I left RAAF Base Pearce on a bus headed for Perth where I spent the night at the Grand Central Hostel in Wellington Street (still there in 1988) and caught the next day’s train to Geraldton. The train went up the Midland Railway line: PerthMidland JunctionMucheaGinginMooraCarnamahMingenewDongara – Geraldton and took most of the day. After the train went through Muchea it passed the farm where we lived in the last half of 1933. I was then a 14-year-old lad and I still remember the trains going by when I was busy on the front block clearing the ground for ploughing. My job was “sucker bashing” and I welcomed any excuse to put the axe down and stop cutting down the young gum saplings. A wave to the train or Gingin bus going by sometimes brought a wave or two in reply and made my day. There were chores on the farm that I liked better. I could not have dreamed that one day I would pass that farm on a train and be dressed in a uniform that I would be proud to wear. In later days I was to drive past it many times.

An Air Force transport vehicle picked me up along with other newcomers to the Geraldton base. The RAAF Station was about six miles out of town in the Moonyoonooka area and was on farmland facing property owned by farmer Jim Horwood. The land taken over by the Air Force may have been a part of the Horwood property. Horwood was the Barracks Officer for part of my time at the station.

No. 4 Service Flying Training School. Source: Leslie R. Jubbs

I handed in my documents from 4 Recruit Depot and found I had been allocated to Hut 14 in the sleeping quarters area. It was a repeat of Pearce, drop in your gear and then go to the Barracks Store for palliasse and blankets. The advance party for setting up the station ready for occupation by a full complement of men had only been three weeks ahead of my arrival. I found several of them in Hut 14 and Jim Lightfoot and Ken Hipkin from Squad 69 had been allotted to the same barracks hut. I picked out an empty bed and took over that spot. There were 15 cyclone beds on each side of the hut and one double-sided steel locker to each two beds. We had space for our uniforms and all our other clothes and effects.

I soon made friends with the other occupants in the hut. Most of them worked in the stores or station headquarters to where I was attached. They gave me the lowdown on what went on around the station and what to watch for and who. Next morning it was up early for breakfast and then the blankets and the palliasse had to be folded and placed neatly at the bed head ready for inspection.

I reported in to the accounting section where I was to work and there I met Sergeant Bert Kaempf who was to be my immediate superior. The RAAF systems for accounting for all equipment and stores from pins to petrol and aprons to aircraft were explained to me, and I was given a pile of forms to become familiar with. In a few days I was well underway sorting out and processing a backlog of paperwork that had built up in the process of the early work of the small advance party. Jim Lightfoot was working with me and Ken Hipkin went to the Stores Section.

On 10 March 1941 with the work of the advance parties completed and our first trainee pilots (No 8 Course) in residence, No. 4 SFTS was declared “open for business”. Our new Commanding Officer, Wing Commander PG (“Paddy”) Heffernan had been in charge of No. 1 Squadron at Singapore in 1939 and No. 8 Squadron during 1931/41. He commanded RAAF Station Singapore in 1940. The two squadrons were at Kota Bharu / Singapore when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941. Paddy Heffernan was well-liked by his men and he became one of the best-known senior officers in the RAAF. When Paddy retired from the RAAF it was with the rank of Air Commodore. He was still going when I last heard of him in 1987. My elder brother, Cec, did tell me that when he was with the RAAF at Singapore and Kota Bharu W/C Heffernan was his C/O. Before Cec embarked for Singapore he and Mavis Hoad, of the Pingelly family, were married on 16/11/1940. Then in army uniform, I was best man.

Paddy Heffernan, undated. Source: radschool.com.au

The Chief Flying Instructor at 4SFTS was Squadron Leader Cooper (Cowper?), one of the old school, a Brit who had served in the RAF. The Chief Administrative Officer was F/Lt James Darling. The Adjutant was F/Lt Melville, and the Senior Medical Officer was S/Ldr Creightmore. The Equipment Officer F/Lt “Dippy” Dale. RAAF stores were strictly accounted for in most cases, except for “C” Class items all of which were regarded as consumables as they were everyday things in general use. Every category of items had its own identification. Aircraft were under “A” Group, motor transport were in “B” group, clothing in “L” Group, etc. Some “A” Group numbers for aircraft were A20 Wirraway, A1 Demon, A4 Avro Anson, A9 Beaufort, A16 Lockheed Hudson, A17 Tiger Moth, A24 Catalina, A26 Sunderland, A27 Vultee Vengeance, A28 Boston Bomber, A29 Kittyhawk, A30 Douglas DC3, A46 Boomerang, A58 Spitfire, and A70 Mariner. Aircraft I flew in during my time were Beaufort, Hudson, Catalina, DC3, Sunderland, and Mariner.

Avro Anson and Student Pilot, 4 SFTS, March 1942. Source: Wiki

My leisure time was spent at the recreation hut or talking and playing cards with my mates in Hut 14. When the weekend came we would catch the local bus to town on the Saturday morning and stay overnight if we could get a bed. Often someone helped out. The town authorities had a community proposal for a servicemen’s hostel before it at the time. The local people wanted to do as much as possible for us in this way. They had made all service personnel welcome and many people invited them into their homes. We were soon striking up friendships with local girls and I had the pleasure of meeting a girl named Marge Lindon. Soon I was invited home to tea at the Lindon house at 52 Sanford Street where I met the whole family. We were simply good friends who enjoyed each other’s company when I went to their home or we went out in the day or evening. The family were well-known and with Marge, I often met some of her friends. She was a very nice person and the many weeks I was seeing her and visiting her family home are well remembered by me. When I visited Geraldton in 1986 I heard that Mrs Lindon had died only a year or two before.

It must be said that we did not go on leave every night. We could go in on Mac’s bus service if we could not get a ride in an Air Force vehicle or a private car. Dave McVea had a taxi or two as well as the bus service. Our problem was that the last bus each night went back to base soon after the pictures came out, and also before the dances and other social functions ended. It was 6 miles (10km) by taxi (and you had to pay both ways) if you waited in hope that one of the few would turn up. Later in the year I got around that problem by going down to the railway station and waiting till the 1 or 2am goods train pulled out. I would ride in the guard’s van and get off at Utakarra which was about halfway to the base, and then walk the last three miles. It was a long way to walk by yourself and I only remember once when two of us took on “the long march” the same night. As you neared the station you could always raise a smile for you knew that probably a “rookie” guard would be getting fidgety as he heard the sound of your footsteps along the road. “Halt, who goes there?”

Geraldton Guardian and Express, Thursday 1 May 1941, page 2 – Mac’s Bus. Source: Trove

 

Life on the job was working and learning, eating and sleeping, and enjoying any leisure time as best you could. The recreation hut was an outlet for filling in spare time. There were the kind welfare officers from the Salvation Army and the YMCA to help us. They gave us writing paper and books and were always ready to have a friendly chat. I think we had movies twice a week. Back in the hut there was always a game of cards, usually poker or “pakapu” for small stakes that got bigger every hand. The card group had a bit of a shock when we found that a stray fellow who had been allocated to our hut owed his success to a marked pack of cards that he introduced into the games now and then, and who knows when?. He was suitably “spoken to” and finished up in a hut which was more suitable to him.

Yarning up and down the hut was always “on” if you liked a bit of “ear-bashing”. Occasionally someone would get a controversy going and then gradually everyone would be drawn in. Woe betide you if you were too wrapped up in a topic. Two or three would get their heads together and start arguing your pet subject from both sides of it. An outrageous comment from one of the conspirators and you could be drawn in to defend your viewpoint against all comers.

Once you bit they had you in the trap. Comments would come from all over the hut as many others joined in and this would go on till everybody had their say, most opposing the views of the innocent “victim”. Then it would stop as suddenly as it started. A good laugh and no harm done. The beleaguered “victim” would wake up that he had been conned but usually took it in good part even though he might say “You’re a lot b….s”, before he calmed down.

Our visits to town often mean a trip to the Radio Theatre to see the movies. One picture we did see there was The Hardys Ride High with Mickey Rooney. “The Judge wanted security – Andy wanted the high life – Marion wanted beautiful clothes – but all Mrs Hardy wanted was a new frying pan”. As I type this on 3 July 1988, the film is repeated on Channel 10. No spare time for it now. Other shows we saw were Rebecca with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, and The Mortal Storm with my favourite actress, Margaret Sullavan, and James Stewart. Nazi Goebells banned all MGM films after this.

Our RAAF Station Geraldton was designated as No. 4 Service Flying Training School. It was officially opened on 15 April 1941 at a public ceremony attended by the Air Officer Commanding Western Area, Air Commodore H de la Rue. The Minister for the North-West, Mr Coverley, was the principal civilian guest. The Mayor, Mr Carson, was also there. A ceremonial parade was held to mark the occasion and I think that the aircrew trainees of No. 8 Course marched with the three squadrons, inspected by the AOC. We heard during the speeches that Southern Cross had been the first place proposed for 4 SFTS. Geraldton was a much better choice.

Western Mail, Perth, Thursday 1 May 1941, page 24 – Where Wings Are Won. Source: Trove

Sunday Times, Sunday 20 April 1941, page 4 – Air Station’s Construction. Source: Trove

 

Pilot training in WA started at No. 5 Initial Training School at Pearce in November 1940. It was at ITS that the trainees learnt the theory of flying. Three months later some, but not all, were posted to No. 9 Elementary Flying Training School at Cunderdin to put the theory of flying into practice at the controls of the A17 Tiger Moths. Others were sent to No. 2 Air Observers School, Mount Gambier, and many to No. 1 Wireless/Airgunner School at Ballarat. Once the trainee pilots completed their flying school tests and flew solo they were assessed and then posted to advanced schools. Most of them came to 4 SFTS for 3 to 4 months of advanced training on our A4 twin-engined Avro Anson bombers. We may also have had Douglas DC3s for “flying classrooms”. Courses 9, 10, 11, reported in at short intervals after No. 8 Course completed the first part of their program. The courses overlapped and by the end of the year the four groups would have completed their 4 SFTS training.

Most of the pilots on No. 8 course were West Australians but a few were recruited from South Australia to fill No. 8 course. Aircrew trainees wore a white felt peak in their blue forage caps unlike the ground staff chaps. When their arrival in Geraldton, and into local social life, was imminent, some ground staff decided to take countermeasures. The word was spread that the white peaked caps denoted that the wearers were kitchen staff working as mess hands. It was all in fun but the flyers soon put that story to rest with tales of their own. 

Frank Ball (postwar head of Trans-Australian Airlines) arrived on No. 8 course as I recall. He worked as a clerk in the Public Works Department in Kalgoorlie in my time in the PO and I saw him day by day. An old schoolmate from PBS in Vern Keyser and his friend Clifford Burgess were on that first course to train at No. 4 SFTS. George Fogarty (East Perth footballer) was on this first course for WA. He finished up flying Wellington bombers in the Middle East. I met Jack Gibbings (ABC 6GF Kalgoorlie) when he came up with 9 or 10 course. He returned to 4 SFTS as a Squadron Leader sometime in 1943, as a flying instructor. Arthur Dunstan, from the Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie hotels family, also trained at Geraldton in 1941/42. He was later with No. 10 Squadron in Britain piloting Sunderland flying boats on coastal patrol and convoy escort. Arthur was still going strong when I last talked with him in 1987. The complete course, from 5 ITS to 9 EFTS and then 4SFTS took eight months and gave them 120 flying hours in their logbooks. For most of the new pilots it was then an overseas trip after embarkation leave. Many would never see Australia again.

News filtered through from time to time about the exploits of some of these pilots and their crews, but in many cases the first news we had was their name on the casualty lists. I remember Vern Keyser and Cliff Burgess, then Flight Lieutenants with No. 460 Squadron, and their crews, being posted missing in action on 28 July 1944. Even as you write you remember the casualties going and you are moved to ponder what their lives might have been if their number had not come up in the war years. You still tend to be a bit numbed that there were so many that you wished goodbye personally or mentally, and never saw them again.

Daily News, Perth, Thursday 18 June 1942, page 4 – These WA Fliers Make news on Three Fronts. Source: Trove

We could take leave to Perth occasionally and we would go down by train paying our own fares. We would wear our blue uniforms and heavy greatcoats when our city visit was in the winter. In the summer we travelled in our drabs taking along shorts as well. I remember making a leave trip with Frank Marshall, Jim Braidwood, Jimmie Lightfoot, and Ron James from Norseman who later married Effie Badock from the Post Office there. I usually stopped at the Grand Central Hostel in Wellington Street for they looked after me very well. I visited Frank’s house on one leave. After the War was over Frank had a supermarket on top of that big hill in Canning Highway just south of Stock Road.

Grand Central Hostel, undated. Source: Facebook

 

Our huts were inspected regularly by the Orderly Officer who had the job of seeing that the hut was clean and tidy with blankets neatly folded on the top of the bed. Locker doors had to be open. The station was built on flat, open land and when the winds blew a little harder, red dust settled on everything. We would come in after work to the job of getting rid of the dust without messing up the hut. Once we did this we could make up our beds ready for “spine-bashing” later. The cyclone wire beds were supported on 2 feet high metal legs, really piping shaped like a square C which was fitted to the wire bed base so that the ends folded up for easy carrying and storage. A careless moving of the bed when lifting it to sweep the dust up could leave a leg in position headed for a fold-down, or downfall if you like.

I remember coming back to the hut early one night to sit at the aisle end of my bed and when I sat down I kept going and crashed to the floor. Up I got with a few words like “Who did that?”. My near neighbour said, “It was Stan Tills”. My friend Stan looked at me and could stop laughing so the rest of the hut joined in. “It was Tillsy”, “Fancy doing that to a mate”, “Fix his bed, Doug”, “Don’t stand for that, Cashy”. In a quick reflex action I tapped over Stan’s bed despite his protests that he had nothing to do with fixing mine. Then we were into it, not in anger but more to liven things up a bit and relieve boredom that could build up.

Wrestling over beds and up and down the hut, and egged on by the spectators we put on a show worthy of any stadium. We were both in good nick and solid. I weighed about 10 stone 71bs (66kg) and Stan around the same although a little taller. We used all the holds we knew to send each other flying across beds and down to the floor. Crash! Bang! Crash! We were evenly matched, calling it a draw after ten minutes or so. No big bruises, no blood lost, and nobody’s pride hurt. It was really harmless fun and when I have met Stan in recent times we have had a good laugh about it. Silly as it may sound, we put on that same show again when we had a few newcomers allocated to Hut 14. It must be said that Stan had nothing to do with “setting up” my bed, for it was my friend, Frank Marshall, who was the villain that promoted the event.

Our CO Paddy Heffernan always had the welfare of the men under him as a top priority. In Geraldton he was involved in the local groups which aimed to make our stay in the town as comfortable as possible. There was no budget-price overnight accommodation for us and we had to stay on the station if we could not make private arrangements with local families. The local people looked after us as well as they could having regard to all circumstances and their efforts endeared them and their town to all the servicemen. In the meeting discussions on the matter Paddy made the point that at any one time on weekends there could be as many as 700 men on leave from the station, as “skeleton” forces were rostered to guard and service the base on these days.

Our “welfare” on the station often came under the eye of the Warrant Officer Disciplinary (WOD) who knew what was going on around him. He also came under our eye and a good story about him that did the rounds of the station is worth telling here. The WOD at No. 4 SFTS was Warrant Officer “Ajax” Williams who filled his role ably. He played the part right out for he knew the rules and the standing orders well and was ready to see they were not broken. Ajax was standing on the HQ side of the big parade ground when he saw an airman start to walk across it. That was bad enough in itself but the WOD’s hawkeye vision saw that the man was smoking. In a scene typical of that BBC comedy, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, W/O Williams let out a bellow that had to be obeyed, “You! Yes! You, walking on the parade ground and smoking. Over here on the double, come on man, I said on the double”. Ajax gave the fellow a lecture and then told him to report to the parade ground at 1700 hours with a full pack on his back to run a few laps at the double for his “crime”.

In any service there are men who break the rules for some reason or another. Some get bored, others are simply perverse and like to have a tilt at authority now and then, and others go absent without leave when the mood takes them. All end up on charges laid by WODs with most penalties confining them to the station for a few weeks more than they would like. Serious offences earned the penalties they deserved. A Kalgoorlie friend of mine, Bert C, did the vanishing trick one day and was posted absent without leave. He was not located for quite a while. Bert had been disappointed at not being sent overseas and quickly became bored with his stay at Geraldton, and he joined the AIF. He was sent overseas and when he came back to Perth sometime later he was seen on the city railway station by someone who “put him in” to the service police. He had been AWOL from the RAAF all that time. The whole story as it is remembered was that Bert was treated fairly well once all the circumstances of his escapade had been looked at. Absent from the Air Force but really not from the armed services.

The chaps in Hut 14 seemed to ward off boredom in various ways by keeping themselves busy on and off the station. We had a fellow with us named Max Busch who spent his spare time cutting hair. We all had to get clipped now and then, particularly as the rule for the services was “short back and sides”. Max was a good bloke and he would just set up a chair outside the hut or at some other dry location and snip-snip his way around your head for 2 bob (20c). A quick bit of arithmetic will show that it was a nice sideline.

I had a Brownie box camera with me for taking a few photos but it was never used as much as it should have been. Now amateurs snap anything in sight but we had to think about paying for the films. Among my photos I have one of Eric Hams (from Katanning) and me with tin hats and rifles (bayonets fixed) in mock combat with me about to run through. Just fooling for the photo. Another snap shows some of the lodgers of Hut 14. Harry Maitland, Pat Darcy, Frank Marshall, Croy Wilcox the tailor (much later he had his shop opposite the Rosemount Hotel in Fitzgerald Street, North Perth), Wilf Chapman, Bill Heaton, Jim Lightfoot, Keith Mann, Max Busch, and Wal French. Dick Wallace who was with the RAAF mobile recruit unit that came to Kalgoorlie in May 1940 was also in the picture. Other photos show Stan Tills, Doug Colvin, “Tudor” Lee and Jack Petersen. We had a lot of fun in that hut. The way our chaps co-operated in keeping Hut 14 a happy hut gave us all enjoyable leisure time.

I do recall one night when there was a severe electrical storm, that Jack Petersen and I were standing at the hut door looking across an open field, as we watched the display, when a lightning bolt struck the ground not that far from the hut. The crack and the flash over and done, I found myself standing in the center of the hut stunned, without knowing how I got there. Jack said he had never seen anyone move so quickly. For me it was as though time had stood still for those few seconds. What with lightning strikes and the strong earth tremors that gave us the shakes at the end of April, one never knows.

Air Force News, Saturday 15 November 1941, page 11 – Kodak Brownie. Source: Trove

The good news for us was the opening of the hostel for service personnel. It was named United Services House and was officially declared open by Mayor R Carson with our Commanding Officer W/C Paddy Heffernan speaking on behalf of the airmen at 4SFTS. The hostel was a two-storey building in the shopping and commercial area and it was on the corner of Marine Terrace and Gregory Street. There would have been some 50 or so comfortable beds with sheets and blankets. There were wardrobes and floor coverings, along with showers and the other necessary facilities. The front half of the hostel was used for a reading and games room which stayed open till 10.30pm. We could get coffee and toast up till closing time. For a small charge, bed and breakfast was available on the weekends when I was a regular customer.

West Australian, Wednesday 25 June 1941, page 5 – United Service House. Source: Trove

 

The situation for married airmen being joined by their wives and families was also giving concern to the Air Force and the local authorities. Geraldton had not been prepared for the arrival of service wives, many of them with families. Some were helped out by local relatives but the rest had to search around. Houses were seldom available and the married couples had to settle for a room or whatever was available. The RAAF had advised that wives should stay down South till things improved but they kept coming. Health problems from overcrowding worried the Council and plans for flat building were speeded up once Canberra issued release permits for building materials. While I was there everybody found somewhere to live and nobody was on the street but it was always a problem. 

Time off the station was mostly spent in town with friends and on visits to the pictures. Films we were seeing about that time were Virginia City with Errol Flynn and Forty Thousand Horsemen with that Aussie hero, Chips Rafferty. Other local programmes included cowboy hero William Boyd in the role of “Hopalong Cassidy” as he outgunned the crooks in black hats and saved the goodie ranchers or settlers in pictures like Range War, and Mickey Rooney playing the lead in Young Tom Edison. The film Honeymoon In Bali, with Fred MacMurray and Madeleine Carroll, got our attention for it did show us the thrills of living in a tropical paradise. We were to have such thoughts knocked out of our heads when we touched down later on at some obscure airstrip in New Guinea in the “wet” when the rain was coming down in buckets and the downpours continued day after day for weeks.

Everybody had good news early in July when the Federal Government granted servicemen free travel to go home once a month. Just what we needed on 6 shillings (60c) a day. Before that we paid our own. It did not mean that we all went every month for there were duty rosters and short leave periods which kept us in Geraldton. Many friendships had been made in the town and many of us would stay back in local territory if we only had two or three days off.

West Australian, Wednesday 2 July 1941, page 4 – Free Travel. Source: Trove

There had been a few changes in our accounting and stores staff late in June what with more airmen coming off recruit courses. I was moved to the Stores Section down near the aircraft hangars and the tarmacs. Here we often checked over the Ansons with their individual aircraft equipment schedules, and also motor vehicles.

The stores huts were close to the workshop huts and it was only three days after I moved over that an explosion in nearby Hut 187 injured three airmen who received severe burns. LAC Eric Beltz, a welder, died from his burns the next day. The first story was that sparks from welding equipment ignited a tin of thinners but the facts were somewhat different. Another welder, Frank Myers, who later served with me in 14 Squadron, was working with Beltz when he asked him to get the forge going, so Eric went off to get some fuel. Frank meanwhile started to wind up the blower.

Mercury, Hobart, Tuesday 15 July 1941, page 2 – Death From Burns. Source: Trove

Beltz returned with a large tin in his hand and proceeded to pour some of the contents over the forge and then moved back with the tin still held in his hands. As he did, an explosion occurred. Beltz put the fiery tin on the floor and tried to put out the flames. Men went everywhere, some through doors and some out windows. Frank Myers went for a window but collapsed halfway through and woke up in hospital getting treatment for his burns. The third chap, Smith, got out but had to be rolled over a few times to put out his flaming clothes, and then he was off to the hospital. Eric must have thought the tin contained oil and certainly not an inflammable liquid like thinners. The forge normally would have been started with kindling wood or shavings, and it was real bad luck that things turned out the way they did.

Eric was a smaller man about my size but six years older than me. A quiet chap he mixed well with the other people in his section. He had only been married about 12 months and July could have been their wedding anniversary month; the couple had been living right in the town. The funeral was well attended by local residents and there were official RAAF representatives and other officers and airmen also present.

No 8 Course had now gone and No. 9 Course was not far from going.

Back in Geraldton I was having my own excitement. The local bus transported me to and from the base many times without mishap but it did not last. I remember one trip back on which we came off second-best when we collided with an oncoming flat-tray truck. It was about one mile along Eastern Road on the town side of the local radio station’s transmitter. It was in the early hours of the morning of Sunday 3 August 1941. As I recall it the two drivers were keeping to the centre of the narrow road waiting for the other fellow to pull over. Crash! The tray of the truck tore the driver’s side of the bus out. I was sitting two seats back. I got punched in the side and hit my head on the window frame. The fellow in the front seat finished up with cuts and bruises and possibly a broken right arm (he was Alan Hawkesford who I met in the 1950s when he was flying for Trans Australian Airways and I was on my way to Canberra). We were carted back to the RAAF hospital in the 4 SFTS ambulance where we spent two or three days taking it easy and then it was back to work. The other airmen were taken back to base by RAAF truck. Nobody else was hurt.

The good news around the station was that our CO W/Cdr Paddy Heffernan had been promoted to Group Captain, and at the other end of the scale some of us from the Squad 69 recruit course back in January had been raised to the rank of Leading Aircraftsman, LAC for short. No big deal but with it came a set of small metal propellers to wear on the sleeves of all our uniforms. Out came our sewing kits, and then it was a case of let sewing commence.

Geraldton Guardian and Express, Tuesday 5 August 1941, page 2 – Collision on Eastern Road. Source: Trove

We took the reports of the War as they came to us by radio and in the newspapers. It is easy to assume that young servicemen were busy working and having a good time off base without keeping up with what was going on around them, but this was not the case for many. We kept up with the War news and I was prone to cut from the papers those items that took my interest at the time and paste them in two foolscap books that I had. I knew many of the men (or lads) who were being mentioned when they took part in some of the action overseas. Some of them were decorated as a tribute to their skill and courage. We monitored the progress of the war in Europe and the Middle East which was well reported in the West Australian.

Most of us knew that a Royal Air Force fighter pilot named Douglas Bader was fighting the good fight over Britain and across the Channel so we were concerned when he was reported missing after a flight over France. The legless pilot was later reported to have survived after bailing out over France when his plane was hit during an attack on German ME109s. On reaching the ground he was taken prisoner by German troops. The German Luftwaffe had re­tained some of the traditions of World War I and permitted a moment of truce by letting an RAF plane drop a spare tin leg for the famous POW. Once he got that, Bader just waited his chance to use his return to some mobility to make thwarted tries to escape.

Daily News, Perth, WA, Monday 29 September 1941, page 1 – Legless Wonder Escapes. Source: Trove

Back at RAAF Station Geraldton the only men missing were those on leave or AWOL so we were able to muster a good crowd to join the locals in supporting the Air Force Revels on stage at the local town hall late in August. The show was presented by F/Lt Longden, our Welfare and Entertainment Officer, ably assisted by Harry Bluck who later became a leading music world figure in Perth. The artists and players were from the RAAF and the local community, and they played to a packed house. 

The station orchestra opened the show with “Wings Over The Navy”. One of the catering staff, Vern Birch, handled the drums and the cymbals. F/Lt Longden played the piano. My hut mate Wally French had a part in “The Quartermaster’s Store”, along with Jack Penn, Lloyd Thomas, Frank Swain, Jack Bambridge, and John Kessey. This musical item used words and music to let the audience know more about what you could or might find in an Army QM store. 

Two other friends from Hut 14, Frank Marshall and Jim Horrocks, did a comedy act which was something to do with an elderly couple and their day-to-day life at home. Everybody was in fits as they joked back and forth with Frank dressed as the man and Jim as the woman. My two mates joked like that all the time. Another skit, “Boys of Tobruk”, was about the lives of Australian diggers in North Africa. One of the four players in that was Arch Struthers who I knew in Norseman in 1938/39. The musical finale with F/Lt Longden at the piano ended a night that had been enjoyed by all.

Geraldton Guardian and Express, Saturday 23 August 1941, page 1 – Air Force Revels. Source: Trove

The welfare officer worked hard to see that the base personnel had variety in entertainment and his efforts brought us boxing and wrestling from time to time. The station gymnasium was the place for the bouts and I went along a couple of times with the boys to barrack for the Air Force boxers. Compton and Truslove were two of our chaps that did their best at one of these nights but the town boys were a bit stronger. The referee for the fights was usually F/Sgt Manson from the medical section. We all knew him for he used to supervise the “short arm” inspections which took place regularly. There is no need for me to explain that term here as any airman will remember it well.

The (1941) football season was over and the October weather better for spare time activities so we were able to enjoy some pleasant weekends. One way was to spend a couple of hours was fishing from a small dinghy in the harbour and in safe waters. We caught small fry but one day a chap hooked and shot a 12-foot tiger shark in the same harbour big enough to tow our boat out to sea and much too big for us to tackle then or any other time. In later years I would tackle fish bigger than the local table fish but 6-foot was the biggest ever. None of that 12-foot tiger business.

Walks to local scenic spots with a friend was a pleasant way to spend time. There were many places to walk to where the sea was always in sight. Geraldton has much to offer the sightseer and we made the best of it when we had the chance. A walk along the shore with a group of friends was ideal. In the evening more of the same after tea, but not too late. New places, new friends.

Walks to local scenic spots with a friend was a pleasant way to spend time. There were many places to walk to where the sea was always in sight. Geraldton has much to offer the sightseer and we made the best of it when we had the chance. A walk along the shore with a group of friends was ideal. In the evening more of the same after tea, but not too late. New places, new friends.

Geraldton Boat Harbour, 1957. Source: SLWA

Air Force dances were held in the recreation hall on the station and I went along occasionally. No Fred Astaire, I needed plenty of help from the girls who came out from Geraldton to help make the dances a success. I met a girl there who worked at the hospital in town and we kept company for a short while, and went to a film or two. One of the films we saw in those days had as its top stars, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, appearing together for the first time, and also with them Dorothy Lamour, in Road to Singapore (the repeat of that movie is now, in 1988, being shown on Channel Two). It could have been an inviting title earlier in 1941 but after 7 December many people would be hoping to find some way out of that city. That was not to be easy, if at all, for many. 

Geraldton Guardian and Express, Saturday 6 September 1941, page 2 – Air Force Dance. Source: Trove

Later we learnt that the Sydney had been sunk on 19 November by a disguised German raider, the Kormoran, masquerading as a Dutch freighter. In World War I similar German ships were known as Q ships. They did a lot of damage to British shipping. There has been controversy over the loss of the Sydney because many people have asked, “How did we fall for that old trick?” Surviving men of the Kormoran crew have told how it all happened but we know nothing from the decks of the Sydney as every man on board was lost when she sank. 645 officers and men asleep in the deep.

HMAS Sydney, 1940. Source: Wiki

Many books have been written on the sinking of the Sydney but one thing appears clear from the German reports and that is that the two ships were steaming parallel, a fatal error by our side. When still under the Sydney’s interrogation by flag signal questions the Kormoran uncovered its guns when they could not answer the request for the secret code identification, and gave the Sydney everything it had. Both ships eventually sank many miles apart.

I knew some of the fellows on the Sydney and the two names that I can recall are an A.B. named Barker and a stoker, Gordon Dix from the Dix Print Family. We played football together. The Sydney’s regular commanding officer, Captain J A Collins, who had handled the cruiser so well in the Mediterranean Sea battles was on home leave at the time. Would he have been tricked by the German ruse?

Dix & Little, Hay Street, Perth, ca 1920s. Source: SLWA

Sometime in November I was introduced to one of the nicest girls I had ever met. It happened when one of the married chaps at the base, Frank Marshall, asked me to go with him into town to visit some friends who had invited him to tea. He did mention that there were daughters in the family. I think he thought I might be lonely as I was not taking anybody out at the time. It was more that up to this time I was not going steady with any girl. That was to change in the near future. Anyway, off we went and soon we were walking down Eleanor Street (now Durlacher Street) towards the local railway station.

We came to Eaton’s Tearooms situated right opposite the station and went in. There I met Mr Eaton. I always called him Mr Eaton, but his name was Ernie. The shop sold homemade meat pies, apple pies, cakes, and nice sandwiches. Also sweets and ice creams, and cool drinks. They would have sold thousands of sandwiches to the hungry servicemen over the war years, particularly being at the station. My past family shop life in Perth in the 30s at our tearooms in Barrack Street had me on home ground at the Eaton’s.

Geraldton Guardian and Express, Saturday 13 December 1941, page 5 – Air Raid Precautions. Source: Trove

We went through the shop into the house which may have been at No. 55/57 to meet Mrs Eaton and the family. The son, also Ernie, may have been away in the AIF, but the two daughters, Joy and Gladys, were there. I was immediately attracted to Gladys, a lovely girl with dark hair and nice eyes. She had a happy personality and we were friends almost immediately. We saw a lot of each other after that, and usually went out everywhere together when I was able to get to town.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 was the big news for us all to talk about when we heard the radio reports. Nationally all leave for troops was cancelled but I am not sure how we were affected at 4 SFTS, some limits probably came into operation. Lighting restrictions came into force at the base and in town. No direct lighting to show and all windows to be covered up. No late shopping after 6pm except for chemists and food shops. Wardens patrolled the town to check that all was dark and on base the service police checked the effectiveness of the blackout. “Shut that bloody door”.

Sunday Times, Sunday 14 December 1941, page 3 – Japanese Attack. Source: Trove

War or no war, Japanese or no Japanese, Christmas arrived on time late in December. Our Xmas letters had been sent to relatives and greetings telegrams to friends. Xmas cards as we know them today were nowhere near as widely used in the 30s and 40s. Telegram forms were fancily designed for every special occasion and they were sent in thousands, particularly at Xmas. There were periods during the war when the Post Office restricted the use of special telegram messages to service personnel only. There were happy times in town when presents were exchanged and we enjoyed a Xmas lunch or a snack here and there. We also had a big Xmas dinner on the base when the officers served the food in the Airmen’s Mess.

New Year’s Eve saw 1941 wrapped up by the RAAF concert party at Geraldton Town Hall when we presented a variety entertainment programme to a big audience. A friend of mine from paperboy days in the person of Reg Harle was one of the star turns. I first knew Reg as the yodelling newsboy when he would burst out with a yodel or two at any time or anywhere when he was selling his papers. He was well-known in Perth and in the RAAF, especially at Pearce. His yodelling and impersonations of film stars were good.

January 1942 saw 4 SFTS getting ready for air raids. The air-raid sirens and other alarm systems were tested often, and air raid drills were the order of the day. Trenches had to be dug while we had to maintain “business as usual”. In town air raid systems had to be checked and the public advised on air-raid defence rules. What the Japanese would do in any set circumstances was unpredictable so we had to prepare for the unexpected, and air raids were high on the list. The Japanese came over for a look twice.

Geraldton Guardian and Express, Thursday 22 January 1942, page 2 – Air Raid Sirens. Source: Trove

My elder brother Cec had already been bombed. He was with the RAAF at Kota Bharu in northeast Malaya where the Japanese first landed, but he managed to get down to Singapore in the retreat from Kota Bharu. Before the Japanese took Singapore he was allocated to one of the last small ships to leave the port, and after some weeks ducking in and out of the islands the boat finally made it to Fremantle. The boat was met by nobody. Badly clothed, hungry, tired, and not well, Cec had to borrow some money from a man in the street so that he could get to Perth to contact our sister Alice (Blanche) at her job for help. By nightfall he was in good hands, safe and sound, and enjoying his first sound sleep for many weeks. His experiences had a long-term effect on him.

My New Year’s present was promotion to the rank of Corporal which let me wear two stripes on my sleeves instead of LAC prop badges. Several of my fellow airmen received promotions with some of the 1940 recruits moving up to Sergeant. 4 SFTS had a big team in the Equipment Section, and I record as many of their names here as I can recall from 47 years ago. Family historians may see them.

My A-Z list starts with Ron Adamson. Next follows “Meggsy” Bray, then “Lofty” Baker, Bill Cain, Bert Collett, Ray Davidson, Dave Dixon, Pat Darcy, “Anzac” Davies, Ernie Fletcher, Gil Ford, Wally Hawthorne, Alec Hebiton, Ken Hipkin, Cliff Hammond, Rudyard Kelly the P/O Stores Officer, and Bert Kaempff. Others were Bill Locke, Norrie Lucas, Viv Lloyd, Cpl Lehane the bootmaker, F/Lt McFarlane the Equipment Officer, Cliff McKay, Ron Mellor, Bob Nicholls, Laurie Nugent, Dave “Trapper” Reid, Keith Ruthven, Eddie Rhodes, Harry Smoker, Arthur Schenberg, Bert Thornton, Bob Taylor, Stan Tills, Jack Verrier, Ian Winsor, Gordon Woolley, and last but not least, our tailor, Croy Willcocks. Local Reg Pass was another.

Early 1942 the WAAAFs (The Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force) started to arrive at our base and there were all sorts of adjustments to the daily routine of the men on the station. No casual strolls from showers to huts with only a towel and so on. However, no worries and soon the girls were settled into a situation where everybody was working well together in the common cause. The WAAAFs living quarters were in huts in an “out of bounds to anyone else” area. No problem there.

WAAAF Recruiting Poster. Source: Wiki

About two weeks after I came back to the base from leave we heard the news about the bombing of Darwin on 19 February 1942. Heavy damage was done to the port and to shipping, and to the town itself. Many people were killed. After that news some Geraldton people moved out to towns further inland where they had relatives. Others went to Perth and house prices went down with them. No mass evacuation was planned by the Council as that was a military matter. Many thought that it was not the right thing to leave at the time so they stayed. Soon after the raid on Darwin, the local council started building public air raid shelters which were occupied during practice and serious alerts.

Japanese air raid on Darwin, 19 Feb 1942 – explosion of the MV Neptuna. Source: Wiki

It was about this time that the USS Langley was in Fremantle to load fighter planes. Flights of P40 Kittyhawks had been flown to Guildford (Dunreath) and the job now was to get them to Fremantle and onboard the navy ship. The job had to be done by night for reasons such as security, low traffic density, and minimal effect on the local community. The roads along the way were closed and to make the whole task possible, power and telephone lines, and other hazards along the way, had to be moved, lifted, pulled to one side or whatever, by the trained personnel of the various government services. People living along the route taken woke in the middle of the night to the sounds of men and machines as the convoys moved along the highway. The whole operation was a united exercise of co-operation between the Americans and the several civilian authorities involved. By morning the aircraft were all loaded on board the ship and the local traffic was running again. Watchers on the wharf waved the ship goodbye and the sailors and the aircraft crews were on their way. Sad to say the Langley was sunk a few days later, on 27 February, with heavy loss of life.

On 1 March 1942 the Australian cruiser HMAS Perth was sunk in the Sunda Strait in action against a superior Japanese force, and again there was heavy loss of life, but there were survivors. In April 1960 there were stories that the Japanese were going to raise the ship for scrap metal recovery. There was strong public opposition to such desecration of what was seen as an Australian war cemetery. I became involved in the protests and was in the position where I could make personal approaches to the Federal Government and the Minister for the Navy, John Gorton. A decision was made that there would be no interference with the last rest­ing place of so many of the officers and men of the Navy.

Telegram – From: Doug Cash – To: John Gorton, Minister for Navy – Japanese Plans to Raise The HMAS Perth – and Various Articles – Survivors Oppose Raising of HMAS Perth – and Jap Move Embitters Survivors – and Alarm at Report of Salvage – and Ship Salvage Navy May Take Action – HMAS Perth Will Stay, unknown papers. Source: Doug Cash Collection

The seriousness of the War and the necessity for everyone to face up to their responsibilities became evident when the Government of the day commanded all Australians and other British subjects in the country to apply for an Identity Card and Civilian Registration by 25 March 1942. Service personnel were exempted as they all had service numbers. Aliens had already been ordered to register and most were now interned. Failure to register rendered people liable to heavy penalties and failure to possess an ID card in an emergency guaranteed that such negligence would cause great personal inconvenience to the person without a card. The Minister for Labour and National Service who issued that directive was the late Eddie Ward, well-known as the Federal Member for East Sydney. In no way could I have known or thought that 17 years later he and I would be jousting verbally across the House of Representatives as we hammered our “hobby horse” topics in the Parliament in Canberra.

Kalgoorlie Miner, Friday 27 February 1942, page 4 – Identity Cards. Source: Trove

Restrictions on the public included Identity Cards and rationing. Only enough petrol to drive 16 miles a week. Later, ration book tickets were issued for food and clothing. One ounce of tea per person per week, 2 pounds of sugar and 1lb of butter per fortnight. In the services the food was OK but we always had a change when we went into town. When eating at the tea rooms near to Rock’s News shop my favourite recipe had been cheese on toast, well-done.

Now much of my time in town was spent at Eaton’s and I had tea there quite often. I got on well with the family and enjoyed my visit there. Gladys and I used to walk everywhere around the town and sometimes after tea we would go down and see what was going on in the wharf area. In those days it was great to see the ships taking on cargoes and getting set to steam off to distant ports around Australia and elsewhere.

Western Mail, Perth, Thursday 18 June 1942, page 25 – How to Use Your Ration Book. Source: Trove

Now much of my time in town was spent at Eaton’s and I had tea there quite often. I got on well with the family and enjoyed my visit there. Gladys and I used to walk everywhere around the town and sometimes after tea we would go down and see what was going on in the wharf area. In those days it was great to see the ships taking on cargoes and getting set to steam off to distant ports around Australia and elsewhere.

Cold nights or too much sea air must have got me, for I managed to get a sore throat. I went on sick parade and the doctor put me in hospital for a few days. Later he looked down my throat and frowned. He decided to take out my tonsils. Other patients could only say, “You’ll be sorry”. I was now the one frowning a bit. I was saved by the bell for a signal arrived posting me, as of 26 March, to No. 14 Bomber squadron. The medical section immediately discharged me from hospital. I was happy that I was not to be practised on. No medicine man ever again wanted to snip off my tonsils, and I still have them safe and sound.

That was the good news. The unhappy part of it all for Gladys and myself was that our strong friendship was about to be upset. Sudden separations in wartime were everyday events but they still struck home hard when you were close friends with someone. Gladys and I had been going along quite nicely and I had been enjoying every visit that I was making to the Eaton’s when I came to town. I was glad to see them and they were glad to see me. We had our goodbyes at the Eaton home and then some more personal ones on the short walk across the road to the train. The whistle went, all aboard, a last fond farewell, a wave, and I was gone but not forgotten. Gladys was a good letter-writer and the post office was kept busy. She came down on the train a couple of times. I seem to remember that the family had some relatives in Perth.

 

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