I reported to Pearce next day (after saying goodbye to Geraldton and the Eaton family). I was allocated to a 14 Squadron hut and then drew a straw palliasse and blankets for my bed. I put my gear into the locker and headed for the 14 Squadron hangars to hand in my documents; pay book, medical card, clothing card, and personnel file. We carried these with us on posting.
I soon found that the 5 ITS unit had moved out on 1 March to Clontarf Orphanage. More space was needed at Pearce. There were other units at Pearce besides 14 Squadron and our neighbours were 25 Squadron (Wirraways). We all had to remain in a state of readiness prepared to move quickly to another location in any defence emergency. All lodger units relied on RAAF Station Pearce to provide the many basic services needed to maintain us.
The base had been planned in the late 1930s and was named after a former Minister for Defence, the WA Senator Sir George Pearce. Under the command of Group Captain Ray Brownell RAAF Station Pearce had commenced operations on 10 March 1938 when aircraft 23 Squadron (renamed 25 City of Perth Squadron on 1 January 1939) arrived from Laverton, Victoria. The aircraft flown in were Hawker Demons, A3 Avro Trainers and A4 Avro Ansons. The official opening was nearly a year later on 6 February 1939.
No 14 Squadron was formed at Pearce on the same day under the command of F/Lt C W Pearce. By the end of March the strength of the unit was 10 officers, 65 other ranks, and eight Avro Ansons. On 7 September 1939, four days after War had been declared, the Squadron flew its first seaward reconnaissance flights between Broome and Derby. During January 1940, in conjunction with No. 25 Squadron, crews flew anti-submarine patrols for the convoy which carried the Second AIF troops overseas from bases near Albany.
By May 1940 Lockheed-Hudsons had replaced the Ansons, and A16-28 and A16-45 could have been two aircraft from the first flight to arrive at Pearce base. 14 Squadron continued to carry out regular seaward reconnaissance duties, with a break in this routine when eight aircraft operated from Darwin in December 1940. Patrols and exercises were carried out in the Drysdale, Broome, Milingimbi and Bathurst Island areas before returning to Pearce. My friend Ken (“Ding-Dong”) Bell, a fitter 2E and also air-gunner, went.
Wing Commander R F M Dalton was posted in May 1941 and a farewell dinner was held on 23 May, possibly at the Australia Hotel. Officers and airmen present included Ken Bell, J H Bolton, Bill Carmody, Keith Carrison, Harold Cook, R Deane, “Shorty” Davies, G Daniell, C Finlayson, W Fisher, R “Bluey” Fletcher, Joe Jenkinson, Noel Kemp, Charles Learmonth (later 1943/44 Commanding Officer) and W/C Ivor (“Claude”?) Lightfoot who took over from W/C Dalton.
FAREWELL DINNER MENU
Mouldy Nichols Goode Anchovy
A la Dizzy
Mickey Fin-Fletcher Sauce
Brunch and Medley Pie
Roast Dalton & ‘Olbrooks Sauce
Roast Lightfoot and Petit Onion
Cricket Pie and Cream Cookonia
Ding Dong Salad & Cole Cream
Nealed Bread & Moss Korn Rolls
Duty Pilots Red & Black
Assorted Nuts and Bolts
X Country Kit
Green Salads Sans Meadow Mayonnaise
Others there were Bob Medley, Wally Middleton, “Flash” Mould, Percy Neale, Bill Morton, Geoff Newstead (later A/V Marshal), Arthur Nichols, ? Nicolay, Stan Onions, H Penrose, Len Reading, A J Russell, Sainsbury, N A Sheppard, E A Sweet, & J W Thompson.
Also Ed Tonkin, and Norm Tucker. Others who could have joined include Hec Cole, Robert? Cook, ? Goode, ? Nicholas, Stan Sims (from Pingelly), Charlie Patching, Tom Ullrich, Bert Woolley, and Roy Young. Also in 14 Squadron then and earlier were Jack Armour, Jim Benzie, Bill Cahill, “Tich” Chapman, Jack Costello, Jack Day, Barney Flindell, Jim Garde, “Snowy” Ledger, Charlie Lister, Alex McCormick, Doug McGregor, Gordon Pearson, Harry Sansum, Les West, and Harry Wroth.
The loyal toast (King George the Sixth) was followed by the toast to “The Services” which was proposed by W/O Brooks. W/O Neale did the honours for the toast to W/C Dalton who suitably responded. The toast to 14 Squadron (one that I was to have the privilege of putting to post-war reunions many times) was proposed by a later long-term friend, “Big Mac” McCormick, and there was enthusiastic response to that. Musical items wound up the evening nicely.
Later in the year, the 14 Squadron aircrews had a special job to do when the cruiser HMAS Sydney went missing, presumed sunk, on 19 November 1941. The Hudsons searched the Indian Ocean far and wide out from Carnarvon for possible survivors or some traces of wreckage. Nothing was found. All 645 officers and men were lost. A Hudson pilot (maybe Harold Cook) was said to have spotted the survivors of the sunken German raider Kormoran. They reached the coast near Carnarvon and were arrested and taken to Geraldton.
After the outbreak of the war with Japan, 14 Squadron remained on coastal patrol duties, but everybody was weighing up the chances of a Squadron move. The Japanese had captured Rabaul on 23 January 1942 and taken Singapore on 15 February. Was Australia to be next? It seemed likely when Darwin was bombed on 19 February and Java was invaded on 28 February. On 1 March the cruiser HMAS Perth was sunk in the battle of Sunda Strait in an action against a superior Japanese force, and then Broome was raided on 3 March. In the Broome attack more than 70 people were killed when the enemy planes bombed the town and machine-gunned aircraft on the bay and at the airstrip. 14 Squadron Hudson bomber A16-119 was badly strafed on the ground and was a write-off. The same day Wyndham was bombed, and later there were other raids on Broome.
I found the Pearce airbase really keyed up when I arrived on 26 March. Our Hudsons and the Wirraways from 25 Squadron were flat out on reconnaissance patrols up and down the WA coast and I was not surprised to find that the aircraft maintenance sections, and the stores and equipment people, along with the armourers, were very busy. There was a sense of urgency in the Squadron that was not so evident in my earlier days at No. 4 SFTS at Geraldton.
Overall command of RAAF Station Pearce was now in the hands of my 4 SFTS CO Group Captain “Paddy” Heffernan. Between Geraldton and Pearce he may have been CO at Richmond for a short time. He was the man for the job now that the War had come to the West and we sweated out the possibilities of more Japanese air raids or landings. More aircraft in WA was the urgent need and local prayers seemed to be answered when some cased aircraft arrived at Bullsbrook.
They came to the railway station in March 1942. I missed the unpacking but men who were there have told me various stories. My later friend, Rex Marsh, was the 14 Squadron Adjutant early in my time there and I can relate a mixture of what he and others have told me. Everybody was astounded when it was found out that the long cases contained British Fairey Swordfish aircraft.
The story was that the “Fish” were destined for India or Ceylon (Sri Lanka) when the RN ship carrying the cases was diverted to Fremantle following the capture of Singapore. The cases were off-loaded at the Port and sent up to Pearce. One story that I heard, not from Rex, was that there was also a “Matchless” motorcycle in one or more of the cases. What happened to the motorbikes, if they were there, is not clear for nobody seems to want to confirm that story now that my informants have passed on.
I can recall that one Swordfish was allocated to 14 Squadron and was used to make the “pay run” to Cunderdin and other places where we had small detachments. On one run to Cunderdin and 9EFTS some trainee pilots using their solo practice time to “hedge-hop” over-friendly farms found out later that one of their flying instructors had been watching their “illegal” activities from on board a “Fish” heading for the Cunderdin base. “No more, please.”
25 Squadron had three of the Swordfish and flew them on anti-sub patrols. The aircraft was a single-engine twin-winged plane built for reconnaissance and as a torpedo bomber. Rex Marsh tells me of one day when he flew back from Cunderdin when the pilot pulled rank to take over the flight and put Rex and two others in the second cockpit and three more in the third. The “Fish” could have been a first time for the F/Lt for when he got to Pearce he found he could not get the nose down. The rear passenger overload was keeping the tail down and the nose up. No help came from the back so he gave the engine more power and dived for the strip for a bumpy landing. One passenger kissed the tarmac on jumping out.
If the new Swordfish had finished up flying against the Japanese they would have been sitting ducks for the navy fighters flying off the Japanese carriers. The Zeroes operated at twice the speed of a Swordfish and flew faster than any fighter we had at Singapore or in the region. Our Brewster Buffaloes were also outgunned by the Zeroes. The Swordfish story ended when they did their patrol. Ken Hewett’s logbook shows that he flew one on 7 May 1942. The planes were recruited for the RN and shipped to “who knows where”.
Our CO was W/C Ivor Lightfoot. F/Lt Rex Marsh was Adjutant, F/Lt Ted Strahan the MO, and F/O Ralph Arkley the Stores Officer. I made new friends as I moved around the hangar checking Hudsons against their equipment schedules. Nothing missing? Fitters and riggers, instrument makers and electricians, armourers and other skilled technicians, were all met during the course of the day’s interchange between the stores and the maintenance men. The orderly room and the pay section were important to all personnel. Both sections dealt with the constant inflow of new replacement personnel and the daily postings of personnel to other bases.
Law and order was maintained by the Warrant Officer Disciplinary, W/O Jack Devine, who had the job of seeing that we kept to the rules laid down for our conduct and dress. At 25 Squadron W/O Jim Marion had the same responsibility.
The orderly room men were under the supervision of F/Sgt Harry Corser who was a real character worthy of a support role in an Oz movie but he knew his job well. His 2IC was Harold Edel and then came Cpl Johnny Martin and Norm McCarthy. In the Stores section we had Sgt Bill Williams, Sgt Bert Sumner, Alan Burrows and myself as Corporals, and four LACs as assistants. Later F/Sgt Ernie Fletcher came down to us from Geraldton.
Our 14 Squadron living quarters were long huts sleeping 20 or so airmen up to the rank of Corporal. Sergeants and above were in accommodation elsewhere where they had separate rooms or shared. Once we had stood down for the day we would do our washing or get out our “housewife” and do any running repairs, or write a few letters before tea. Training for sports was always on and for me it was football practice for the games against the other services from time to time.
After tea we had a few leisure choices. The recreation rooms had snooker tables you had to time register for, and while you were waiting there were papers and magazines to read, or you could chat with the men from the various welfare groups like the Salvos and the YMCA. We also had pictures and at the occasional concerts. I sang a song or two in two of these, no movie, record or radio contract followed. The Canteen provided some meal supplements for us and my favourites were Plaistowe’s New World dark chocolate bars at 2d (2c) each. Chocolates were not readily available to civilians so when we went on leave we would take some chocolates with us if the weather was cool.
Back at the hut there were letters to be written home and sent off to friends. Gladys and I were writing regularly and it was not long before she was able to come to Perth for a visit. The letters written, we could join in a round of gossip or a friendly argument. Card games were popular and we played a lot of rummy with the pool going to whoever put his whole hand down at one time. “Pakapu”, our version of 21, was our preference over poker as it was a lot more fun as we kept the stakes low most of the time, but not always. I do remember one night when many of us came back early from a celebration over at our bomber dispersal area in the bush just outside our southern boundary at the base when we had a game. When we hit the hut someone picked up a stray pack of cards and set us going. We found the pack only had 40 cards but we played on. 3d (3c) a bet and all agreed on a small bet but within ten minutes it was cards or a shilling (10c) and the bank was in pounds. It was ever thus in those days.
The game ended suddenly when one exuberant chap decided to liven things up with a foolish stunt. The long huts were blacked out with window shades and special frames fixed to the two doorways. The blackout tar paper was fastened to the door-height frames. The uprights were firmly fixed to the floor. The blackout paper was effective but flimsy and you could punch a fist through it. On hot nights the doors could be left open without affecting the blackout requirements. Our daredevil friend Mickey B, had decided to race down the hut and dive through the tar paper, and land on the grass outside the door. There was no stopping him and away he went. He dived headfirst into the centre of the blackout shield but that was as far as he got. Our hut must have been the only one with an extra upright fitted right in the middle of the paper screen. Poor Mick, off to hospital for some time and never the same again. The moral of the story? Look before you leap.
Not much of that fooling around as most of us were happy to relax after work and tea, and then have a reasonably early night. It was not unusual for all of us to be awakened at around 4am by the dawn patrol aircraft taking off on the airstrip that ran alongside our hut. The noisiest of these were the American Martin B26 “Marauder” bombers which had more than held their own against Japanese Zeroes in New Guinea earlier in the year. The B26s were there for four weeks practising dropping torpedoes in the Swan River. The “Marauders” were bigger than our Lockheed Hudsons being about the same wingspan, 65 feet (20m), a bit longer at 60 feet (18+m), and at 20 feet (6m) tall were 10 feet (3m) higher off the ground.
The B26 was powered by two Pratt and Whitney radial motors and had a four-blade airscrew. Powerful and noisy. The Yank pilots would taxi up past our hut, turn around ready for their take-off run, and then rev their engines as hard as they could. The noise was deafening and would arouse us out of our deep sleep. Then we had to lay there awake and set ourselves for the vibrations of the hut as the B26s thundered down the strip on their way to the river. Brewery not a target. We were quite taken by the big bombers and their five-men crews but in those early hours they were called everything under the stars for giving us a free wake-up call.
The living accommodation position was improved around the end of May 1942 when many of us were given share rooms in a two-storey brick block. My roommate was Joe O’Connor, a transport driver. He was a former West Perth footballer so we were never short of something to talk about, like the good old days of West Perth. After the War, Joe was living in Swan Street, Yokine, only two streets away from where this story is being written.
In the first week in June the Orderly Room F/Sgt Harry Corser rang me to tell me that I had been promoted to Acting Sergeant. I was surprised and pleased about that. Harry took the line that he had been responsible for the promotion and set about giving me his tips about what should happen when you get three stripes. The first thing I must do was take him and a few of his mates up to the Sergeants’ mess to welcome me while I shouted at the bar. Well I knew how Harry operated so I went along with it as part of the show. Harry always got in first because he had inside info. The next time I was promoted he never blinked an eye as he went through the same routine again, but I was awake to him this time. I had a drink with my own mates that time and let Harry appear at the bar so I could invite him to join our group. Harry was a real character and we understood each other. Everybody took him in good part but once or twice he went over the mark as I may relate further on.
The new promotions meant a trip to the Bullsbrook Chequers Hotel where all went well till someone spiked my lemon squashes with gin. It was not long before I was feeling merry and carefree and then they started giving me brandies and whiskies, and mixed a few beers in as well. I was under as we headed back along the main road to the main guard gate. I can remember everybody getting tangled up with the wire fences trying to walk a straight line.
We knew we would be challenged at the gate so I tried to get them in a bit of order so that I could put on a sober show as we went through the gate. The Corporal of the guard took a good look at us, and at me (three stripes up), hesitated and the boys were through. In a voice not quite my own I told the guards that all was well and I would keep them quiet. Nothing ever came of it.
I was pretty hazy about what happened after that till I woke next morning to find my roommate Joe sitting on his bed waiting for me to surface. He must have been sound asleep when I staggered in. He woke that morning to find me flat out on the wire bed frame and the bedding on the floor. The pattern of the Cyclone wire bed was imprinted on my back and elsewhere and I was not feeling too good either. Joe found my friend “Blue” McCarthy (lightly clad indeed) flat out on the bathroom floor and dead to the world. What a night! What a day to follow! I felt terrible as I took a shower and then pulled on my overalls to go down to the hangars. No filling in a sickie form in those days. The war had to be won and everybody had to front up on the tarmac outside the 14 Squadron hangar for the regular 8am parade. It was a case of back on the job and face the music for everybody would be tipped off that I was fair game for the day. Big joke to all but me.
I was sick for three days. All I wanted to do was to find a quiet corner and hope that I would live. You could have dropped a pin on the thickest red carpet in the world and it would have sounded like a bomb going off in the hangar. The boys never let up on me and I remember that my first caller was Dick Wallace who I had first met when the RAAF recruiting team came to Kalgoorlie early in 1940. Dick found me half asleep and walked up behind me and called out. “Wake up, Sergeant, on your feet.” I nearly jumped out of my skin. “You b…., Wallace.” It went on all day. “Wake up, Cashy.” Harry Corser saying sotto voce to our F/Sgt, “What will we do? The CO will be along shortly on his inspection”. Later, someone else calling out “Doug, the Adjutant wants to see you in ten minutes”. “Tell him I’m up at Station Headquarters, tell him anything”. All bulldust. The tortures they thought up were many and varied and I stuck it out for most of the day. I deserved it. All sorts of cures were suggested but I heeded them not and later in the day started to take a bit of sustenance in the form of tea and biscuits. By the third day I felt much better. I was alive. Another day and I was back to normal. We all had a good laugh about it and I have no inhibitions about telling the whole story here. It taught me a lesson that I never forgot and put me on lemonade and orange juice forevermore.
My temporary indisposition had no real effect on the war effort and our Lockheed Hudson bombers kept patrolling up and down the coast. My photos of the Air Force days include a good shot of two Hudsons, A16-28 and A16-45, on the tarmac with W/O Percy Neale on the job keeping an eye on the maintenance crews carrying out the regular service checks. He is not in sight in a second photo that shows A16-31 almost flat on the ground. Someone had retracted the undercarriage during the service check, and down she sat. Percy, where were you? What were the excuses? Who was the culprit?
We had some good photographers in 14 Squadron and one I remember is Eric Sampey, who in the mid-1930s had his shop at 113 Barrack Street next to our tearooms at 115. Stuart Gore from Kalgoorlie was with us for a short while and he later became well-known for his photography and writings as he travelled around Australia, particularly the Northern Territory. Phil Mark was another and I saw a lot of him after World War II when we were in business at 158 St George’s Terrace. He was at the Employers’ Federation, if I recall it right. George Patterson came later. He was a bit of a character and finished up in charge of the Photographic Section of Boan’s. Noel Webb was another photographer we had.
I was a regular reader of the West and the Daily News for the papers were the best way to keep up with the war news. We cheered when it was good and were thoughtful when it was bad. We scanned the Boomerang Club news from London and the casualty lists. Many of our friends and relatives had been serving overseas since the 1940s and later, and we watched the press for news of them. Late in June (1942) I read that Vern Keyser and Cliff Burgess (both of No. 8 Course at 4 SFTS and now Flying Officers) had been flying on bombing missions over Germany which included attacks on Cologne and Essen earlier in the year when the longer nights meant more darkness for the raids. A few weeks later they were both promoted to Flight Lieutenants. In the last week of July these two pilots and the crews of their Wellington bombers were listed as missing in air operations over Europe. Their aircraft had been shot down on a raid over Duisburg or Hamburg as far as I recall the news about them being killed in action. It was possibly over Duisburg. I did not know Burgess till he came to Geraldton in 1941. I met him there with Vern who I had known in my boyhood days in Perth.
Casualty lists hurt at any time but when friends or relatives were named we were simply left with our memories of days gone by. I am not so sure that Australia remembers enough to ensure that the Government adequately meets the needs of the many veterans who lived but came back the worse for wear and tear. When late in 1988 we read about the Hawke Labor Government’s new legislation under which there could be the possibility of seeing Australian ex-servicemen prosecuted for killing Japanese sailors in strafing raids on enemy boats and barges we had to wonder about it all. After protests the Government backed down and an amendment then confined the legislation to Europe. During the War our Australian servicemen did whatever they were ordered to do, whatever their feelings at the time, appropriate to the existing circumstance
We are all against war and its futility and tragedy. Veterans all have their sad memories and some their regrets. They have no time for the rowdy mobs that protest at US sailors visiting Fremantle, and deride our SAS soldiers with taunts and epithets down on the same wharves. The protesters have no thought for what servicemen, particularly the US forces, did to help save Australia. The anti-antics of an Australian Senator show that she will not accept that if the Americans and the Australians had not co-operated and fought so bravely together she would now be speaking Japanese. The problem with these “anti” groups in and outside of Government is that they have no personal experience of war and would be better listening to people who have. We who do remember know there were so many who died so that we might live, and that new generations could be born.
I had turned 23 on 15 July 1942 and it was just another day as far as I was concerned. In England and over the Channel it was a different and sad day for the greatest British fighter pilot of World War II, Wing Commander “Paddy” Finucane, died when his Spitfire crashed into the sea. When we received the full details we found that a chance bullet from the ground had pierced his radiator and he had been forced to ditch his aircraft. He had not been wounded and must have been knocked out when the plane hit the water. Since he first went into action two years earlier the daring flyer had shot down 32 German planes. At the time of his death W/Cdr Finucane was CO of Britain’s first all-Australian Fighter Squadron. It would have been No. 452 RAAF.
Western Mail, Perth, Thursday 23 July 1942, page 6-7 – Farewell Finucane. Source Trove: Trove
One Aussie who flew with No. 452 was “Bluey” Truscott, one of our finest fighter pilots and a born leader. He may have commanded the squadron after Finucane. Later he served in New Guinea on Kittyhawks, and in Western Australia at Exmouth Gulf where he was accidentally killed flying a Kittyhawk on 28 March 1943. He was a top footballer with VFL team Melbourne.
Another 452 fighter pilot was Keith Chisolm, mentioned much earlier in my story as a schoolmate at Petersham (NSW) school in 1928. He was a few months older than me but we were in the same class. His father could have been a dentist for Keith was a dental student when he joined the RAAF as an aircrew trainee. After the war he completed his studies and went into practice. By now he would have retired but I have heard that he is now living in the United States. Keith’s career in the RAAF was remarkable. He was a top fighter pilot and earned high praise from his commanders. On 12 (NOTE: Wiki says 1) October 1941 he failed to return from operations across the Channel and was presumed lost. It turned out that he parachuted into the sea and was captured by the Germans. He was taken to a POW camp and was soon hatching escape plans. He was out and back a couple of times during which he met another escapologist, legless Douglas Bader, but then he was away. It is not for me to detail here the sheer ingenuity and bravery of the man. Others have done that. Suffice for me to say that with the aid of the “underground” he eluded the Germans for two years. He fought alongside the free French in the streets of Paris till the Allied Forces occupied the city and returned to England late in August 1944. What a man!
In 14 Squadron we had pilots who had been in the thick of things in the first Japanese attacks on Koata Bharu and Singapore, and in the action in New Guinea. Some had remarkable stories to tell. Two of our Hudson pilots, Ken Hewett and Herb Plenty, were right in the action in Malaya when the Japanese attacked Kota Bharu where my elder brother, Cecil, was stationed. He later gave me a photo of his quarters showing the hole where a bomb came through the roof. It did not explode and he was not there at the time. Ken and Herb were with No. 8 Squadron Kuantan based nearby at Pengalen Cheps and it was the Hudsons that had to take on the Japanese navy. Plenty’s Hudson had to be ditched in the sea. Plenty and Hewett, the WAG Bill Jacobson, and the wounded w/air gunner Ashley Frost, aided by “Jake”, all got out before the Hudson sank five minutes later. Herb Plenty was not a good swimmer and he had to be helped into the dinghy by Ken Hewett. Bill and Ken helped with these details when we were yarning recently. John Balfe’s excellent book “War Without Glory” retells the full story as Ken and Bill told it.
After a long paddle to a nearby island and then a native boat trip to the mainland shore the crew, a bit the worse for wear and bedraggled, started to make their way by prahu and then on foot towards the South. Always in danger of being sighted by the small groups of Japanese being landed along the coast, and also maybe being regarded as hostile by our own edgy troops, the four men gave thanks when they met up with a British party on 28 January four days after the ditching. Soon they were in the care of the Navy and landed at Singapore. At the Selambawang (Sembawang?) base the crew repaired a damaged Hudson by “robbing” grounded aircraft and flew to Sumatra. Then it was a ship home, and posting to 14 Squadron.
F/Lt Claude Dodwell Heppingstone Browne was a pilot posted to 14 from Singapore about the same time. Rex tells me that Browne walked up to him at a morning parade and handed him something wrapped up in an old pair of trousers. When Rex went to his office he unwrapped the parcel and found himself looking at a Thompson sub-machine gun with full clips. Rex kept it in his gear till he himself returned from a later posting to Dutch New Guinea (Merauke). While he was on his way North with 86 Squadron he made time to train on the firing range at Townsville and Cairns and he became quite adept at using the “Tommy gun”. The weapon had not been taken on “strength” by any store while Rex had it, until he handed it in on his return from Dutch New Guinea.
A few days ago Rex passed another story on to me. Some Bullsbrook poultry farmers had been losing chooks and hinted that it might be Pearce personnel pinching them. No information was forthcoming from airmen or officers till someone saw a strange sight when a RAAF ambulance pulled up outside the hospital and the driver opened the back doors. There was an awful row and out flew about 20 squawking and flapping chooks. Raiders of the lost “squark”?
Pearce was not free of incidents over my time at the base. On 15 September 1942 a No. 25 Squadron Wirraway on night flying exercises crashed into the sea off Fremantle. The pilot, Sgt Kevin Properjohn, and his Wireless Air-Gunner, Sgt Ken Page, were both killed. It was about 8pm when the aircraft was caught in the criss-cross of the blinding light of ground searchlight beams and Kevin may have been blinded and become disoriented. Kevin had done his course at 4 SFTS. His two brothers were in the RAAF. One of them, Frank, was a transport driver in 14 Squadron. There were other crashes at Pearce in my time and while we had a clean record with Hudsons our later Beauforts did not fare so well.
I remember Harry Corser coming to the store one day and asking if he could borrow a hurricane lamp. These were kept for emergencies mainly and he was sent to me, as one never knew what Harry was up to. He expanded his story a little and told me eventually that Jim Carroll, an armourer, was really the fellow that wanted the lamp. Jim had not been with us long so I pressed Harry for the reason for Jim wanting the lamp. Harry told me that it was needed to light up the dice game that was to be run in the bush near the base. Well, that could be said to be an emergency of sorts so I told Harry it was OK. Jim came in to thank me later on and we became very firm friends from then on and right down through the years.
The interest of the Service police in the game from time to time led to a change of venue. Jim was not interested in running into any problems so he changed from running the game to playing. Someone soon got a game going on the base and we were back in action tossing pennies or rattling dice. There are some who would throw up their hands in horror at such goings-on at the base but it all must be seen in the light of the times. Most of the time officialdom took a sensible view of it.
September 1942 was the month that younger brother, Roly, was called up for his three months AMF military service at Melville camp. He was now 18 and on the RAAF aircrew reserve. Three or four weeks later he was woken from his sleep and asked to get dressed and pack his bags ready to move to the RAAF Recruiting Centre. It was late when this happened but he was put on a RAAF truck and he was off. Next day he was sworn in as an AC11 and taken to No. 4RD then down at Busselton. An urgent UK RAF call for more pilots may have caused the midnight “raid”. Crew losses over Europe had been heavy and many replacements would be required for 1943/44. More of Roly as he progresses through his course.
During November the Daily News reported that Viv Piper, a PMG messenger, who was later transferred to the Customs Department, had been in action over Europe. Viv was a navigator on Wellington bombers, probably with No. 460 Squadron. The crew members were all Australians except for the RAF pilot. They were in many raids on Germany and had some narrow escapes. On one flight a heavy burst of “ack-ack” fire blew their bomber upside down. The Wellington was damaged but the pilot righted it and headed it home for a safe landing. Later my brother, Roly, was to have his own experiences with anti-aircraft shells when he was flying Lancasters in the 1944/45 raids on Germany.
Bad news was never far away in wartime and late in November we heard that Austin Gardiner had been killed. Austin was on No. 8/9 course at SFTS Geraldton and played football for the RAAF. He had played as goal-sneak for East Perth in 1940. When he finished his course as a Sgt/Pilot he was attached to an American Squadron in Queensland. He married Betty Jean Geiger on 4 November and then left Perth to proceed to Port Moresby. Before the month was out he was dead. Austen was killed when he dived into shallow water and drowned. After the War I knew his brother Dave well.
In 1942 S/Ldr G D Nichol, our Acting? CO, was posted out to No. 8 Squadron (Hudsons). No. 8 was re-equipped with Beauforts in March 1943 when S/Ldr Nichol was likely CO. His Beauforts did good work over Rabaul and Gasmata co-operating with Beaufort Squadrons (Nos 6/100), in the last months of 1943. He was then a Wing Commander.
When I was called up for the RAAF they gave me the number 29559 for the duration of the War. Elder brother, Cec, having enlisted in 1940 drew 16050, and our younger brother, Roly, was tagged with an aircrew number 429648. He completed his rookies course down at Busselton about 10 November and was then put in a holding pattern with a posting to No. 6 Fighter Sector HQ, Mount Lawley. It was located in the Masonic Hall in Alma Road, just off William Street. I called in there a couple of times when I was on leave. When I stayed at the Grand Central Hostel he would meet me there and we would have tea in Barrack Street. I was proud to see him in uniform and happy that we were all three in the Air force.
Service Records, Roland Murray Cash,W400055. Source: NAA Item 5871730
Service Records, Cecil Everett Cash, 16050. Source: NAA Item 4561926
Back at 14 Squadron we had seen a major change with the departure of the Lockheed Hudsons and the arrival of our Australian Bristol Beaufort Bombers. They were twin-engine medium-range aircraft of mid-wing design, all-metal and powered by the Pratt and Whitney engines, and had a four-man crew. The first flight of the new aircraft flew in a week or two before Xmas and soon the new crews were settled in. Some of the crews were ex No. 1 OTU Sale where pilots off SFT courses did their advanced training on Beauforts.
The day before Xmas (W/C Lightfoot was already on leave) F/Lt “XYZ” decided to fly the “new” bomber up to Geraldton and show it off to his old instructor colleagues at 4 SFTS. Once over the RAAF station he proceeded to “shoot it up” with spectacular dives for several minutes. One can imagine the panic as hardly anyone at Geraldton would know what or whose aircraft it was in those first few minutes of the surprise “attack”. Go for the trenches. On Xmas day Rex Marsh tells me he went down to his office to check incoming messages and was advised that the CO Geraldton was on the line. It was Group Captain Norman Brearley (died 9 June 1989 at 98) hitting the roof over the “shoot up”, a shocking example to the trainees. He told Rex that he was going to put F/Lt “XYZ” on a charge. The pilot, name well-known to Rex and me, was charged and put back six places in seniority as well as reprimanded.
The new crews were with us when we sat down to our Xmas dinner in the Airmens Mess. We were waited on by the officers as was the Xmas custom in the RAAF in those days, war or no war. We sat and enjoyed that day with the aircrews not knowing that within a few months too many of them would no longer be with us again. Some of them we only knew for a couple of weeks more for the Beauforts started to fall out of the sky, and nobody knew the reason why. I had become friendly with one of the officer pilots whose name was Bill Dimelow, an Eastern Stater as I recall. Within two weeks he and his crew were dead. Others were to follow later in 1943 and then in 1944 we were to lose our Commanding Officer the same way.
Thursday 7 January 1943 was a black day for 14 Squadron for it saw our first Beaufort crash. The crew were Pilot Officer Bill Dimelow, Sgt John Arnett, Sgt Newt Wilson, and Sgt Colin George Saunders. All in their 20s. Also killed was AC1 John Taylor (19) who had been given a ride down to Busselton or some other strip. Newton Wilson joined up just after me and kept his original number 29624 on remuster from the stores to aircrew. These five airmen were buried in the War Graves Cemetery, Karrakatta (Doug is also buried at Karrakatta, Lance Howard Memorial Gardens, Wall 11, Position 0033). It is in Smyth Road. Their graves are side by side in Row C. The lawns and other surrounds are beautifully kept. Readers of this story might find an hour to visit there, where wartime friends now lie.
In the Dimelow crash the engines cut out soon after take-off over the Bullsbrook railway station area just west of the base. There was a thump as the aircraft hit and then a bomb exploded. One of the fitters was just walking past the WAAAF huts near the tarmacs to start work, when the sound of the crash was heard. The girls rushed out from various stages of dressing and formed a ring around Bill McFarlane, to his embarrassment, to find out what had happened.
I went out to the crash site after the RAAF ambulance had been and gone. The main plane of the Beaufort had struck a tree and the two engines became detached. They were held to the airframe by three bolts and when they let go the engines cut two swaths through the bush. It was awful to see, and it was sad to think of the friendly aircrew now dead, who we had known for three weeks. The Beaufort crashes were occurring elsewhere in Australia but it was twelve months before the probable cause of most of the crashes was located. The total accident casualties were high.
My three stripes as a Sergeant brought me a regular place on the station duty roster so that I could take my turn as the Orderly Sergeant for the day. The important requirement of the job was that I accompany the Orderly Officer on his daily inspection of the base and that included the station generally, the kitchen and messing facilities, the accommodation areas, and the station and dispersal area guard posts.
We had to be readily available in case any problems arose around the station. There was a bit of humour in the job and room here for a story or two. You reported in at Station HQ at 7.30am to pick up your blue armband of office and got out the RAAF ensign, which you took out to the flagpole in front of Headquarters. You then unfurled the flag and clipped it to the guide ropes and checked that it would go up OK. You then waited till the correct moment to raise the flag. The Orderly Officer would nod his head and he then saluted the flag while it was hoisted up the flagpole. You would glue your eyes to it hoping that it would unfurl OK and be the right way up. No distress signals, please.
Now and then funny things could happen. On one of my days I drew the armband on the Commanding Officer’s Parade Day which was always a Tuesday. Monday night was “panic” night when the station had to be tidied up for the CO’s full inspection the next day. Accommodation huts and blocks had to be spotless and all other buildings had to be ready for the CO to cast his eye over them. On this Tuesday all but essential maintenance personnel were on the parade ground having been marched on by Officers and NCOs. There could have been several hundred men on parade there and all in uniform. When the troops were assembled in good order ready for inspection the then Commanding Officer, Group Captain “Paddy” Heffernan would walk out of the HQ building to take the parade.
Be that as it may, he finished up facing the flagpole and on this day, me. There I was under the scrutiny of a thousand or more eyes all staring about for the want of something else to look at. There the men were, wondering if the flag would finish up flying upside down or the ropes would get tangled, or some other disaster would occur. Anything would help. The voice of the parade WOD shattered their reverie with the command, “Parade, present arms”, to which the squads with rifles responded, and the CO spun around and faced the flagpole. I went into action as he saluted, raising the RAAF ensign slowly as I had to time the raising to the sound of the bugle to ensure that the flag arrived at the top of the pole and unfurled to flutter in the breeze as the last note of the bugle died away.
I was doing a good job when one of the ropes slipped out of my hand and swung in an arc right across the front of the Group Captain, who was standing resolutely at the salute. The rope almost brushed his nose and I stood there horrified. My face must have told the story but Paddy never blinked. A wry smile lit up his face for an instant and then he gave me a broad wink that told me that all was well. As for those many eyes they missed it.
One day I had our Adjutant, F/Lt Rex Marsh, as Orderly Officer and I can remember inspecting the blocks and huts with him. He was very tall and when he went into a room or hut to check on the tidiness and cleanliness of the sleeping quarters he could see along the tops of the windows and the doors and the lockers where the airmen would not have dusted. Out of sight, out of mind. Really untidy rooms were noted down and the airman spoken to. My advice, “Remember, some Orderly Officers are taller than others”.
Inspecting the kitchens and the Airmens’, Sergeants’ And Officers’ mess was part of the job. My brother, Cec, was now the Sergeant in charge of the catering and cooking for the Airmen’s mess and he ran a tight ship. Everything had to be spic and span for us.
One day after coming through the kitchens we walked in on the airmen having lunch in the big Mess. I sounded off like I had to, “Orderly Officer, any complaints?”. There would always be a good-humoured chorus of “Yes”, “Yes”, “Yes” but nothing too serious. On this occasion that I recall, an airman stood and said, “Sir, in this mess we get nothing but apple jelly day after day, and we would like a change”. The Orderly Officer never hesitated and he replied, “We have the same problem over at the Officers mess but we get strawberry jam day after day. I will see that we get the apple jelly and you get the strawberry jam”.
Inspecting the guards on and off station was part of the job. We had posts at the signals and pumping stations and the outer aircraft dispersal areas. One always hoped that no guard was “trigger happy” when he made his challenge to you, “Halt who goes there?” “Orderly Sergeant”. “Advance and be recognised”. One night when I went to a dispersal area and found some “rookies” on guard one of them was George Black, the 1938 Norseman tailor.
On 15 March we lost another Beaufort. This one had eight men on board. The pilot was Sgt Donald Ashley Waite, the observer Sgt Robert Ambrose Redman, and the two wireless air-gunners were Pilot Officer George Bishop and Sgt Ted Watling. There were four techs on the flight and the senior man was Sgt Charlie Patching who left a big family to mourn him. He was a popular fitter 2E. Another fitter was LAC H S (“Killa”) Kilpatrick. LAC George Pedrotta was the flight mechanic and Godfrey Carter, the electrician. He was called “Goff” and could have been with a Perth radio station before enlisting. The Beaufort flew into the side of a hill at Yuna, 25 miles east of Northampton. It could have been a night flight when they were heading for a satellite landing strip. Another Beaufort went in up that way later in the year.
One stores crash job was checking the loan records for tools and equipment signed out to deceased personnel. Anything that was missing would be treated as carried on the crashed aircraft. This way we avoided any possibility of debits against the airman’s final pay due assessment. Charlie Patching’s sheet was a bigger problem. As a senior fitter the main flight toolbox was held against his signature. It was a big box, about 4x2x2 feet, and held many tools. The box was used by all Charlie’s flight but when I went to check it out, the box was empty. We could not write the tools off as being on the crashed Beaufort for there were too many. Some swapping or removing would have helped keep other kits up to scratch. The value of the “missing” tools was too big a debit to be passed on. A Discrepancy Report (DR) had to be raised and given many signatures prior to Area Finance action.
I put up the argument that the toolbox had apparently been handed over from one senior flight sergeant to another over three years or so and had been complete for some time. Also, it could not be kept locked as it was always in use, and it would not be under the Sergeants’ eye 24 hours a day. Some of the tools would have been on the aircraft. In went the DR and I was happy when weeks later it came back stamped “Approved”. Lucky there.
Another Discrepancy Report concerned a Beaufort navigator named Frank Gannon who nearly became a discrepancy report himself. The Beaufort carried an under-defence gun which was fitted under the navigator’s “table” area. When it was not fitted the floorboard would be fastened up. Frank was on one flight off Pearce when he stepped on that floor area and went out through the U/D gun hatch when it gave way. It had not been closed up properly. As he went out Frank threw his arms around the leg of the nav table and held on. His feet were dangling in mid-air with a whirling propeller on either side, and not too far away.
Well, he was pulled back by John Knight’s crew and so lived to tell the story. What the near-tragedy did do was to cause me to raise a Discrepancy Report for Frank’s shirt which he had taken off and dropped on the floor. It was sucked out of the Beaufort along with the twenty-pound ($40) note in the pocket. No long story here for the DR had a short life, new shirt approved but the money was gone forever. No replacement for that. Over the years we often joked about it at our squadron reunions. Frank was a teacher and retired as the Headmaster at Kewdale Senior High School. After he died on 27 May 1982 at the age of 67, his widow, Iris, told me that when she retold the story the family thought it was one of those “war stories”. Any doubters? Ring me.
When RAAF aircraft crashed there were many things that had to be done quickly. Messages had to be sent to close relatives when there was death or injury to service personnel, guards had to be posted at the crash site where possible, and courts of inquiry set up. There had to be official paperwork of all kinds, and stores procedures undertaken to have the state of the aircraft and its lost or damaged equipment assessed. Someone had to go to the dead crew’s quarters to gather their belongings and keep them safe till the items were returned to the named next-of-kin. So many of the RAAF personnel, particularly aircrew, were single and it was their mothers and fathers, and the wives of others, who would have to face up to receiving the saddest of telegrams. The messages would be addressed to the next-of-kin as nominated by each airman on enlistment. The Post Office personnel would always impress on telegraph messengers that the telegram could only be delivered to the addressee and nobody else.
Mothers everywhere feared for their family members in service. It was something that would start the first day of the joining up of the husband, son, or other relative. For many families the tragedies of the Great War of 1915-18 were still fresh in their memories. I remember that my mother cried a little every time I returned to base after leave. She never had to face up to such a telegram as Cec managed to get out of Kota Bharu and Singapore just ahead of the Japanese, although it was many weeks after that before we had news of him and that was when he turned up on a small boat at Fremantle. Roly flew many times across the Channel and over Germany but was able to survive, although he did have a few narrow squeaks with enemy aircraft and anti-aircraft guns. As for me there were no real worries for Mum and Dad except when I spent a few weeks in hospital at ADHQ Madang with a leg injury.
Just after 23 March 1943 we heard that Sqn Ldr Keith Truscott, DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) and Bar, had been killed up at Potshot, the RAAF base at Exmouth. As I wrote earlier “Bluey” was a top fighter pilot when against German airmen over Britain and Europe, and later against the Japanese pilots in New Guinea. The story we had was that he was flying over the waters of Exmouth Gulf making feint attacks on the tail of another aircraft when things went wrong. Fighter pilots liked to sharpen up their skills and tactics at every opportunity and Truscott was doing just that. The mirror-like surface of the waters below may have fooled him for only a few seconds but the damage was done. His Kittyhawk plunged straight in. Bluey Truscott was killed. Later his body was recovered from the sea and flown to Perth for burial.
Truscott shot down 13 enemy aircraft over Europe and showed great leadership qualities there and in New Guinea. He had commanded No. 452 Fighter Squadron RAF (Spitfires) in Britain, and at Milne Bay led No. 76 Squadron after the death of the CO, Sqn Ldr Peter Turnbull. Squadron Leader Keith Truscott was buried with full Air Force Honours at Karrakatta War Cemetery, Row A 12. The Guard of Honour escorting the carriage was composed of RAAF officers and airmen, several of them from 14 Squadron. Sqn Ldr J G Morton was there as the senior officer from our unit. The other defence services and the Allied forces were all well represented. The rifle party pointed their weapons to the sky and fired a last farewell to a national hero in Bluey Truscott. The War graves are well-kept and the lawns and surrounds beautifully maintained.
A squadron that later had a detachment at Exmouth was No. 85 which had been formed at Guildford back in February. It had Brewster Buffaloes, such as I have mentioned earlier when writing about the fall of Singapore. On 1 May, 85 Squadron was re-equipped with about 40 Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation A46 Boomerangs. 85 later had detachments of Boomerangs at Derby and Exmouth. My brother, Cec, was posted to Exmouth in 1943. His posting might have been after three Japanese bombers raided that base in the third week of May. Light damage only. The Japanese had not bombed that far south before but they had hit Derby, Wyndham, and Broome.
On the lighter side we had our moments at 14 Squadron. There was often a bit of humour when lunchtime came and the airmen lined up for the march to the Airmen’s Mess. There were always early birds knocking off ahead of time to be sure they were first into the mess every day. I sometimes drew the job of marching them up and day I reversed the routine. Once they were reasonably lined up I gave the “left turn” command instead of the usual “right turn” order. There were grumbles from the front and cheers from the back and with the two orders “quick march” and “right wheel” the order of marching to the mess was reversed. For that day new faces would be first into the Mess. It was all taken in good part by the front row regulars. Nobody missed out on anything.
About this time I think we were waiting for a new CO to arrive. It could have been W/Cdr Tom McBride Price, but maybe he was later. We had Sdn Ldr Jack Sharp as Acting CO for a short time. A bright and breezy chap he may have arrived with the first Beauforts. Rex Marsh likes me to tell a story that concerned him and Jack Sharp. I had to take some stores information to our Adjutant officers sitting and standing as they watched a friendly but fair dinkum wrestle on the floor between Rex Marsh and Jack Sharp. It surprised me but in those days there was a need to let down a bit and then get back to the serious business. I was a spectator for a few minutes and then my presence stopped the show and the combatants got up and dusted themselves down and all had a good laugh including myself. I can recall Rex saying to me, “Now, Sergeant, what can I do for you?” I saw Rex late in 1988, and the story surfaced again as it has many times over the years. I first met Rex Marsh when he led the RAAF Recruiting Unit to the goldfields early in 1940. He came from Tasmania and played Aussie rules football in Hobart (possibly for Glenorchy) and later was a League official. He was a good rower and was in a Tassie King’s Cup crew. He had won the Tasmanian State eights, fours, and sculls, but not pairs. Rex was not one to give up easily so he decided at 39 to row in the pairs at Launceston. He had an old shell that was rescued from the “grave”, and paired with a young rower. They won by 50 metres. No fluke, for Rex won the pairs again in the next year with a new partner. He was a member of the Legion of Oarsmen in WA in the post-war years as I was during the sixties on a nominal basis.
One of the worst atrocities of the War in the Pacific happened on 14 May 1943 when the Australian hospital ship the Centaur was torpedoed off the Queensland coast. All Australians were outraged when they heard the news. The Centaur, which had just come off the Fremantle-Singapore run, was brought into war service early in March. A Geneva Convention identification No. 47 was clearly displayed on her bows. There were large red crosses on the hull and the funnel. All her lights were on high but the Japanese ignored them. In the early morning of 14 May, the ship was torn apart by torpedoes. She sank within a few minutes before lifeboats could be launched. There were over 300 people on board and only 50/60 survived to be picked up after two days adrift (NOTE: of the 332 on board, 268 died).
On the other side of the world the RAF was hammering away at the German industrial area as Bomber Command aircraft carried out heavy night raids. Good news was not easy to come by then, so it was a turnaround when the Lancasters of 617 Squadron breached the walls of the Möhne and Eder dams, and flooded the Ruhr and Eder valleys. The raids were led by W/Cdr Guy Gibson who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery and leadership. Eight Lancasters and crews were lost in these raids. The Dambuster raids have been well-documented in print and on film, and there is no need to say more here. I could say, however, that others who contributed to the success of the mission were Sqn Ldr “Mickey” Martin, Sqn Ldr David Shannon, and Perth’s Sqn Ldr Lance Howard. He received the DFC for his part in the raids on the Mohne and Eder dams in the Ruhr. Perhaps readers could be reminded that due credit must be given to the backroom boy Barnes Wallis, for his coming up with the idea of the bouncing ball mines that so damaged the walls as to release the water into the Ruhr valley.
Brother Roly completed his ITS course at Clontarf midway through April 1943 and was then posted to 9 EFTS Cunderdin. There he took his flying lessons on Tiger Moths over about ten weeks. Early on the course he and the other trainees were given their LAC badges. Roly did well at Cunderdin and on 4 July was posted to 4SFTS at Geraldton, my old unit. Roly’s hopes of getting his wings there and then being posted to the European theatre were later reality. Despite his aspirations to get right into the action he could not have been certain, in May 1943, that he would be flying Lancaster bombers in the big Bomber Command air raids over Germany in 1944. He certainly did not know that he would be piloting those Avro Lancaster bombers over Europe at about the same time as the Dambusters hero, W/Cdr Guy Gibson was killed in action.
The overall command of the RAAF in Western Australia was now the responsibility of Air Commodore Ray Brownell, MC. MM. Late in 1942 he had been appointed to succeed Air Commodore H F de la Rue as Air Officer Commanding Western Area. Air Com Ray Brownell was a popular officer who knew RAAF Station Pearce well. He had a lifetime background in the Air Force and had twice been decorated in the Great War of 1915-1918. He was later commissioned (1921) and in 1926 was appointed CO of No. 1 Squadron. In 1938 he was posted to Pearce to open the new base up and be its first CO.
RAAF Station Pearce was officially opened in February 1939 having been named after Senator George Pearce, Minister for Defence. Ray Brownell was posted to Singapore in 1940 to command RAAF Station Sembawang. My brother Cec was posted there in 1940/41. Brownell’s next posting was back to Melbourne in August 1941 to command No. 1 Training Group and from there he was posted back to WA as the AOC Western Area. He was right back in the action in 1944 when he landed at Morotai and took command of No. 11 Group S/West Pacific. Ray Brownell was well thought of by those who served with him.
Our Beauforts flew daily patrols from Pearce and down the coast to Albany while a second bomber flew from Albany up to Pearce. We also patrolled the Geraldton to Exmouth sector. On 9 September 1943 we lost a Beaufort that took off from the Busselton strip to patrol up to Perth. It was seen from a ship that it flew over and then disappeared. Beauforts, Wirraways, and US planes searched far and wide but no luck. The men killed were the pilot, Flying Officer Arthur Aitken, F/O Cedric Richards, F/Sgt Peter Hastie. F/Sgt Alex Emerson, and Captain Harry Kolby (Correction: Kolbig), an Army Liaison Officer with 14 Squadron who was from South Australia.
Again no answer to the crash problem. When they went into the ocean the cause remained a mystery. There were no black boxes in those days so mishaps over land, even close to base, were not an open book to the investigating officers. I went out to the crash site after our first Beaufort went in in January. The RAAF ambulance team had been so it was not too bad, except for the personal feelings about Bill Dimelow and Newt Wilson, and the rest of the crew. It was my first experience of a crash site. There was wreckage everywhere. The engines had separated from the fuselage and cut separate swaths through the bush. What happened?
One of our Beaufort pilots was Bill Alderman. His father was the Headmaster of the Coolgardie School in 1938. I did not know Bill till he came to 14 Squadron. He captained our RAAF football team in which I played on the wing. One of our games was against a tough Army team just returned from the Middle East. We have been good friends since the War. We were both married in 1946 and both to girls named Joan. Our wedding day was trouble-free even if the bride forgot her bouquet, but in August Bill probably had problems with the “I do” responses. He had his broken jaw wired.
In the WA v SA game just the week before, somebody broke his jaw but Bill played on to the final siren at centre-half-back where he stopped SA levelling the score near the finish. He was one of our two best players. WA won by two goals. Like his dad, Bill was a teacher and a cricketer. The cricket line continued with Bill’s son, Terry, and his daughter Denise, both achieving State and Australian teams representation honours.
About this time I went to Cunderdin with a 14 Sqdn detachment, to temporarily operate a dispersal store where emergency stores could be kept. I flew up in a Beaufort, possibly in the capable hands of Harold Clapp but not sure. I returned later by truck.
The store location was a big barn at the Halbert farm a few miles out of Cunderdin town on the main highway to Kalgoorlie. We were well looked after by Mrs Halbert during the day in regard to meals but after locking up each day we returned to the base to our barracks. Mrs Halbert used to make tea and scones for us for morning and afternoon tea, and make tea for us to have with our lunches we picked up at the base mess. During our lunch hour she allowed us the use of the big billiard table in the house, and it certainly was appreciated. I have re-lived this experience to Vic Halbert and his wife, Jean, several times, the last being at the opening of the new Parliament House in Canberra in May 1988. Vic and I were both elected to the House of Representatives in 1958.
25 Squadron had Wirraways, and a few Brewster Buffaloes as well. It was early in 1943 when No. 85 Squadron was formed at Guilford and took over 25’s Buffaloes (A51). In May they were re-equipped with Australian-built Boomerangs (A46) and later had a detachment at Exmouth and Derby. Later on, 25 Squadron changed to A27 Vultee Vengeance dive-bombers and I recall some arriving at Pearce along with a couple of civilian technical experts flown from the USA. These chaps used to lecture our fitters and others who would be servicing the aircraft and the locals did not seem to take them too seriously. From what I heard they listened patiently but were glad when the experts went so they could find out what made the Vultees tick. Later they were all to discover that neither visiting experts nor the locals knew everything about Vultees.
One job given to the two-seater dive bombers and their crew of pilot and observer, was the daily met patrol when they climbed up into the clouds to record temperatures and other weather information. We were often walking to the hangar as they went up. We would hear the Vultee take off about breakfast time, and later hear them when they finished their job around 8am and then rolled over into a dive before using the dive brakes and levelling out for the landing. I remember being on 8am parade one day in the middle of September (1943) when we heard the Vultee coming down. We waited as usual for the changing sounds as the pilot pulled the plane from its dive, but that day was different. The Vultee kept coming straight down with the engine screaming, and then there was an awesome thud when it buried itself in the ground between the base and a nearby hill.
I never saw the crash site but there could not have been much left of the aircraft or the crew. It would have been difficult to sort out what happened. The pilot was F/O Leslie Chester Garling and the observer, P/O Fred Smith, who joined up in WA. It took another mid-air crisis in a Vultee Vengeance to provide the clues to the probable answer to the first crash. This time, the pilot, a young Sergeant Smith, took the Vultee up for the met flight, and once the weather work was completed, headed for home. When he went to pull out of the dive the “stick” snapped off in his hand leaving him with only a small stub of wood to pull the aircraft out. Smithy was solidly built and probably stronger than other pilots, and he used every pound of his brute strength to get hold of that scrappy stub and pull the Vultee away from almost certain disaster. Using his hands and feet well he landed his Vengeance safely and the fault that showed up in that flight caused urgent modifications to be made to the Vultee Vengeance dive-bombers. It may have been that the Vultees were then grounded till modified.
The interesting thing about the Vultee problem was that if Smith had not been able to carry out his Herculean performance then his aircraft would have dug another hole in the ground full of scrap metal. The Vultees could have kept crashing and the experts and the locals could have been baffled for months. It took 18 months to find the answer to the Beaufort problem after many casualties.
The role of the Vultee Vengeance in the SWPA was controversial. US General Kenney was not keen on them. Two were lost in raids on Madang early in 1944. After 36 Vultees attacked Alexishafen in March, Kenney grounded them and they were sent back to Australia.
In June 1943 we took on a new CO in W/Cdr Tom McBride Price, DFC. He did some good work once when flying a Walrus seaplane for the Navy. He may have been the spotter pilot in the Mediterranean who located the Bartolomeo Colleoni for HMAS Sydney, under the command of Capt J A Collins, which then sank the Italian cruiser (19 July 1940). McBride Price may have been decorated for that. We soon found that he was a stickler for the rules. One time when an airman reported that he had dropped a spanner into a wing tank the man was charged and paraded before the CO. His owning up got him two weeks CB or worse. If he had kept quiet? Who knows?
On Another occasion when a volume of Air Force Orders, or AFCOs, was “lost” from the Squadron safe, and were not found quickly, there was a general muster parade of all 14 Squadron personnel. “Blue uniforms to be worn”. We duly dressed up and then lined up. Before we received the CO’s message we were all inspected by Tom McBride Price. With him was the Adjutant, F/Lt Adrian Burke?, and the Stores Officer Ralph Arkley. The CO walked along the ranks correcting a forage cap here and an undone button there till he came to a fitter named George Fyfe. A real hard doer but a good chap George had been in the RAAF since quite early in the War. Tom McBride took one look at George’s uniform and in his best command voice said, “What are you doing on parade in that uniform? It is a disgrace.” “Why are you not wearing your best uniform?”. Poor George. He put a sad look on his face and quietly replied, “Sir, this is my best uniform”. The CO turned to the Equipment Officer and in one of those voices that must be obeyed said, “See that this man has a new uniform by tomorrow”. I think it was Ralph who bore the brunt of that. His successor was P/O Doug Thomson. George got a new uniform out of it all and I must say that his old one from 1939/40 was a bit of a disaster. After the war, George Fyfe finished up with the Shell Company in Borneo. I met him again in later years when he came back to Perth.
Well, back to the CO’s message. It was about the missing volume of Orders. They must be found and every nook and cranny had to be searched. There would be no leave for anyone in the squadron till they were found. I know we turned the stores section upside down and looked in and under everything in the hangar stores, and in our two-storey section of the headquarters stores area. Nothing anywhere and after two weeks confined to the base the search was abandoned. One or two of us had an idea later who might have spirited them away. Many years later I heard it was a case of someone getting square for something and it really was a matter of “ashes to ashes and dust to dust”. What was the truth?
On the brighter side, we always had a bit of humour in our hut and we needed something like that to balance out our days. My friend, Bert Cutten, the Sergeant pay clerk, had his room across the hut passage from my room. The walls were about seven feet high, and there were no ceilings, just the angled roof above. We played many a game of cards well into the night in Bert’s room. We were surrounded by a blue haze. Smokers were a menace, Bert was one, and in the morning our eyes would be almost red raw. World War II turned many men into smokers as for some of our servicemen it was the only way to cope with the worries of being away from home and their families. For others, it was just the trauma of their jobs.
“No cards” nights meant the films, the mess, or an early night. Bert was an accountant/secretary with a leading Perth real estate firm on his enlistment. We used to chat about the latest war news and his former job and mine. Our last chatter was often from our beds and over the wall. Bert usually dropped off to sleep earlier than me. It was OK for him but he snored at pretty high decibels so I often had to call out over the walls and try to wake him up. One night when I had no luck and it was too late to call out to him I got my packet of Plaistowe’s Aurora Jubes and began tossing them over, one by one, till I scored a direct hit in the area of his pillow. It took quite a few jubes to wake him but it worked. A mumble or two, he woke up, turned over, and the snoring ceased.
Next morning Bert told me that when he woke before breakfast he had found lollies all over the floor. I agreed with him that it was strange and that someone down the hut must be having some fun with him. I even nominated a likely candidate. The next time the jubes woke him up he called out to me a couple of times but I just battled hard to stop laughing and did not answer. Luckily, a friend in the next room to Bert woke up and told him to go back to sleep, so Bert had new suspicions about the culprit. Later on he realised that it was me and we all had a good laugh about it.
On RAAF Stations there were daily “sick parades” and more often than not plenty of customers. Sore throats, colds and flu, with a few measles and mumps thrown in were common. Shingles were there but rare. The “needles” parades came around every six months but were never popular. There was always someone who flagged out and hit the floor. Minor injuries to hands were frequent among some technical and kitchen staff, and for others there was always a risk of electric shocks and other serious accidents. I was nearly an accident statistic myself one day when I was ironing my shirts and uniforms in my room at the Sergeants’ mess huts. I did a fair job with my clothes, a bar of Sunlight soap, and a washing tub. The iron was plugged into a standard (white shade) light globe socket hanging down from the rafters. I decided to plug the radio into the empty side of the two-way socket and have a little music (radio programs were better listening then), and so I plugged in.
I forgot that the power was still switched on for the iron and to make it much riskier I had not noticed that the bakelite cover of the plug was broken. My thumb and forefinger were really holding on to the two pins. In goes the plug and nearly out goes Doug. It gave me a good kick, powerful enough to move me back a few feet. All’s well that ends well but I was lucky we had 110-volt power. No burn, no anything, except a shock, and a safety-first lesson.
Dental treatment was always available and always needed in those days of no fluoridation of water supplies. Most of us had grown with some holes in our teeth and the Air Force was where many men faced a dentist for the first time. My first appointment with the station dentist turned out to be with Reg Campbell who was my dentist in Norseman in 1937/38. I reminded him that I still had the upper dental plate that he had made me and he checked it out. It was giving no trouble and lasted for many more years.
Beauforts were still crashing in the East and it was sad news to hear that F/Lt Keith Morcombe had been killed early in October at 1 OTU East Sale where the Beauforts were the advanced training course aircraft. Keith had been on an early course at 4SFTS when I was there. He was a pleasant young chap and came from Coorow which is about 300km from Perth. He could have been on 10 Course. He was commissioned at the end of his course and later earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for bravery over the Arafura Sea and the areas near Darwin, while flying Hudsons. The DFC ranks next to the Victoria Cross and George Cross in the Air Force awards. It is made only to officers who have shown exceptional bravery. The DFM is the same award for courage in the face of the enemy that is made to non-commissioned officers and men. Both have the ribbon of blue and white stripes angled at forty-five degrees. If you see them on Anzac Day join me in mentally saluting them.
20 October 1943 was the day of the 4 SFTS passing out parade that saw brother Roly get his wings. Air Commodore Ray Brownell, the AOC Western Area, took the parade and made the presentations. Roland Murray Cash was now a Sergeant Pilot. He was able to take a few days leave and then reported on 1 November to No. 5 Embarkation Depot Perth. Roly was able to go to Kalgoorlie to say goodbye to Mum and Dad, and his goldfields friends. He had friends in Perth as well. When he came back to the city we had a group photo taken with Cec. We were now all Sergeants. With aircrew friends, Roly had visited a Mr and Mrs Arthur Moore and their daughter, Joan, at 21 Victoria Square opposite St. Mary’s Cathedral. The Moores were hospitable people who often opened their home to servicemen on leave. I saw Roly again before he was posted on 21 November to No. 1 ED at Ransford, Melbourne (at the MCG). He could have been re-equipped there or at his next stop, 2 ED Bradfield Park (where I would pass through in 1944). Roly boarded a troopship on 26 November 1943.
Four or five days after the parade at 4 SFTS another Beaufort hit the ground, or a hill, at Northampton, near Geraldton. There were eight men on board. Two parachuted safely, and the other six were killed. The pilot, Ken Clarke, got out OK but I do not recall the other survivor’s name. P/O Don Forbes, the wireless air gunner, got out of the aircraft but there was not enough time for his chute to open safely and save him from being killed. A nice chap with a little black moustache who had a bit of humour in him. Also lost were F/O John Randall, F/Sgt Jim Brock, and three maintenance men John Andre, Tom Raston, and Harold Smith, all LACs. Whatever the reason or this crash it was one more Beaufort down. What was the fault with most of them? The solution was not yet to hand, but it was not far away, though it would take one more disaster and the lives of four airmen before we started to get close to an answer.
Late in December I got the news that Ken Foxcroft had been killed on his first flight over France. He was a pilot with 97 Squadron RAF Bomber Command. Ken was one of a group of junior footballers that I coached in the 1930s. He later went on to play for Perth. Brother Roly was now on the waters between Australia and the US. He sent me a postcard view of the Empire State Building from New York postmarked 20/12/1943, and another card showing open-cut mining in Utah. Roly was in the same junior football team as Ken.
Well, Xmas over, and the New Year underway. What did 1944 hold? Our Commanding Office was now Wing Commander Charles Learmonth, a veteran of the South-West Pacific. He had a record of skill and daring with No. 22 Squadron Boston bombers in New Guinea. He flew the Boston, She’s Apples, in most of its 57 operational trips. He was a Wing Commander at 23. His 14 Squadron crew were P/O Doug Cullen, P/O G Moore, and F/Sgt Tim Chidlow the WAG, whose brother Barry was our Sergeant Clerk. Doug had 1,000 hours of operational flying. He was a former A Grade cricketer in Perth. At enlistment Doug worked for the engravers, C L McShane, who had their offices above Charlie McAlinden’s at 575 Wellington Street where I had my first job. Mr McShane once wanted me to change and work for him. That story is written in the earlier pages for 1934.
Now back to the Beauforts. On 6 January 1944 W/C Learmonth DFC was in the air attended by two of his flight commanders, and the three aircraft were carrying out formation flying exercises off the WA coast near Yanchep. Learmonth started to have trouble with his aircraft which became unmanageable because of a tail controls flutter. He told the FCs to break formation and talked about his problem. His comments centred on the tail assembly and Ken Hewett dropped down and had a look at the tail of the CO’s Beaufort. The trim tabs were jammed and nothing could be done about it. The Beaufort plunged straight into the sea and the aircraft and its crew were gone. I think that a small piece of floating wreckage may have been found by sailors of a US warship that rushed to the scene from nearby.
As I recall the Beauforts may have been grounded right across the country and possibly in New Guinea while each tail assembly unit was checked. Locally it was Bill MacFarlane who did the checks on the trim tab elevators. It could have been a design fault for a pin in the tail assembly was found to be of mild steel when hard steel was required. The mild steel pins were shearing off causing the “trim tabs” to become jammed hard in the diving position. This prevented a “pull out”. That was the story as I heard it.
I understand that Group Captain “Black Jack” Walker is said to have been the first pilot to safely put down a Beaufort after experiencing that tail fault and live to tell about it. I do not think 14 Squadron had any more crashes in my time there. Some Beaufort crashes must be put down to pilot error and weather conditions perhaps, but the steel pin fault appears to have been the factor in most of the crashes at Pearce and elsewhere. Bill checked out all our Beauforts and reported to the inquiry. Some aircraft were not affected. Modifications arrived later.
I am not sure who took over command temporarily after the crash but our next Commanding Officer was Wing Commander Ian Campbell. As a tribute to Wing Commander Charles Learmonth, DFC and Bar, the airstrip at Exmouth was named after him.
So many of our flying heroes were so young. Boys turned into men in a couple of years. Squadron Leaders and Wing Commanders in their early twenties. Every promotion earned and well-deserved. I had ambitions and applied, on the regulation form P/P 70A, for a Commission in the A & S D Branch. My character and proficiency were rated well and twice Squadron COs recommended me. Age was a barrier as most non-technical applicants were expected to be in the over 30 age group. I wanted to go into Intelligence and eventually was granted an interview appointment. I arrived at HQ Western Area and reported in, and I was given a seat and asked to wait. Out from the interview room came someone to express their apologies. I was too young. My papers had been clearly marked in the interview room, 23 8/12th years. Too young, too bad, so sad.
Our living accommodation hut housed a few characters and one of them was Jack (“Taxi”) Julian from Boulder. On one paynight Jack came back to the hut and walked down the passage in a happy mood and giving us a loud burst of singing. Room doors were quickly locked to give us a bit of peace and quiet, but Taxi Jack was not to be denied. He came to one room where four chaps were having a quiet chat and tried to get in but no luck. He widened the small hole where we used to put our hand in to unlock the door from outside, most of us having lost our keys, and forced his head through. When he found himself under fire from a couple of rolled-up newspapers he tried to pull his head out but again no luck. Well, there was much yelling and laughter and with a bit of help Jack was free. The boys opened the door and Jack was in. The boys made room for him and soon he was sitting on the bed.
Jack still carried on so the boys all got up to go out for a bit of fresh air. As they got up, Jack’s unsupported end of the bed tipped him down the floor. He knocked the fire-extinguisher down and set it off. There was foam everywhere and Jack was drenched. He was yelling blue murder and the whole hut was in fits. What a mess! He was helped up and wiped down and he walked outside with us. When he hit the cold night air he went out like a light. It was a case of put him to bed. Next morning a headache for Taxi Jack but he was his normal self by teatime. He was a great fellow and we used to have many a chat about the goldfields where he spent most of his life. He was not young.
News from Roly in February. He had disembarked from a troopship in the UK on 10 January. From the port he went to No. 11 PDRC (Personnel Despatch and Reception Centre), from where he was later posted to No. 3 Advanced Flying Unit for further training on new aircraft types. He had a bit of free time when he was at the PDRC and I remember him telling me that he was able to move about for two or three weeks with a band or entertainment unit of some kind. He had a nice voice and used it to sing many of the songs made popular by Bing Crosby and other singers of those days. Roly used to send me the words and music sheets of many new songs that had not reached Australia. One of my favourites was the Crosby number “Long Ago And Far Away” and he sent me the sheets for that when it was first released. I sang it in a RAAF concert at Pearce soon after he sent it to me.
I used to often burst out in song at work and around the huts, and there were others who did the same. One of my favourites was from that enjoyable musical This is the Army and it was the song, “I Left My Heart at the Stage Door Canteen”. Now and then my mate Jim Carroll would say to me something like, “By the way, Doug, have you been up to the Canteen tonight?” “Yes.” “Did you find it?” “Find what, Jim?” “What you lost.” “I didn’t lose anything.” “Oh, I thought you lost your heart at the door.” Worth a laugh.
The first week in May saw me part of a group detached to Exmouth Gulf and the Potshot airstrip. We went with a flight or two of Beauforts and a DC3 for supply and transport support. 14 Squadron was to be part of a plan for Allied forces to attack Surabaya in Java. The details were not then known to us for secrecy reasons.
We occupied some sleeping tents close to the stores and workshops areas and went about our work ready for whatever. The Beauforts were assigned to patrol out to sea looking for enemy naval ships or aircraft. Something was in the wind and soon we saw it when US and British aircraft carriers and support ships sailed into the Gulf. Apart from the US Catalinas patrolling with our Beauforts there were Spitfires from Darwin to give fighter support over the Gulf and the airstrip. The reason for this was that if the Japanese got wind of what they were in for we would become the target.
The first week in May saw me part of a group detached to Exmouth Gulf and the Potshot airstrip. We went with a flight or two of Beauforts and a DC3 for supply and transport support. 14 Squadron was to be part of a plan for Allied forces to attack Surabaya in Java. The details were not then known to us for secrecy reasons.
We occupied some sleeping tents close to the stores and workshops areas and went about our work ready for whatever. The Beauforts were assigned to patrol out to sea looking for enemy naval ships or aircraft. Something was in the wind and soon we saw it when US and British aircraft carriers and support ships sailed into the Gulf. Apart from the US Catalinas patrolling with our Beauforts there were Spitfires from Darwin to give fighter support over the Gulf and the airstrip. The reason for this was that if the Japanese got wind of what they were in for we would become the target.
Patrols started three days before our attack took place and there were no sightings of the enemy. The naval force, which refuelled at Exmouth, slipped out on 15 May and headed for Surabaya. By dawn on the 17th it was about 100 miles from Java and the strong force of fighters and bombers were let loose from the carriers. The Japanese were caught by surprise and the attack was a success. We did not get any first-hand reports of the action and had to settle for facts and rumours all mixed up together. The aircraft returned to their home base and our Beauforts to Pearce.
We stayed on for a few days to pack up and relax a bit. We were able to have a swim in the Gulf. We knew nothing at the time about the box jellyfish or the giant blowfish that might bite you in the wrong place. Our first swim in the early twilight evening was not helped by someone yelling out “Shark, Shark”. We made it back to the beach in Olympic record time only to find that it was a false alarm. We gently attended to the culprit in our own way.
We flew back in a DC3 through some of that wet season cloud and had a pretty rough ride, as we were flying fairly low. The second pilot was Don Winch, a South Fremantle footballer, and I think he flew the DC3 for most of the way back. I know we were woken up early to have a quick breakfast of greasy sausages and then get aboard the plane and it could have been that bad weather was expected. It was a rough trip but par for the course in a DC3. My brother, Cecil, was posted to Exmouth from Pearce not long after, and I remember him writing to tell me that they were later hit by a cyclone that did a bit of damage at the Potshot base.
Back at Pearce it was a case of tidy my room up in the hut which meant giving it a good dust-down and a vigorous sweeping. I had to check my war maps and charts which covered the walls but they were all still as I had left them. I now had more to add to them. I was a keen student of the War and followed the day to day paper reports in the West and Daily News. I took a keen interest in aircraft and silhouette recognition as the base was supplied with models for crew training in this field. Jane’s Aircraft was one book in my little library. I had enrolled in the Hemingway and Robertson Accountancy course on 1 April 1944. I took the view that it would enable me to move up in the PMG after the War. Talking with Bert Cutten convinced me that this was the way to go. War or no war I should be putting my spare time to good use. I had been hoping to get a posting to a battle zone for months but it seemed that 14 Squadron was being held together as a good working unit ready for any emergency.
Imagine my surprise when a copy of a signal was placed on my desk posting me and a clerk from 25 Squadron to Birdum (in the NT) and No. 55 OBU (Operational Base Unit). In a flash I phoned through to F/Sgt Harry Corser asking him to get my clearance forms typed up. With the forms in my hand I proceeded to get the signatures that would clear me from such sections as medical, pay, stores, etc. I was so quick on my rush around that I arrived for some signatures before the sections had received a copy of the posting signal. I assured them that it was right, and I just wanted to be on my way as quick as possible, and get the long clearance forms completed. The other chap named on the signal was Basil X, who was friendly with a WAAAF girl (MB?) in the main store. I am not sure that he was as enthusiastic about his posting as I was about mine.
My clearance form was starting to get a few signatures on it when my friend Norm McCarthy quietly told me that I should not get too wrapped up in going off to Birdum, and suggested that I should go and see Harry Corser about it. Norm worked in the orderly room so I took the hint and went to see Harry. He dashed my posting hopes straightaway with an explanation, “We have had a talk about the posting and the CO has decided that we need you here and we should not let you be sent to Birdum”. Well, do you think I blew my top? I saw the Adjutant’s door open and went straight in and slapped the clearance form down on his desk. The Acting Adjutant at the time was “Tubby” Rowe and he looked up amazed at the quiet Sergeant bursting in. It must have looked like a mild-mannered newspaper reporter turning into Superman, right before his eyes. I was outspoken on the lack of regard for my record of service and conduct, and my desire to serve closer to the action, and so on. A few other remarks and I turned and left, no salute, no nothing.
That was not the end of the story. “Tubby” Rowe and the Adjutant found that neither of them knew about my posting, so they called F/Sgt Harry Corser in. It all came out and Harry was in trouble. The signal had been faked by Harry and someone at 25 Squadron to give a shock to Basil X, now friendly with MB? To make it look more authentic my name had been added to it. The “fake” copy had been dropped on my desk just to get me in and kid me a little. When I took it seriously enough to ask for my clearance forms, Harry decided to let me run and see what happened. He got more than he bargained for and ended up in big trouble with the Adjutant. A fake signal and clearance papers issued to support it did not go down well. As for me, my little outburst was forgotten and I heard no more. Some good must have come out of it for later in the year I was posted to Madang, in New Guinea, and on to the Admiralty Islands.
1944 had one or two of those funny incidents that were a part of service life. The two-up game hut had not stood up to regular calls to “open up” and some warnings to “watch it”. So it moved. One of the last games played there still sticks in my mind and it concerns “Fergie” Ferguson. He was a Petty Officer in the US Navy who was attached to our base. He dined at the Sergeants’ mess and many of us were friendly with him. Fergie liked a beer or two and he arrived at this game a bit merry. Nobody was able to toss more than one or two heads until the spin came to Fergie. He tossed up the two pennies with wild abandon and down they came as heads. A little unsteady on his feet he spun the coins again and down came the heads. It rained heads for him, nine or ten pairs, and then it was tails. He spun for 5 pounds, had a couple of draws, and won 100 pounds. The Fergie story never got into print but for anybody who really wants to read about two-up there is that good book “Heads and Tails” by Danny Sheehan with Wayne Lamotte. It is the story of the Kalgoorlie Two-Up School.
The two-up game changed to Heads and Tails dice when it moved to its new site in an underground air-raid shelter. Instead of numbers the dice had 3 H and 3 T letters on. Two or three dice were used and the game was run by “JB”. The shelter was a maze of sandbagged passages and walls and it was not easy to find the game. You had to listen for voices or the rattle of the dice in the leather shaker, or spot a small ray of light. The game was seldom raided as it was tolerated in a way, being seen as needed relaxation. I have an idea the SPs came in one night and never found us. There was a night, however, when the SPs did find the game but to the surprise of the “invaders” there was nobody there except JB? There he was sitting reading, with his dice game gear on the table. What a coincidence that we all decided not to go.
Well, JB? finished up before the Squadron Commanding Officer when he was paraded into the CO’s office the next day by the WOD. JB? was under escort and marched-in charged with “illegal gambling”. The CO heard the evidence against JB? and then listened to his story and came up with a King Solomon-like form of judgement. The charge must fail as no dice game was being played at the time and there was no other person except JB? Case dismissed. The WOD gave the “about turn” command and the escort moved off only to be halted when JB? turned around and asked the CO if he could have his confiscated dice returned. The CO said, “Yes, you can” and then to the WOD, “Will you see to that, Warrant Officer”. If only we could gather up all these stories and put them together. Such a volume would give an insight into the lives of the service personnel and show how they laughed and lived throughout the War.
Early in August 1944 I read where Merv Cecil, mentioned before in these pages, had been killed in action when serving with No. 3 Tactical Air Force in India. He had had a life earlier in his active service when his aircraft crashed on the strip at Malta in 1942/43. Merv was the same age as me, 25. Ten years earlier we had played junior football as rivals and I must say he was good. Luckily we knew not what the future held for us. Just as well.
Later in the year 14 Squadron was called on to fly extra patrols to watch out for enemy submarines that might attack shipping in our local waters. We were flat out. The Beauforts were in the air almost 24 hours a day, flying out of Pearce. We therefore had to dispense with our dispersal base at Fairbridge Farm which was close to Alcoa’s present Pinjarra site. I had been down there a few times on store runs and for equipment checks. F/Lt Guy Henn was our Medical Officer there at the time. Like myself he was later a Member of the State Legislative Assembly. I doubt if, at that time, either of us ever contemplated that sort of future.
In later years I was to make a visit to Fairbridge farm, a home for the assistance of children from deprived British families, in somewhat different circumstances. More of that much later when I will write a few lines about the Fairbridge scheme, and its founder, Kingsley Fairbridge, who died in 1924.
Roly kept me informed of his progress through 1944 with his air letters from different bases in the UK. He would just give me a few news items of a general nature and local happenings but very little service details as we always heeded the censor’s warning, “even the walls have ears”. How true that is today when you have our embassies around the world bugged by various devices built into the walls of buildings. Spies are thousands of years old.
From what Roly told me, then and later, he disembarked in the UK on 10 January 1944 and was bussed to 11 Personnel Despatch and Reception Centre (11 PRC) where he stayed for four months. His next posting was to No. 3(P) Advanced Flying Unit (AFU) where he probably trained on Wellingtons. On 23 May he was posted to No. 11 Operational Training Unit (OTU) where he completed his first training program on Lancasters. In later years he told me that on his first training Lancaster flight over Europe something went wrong with his oxygen equipment and he had a bad time till some temporary repair was made onboard. He was not piloting the aircraft at the time. It was during Roly’s time at 11 OTU that Wing Commander Guy Gibson, VC, DFC, DSO, the hero of the No. 617 Squadron (Lancasters) Dambuster raids on 16/17 May 1943, was killed in action. Roly was attached to RAF Gamston on 18 November and posted to 72 Base a few weeks later. When he flew on his first bombing raid over Europe, as the skipper, it was on Xmas Eve, 24 December. It was his 21st birthday. Some birthday.
Roly’s oxygen problem on his earlier flight was probably in the mask itself. Under certain conditions there could be icing up in the tube and around the outlet valve. The Lancaster could have been flying in very icy temperatures as far down as 40 degrees below. The three up front crew, the pilot, navigator, and bomb aimer, were warmed a bit by the heat from the engines. Behind their compartments it was another story. I always remember my dad telling me that in our early days back in Canada, when the street temperatures were way down, that to put bare hand to metal meant a stuck hand or the skin torn off when you pulled away. It would have been the same in the bombers. To shield the aircrews from frostbite, and worse, special electrically heated flying suits were worn by the rear section crew members. The problem worsened when an aircraft was damaged and the freezing outside air entered the front area where lighter flying suits were worn. Occasionally a pilot’s hand was known to freeze tight on the controls in such situations. Occasionally an aircraft was safely landed in such circumstances. The enemy guns and aircraft would have been Roly’s main problems but luck stayed with him and he survived the war. The War involved a lot of luck. The first lottery was where you were posted and when, or which aircraft you flew in and when.
Back on earth (14 Squadron) and in our hut there was still a laugh or two. At one time the room next to me was occupied by another 14 Squadron Sergeant, name now forgotten but I will call him Bill. This chap had “mouse” trouble. We all know how they come scratching around and the minute you move they stop. Time and time again over two or three nights Bill would just be going off to sleep when he would hear this scratching noise. Up he would get saying a few words as he did but then the noise would stop. Back in bed and settled down once more and then more scratching. He moved his gear and checked the locker but no mouse. New tactics were called for so then he armed himself with a big torch and sat on the bed and waited. His patience was rewarded for he pin-pointed for sure that the invader was in his locker. He quietly opened the door and shone his torch high and low and then he found the cause of his sleepless nights. Right up in the top corner of the locker was a small metal washer on the end of a piece of flex.
Bill kept his cool and did not turn on his room light. The torch beam had revealed the flex coming out through a ventilation hole at the locker top and then running along a rafter and out of his room. He quietly stepped into the passage and followed the flex to where it led into his mate’s room further down the hut. He threw open the door to see his mate, George?, laying on the bed reading. The other end of the flex was looped over George’s big toe and he had been moving his foot whenever he thought Bill had got back into bed. Foot pressure on the flex had created the mouse. “You b…..”. Crash! Bang! Crash! They remained mates.
Further Reading …