, Greece, just before taking off on his final sortie, 4 March 1941
Courtesy Sherborne School