A few days after my return from army training I was called up for the RAAF and instructed to present myself at No. 4 Recruit Centre in Perth on 13 January 1941 for processing into the Air Force. At my earlier medical examination I had not met the vision standards for aircrew so I knew that I would be anchored on the ground and be enlisted in a category relating to my ability. Well I was happy with that and realised that some flew and the rest had the job of helping to keep aircrew and aircraft up in the sky.
On Friday 11 January 1941 I caught the 6pm express to Perth and a few friends came down to see me off. The mail contractor Jack Ley and the PO chaps who came down with him to the station helped me on my way. I had been given a travel warrant by the Air Force but may have had to pay for my own sleeping berth. I ate a hearty meal in the dining car and later settled down for a sleepless night while I thought about the Air Force and what might lay ahead.
I may have dreamt that they might check my height again for at my medical examination I had to make the 5 feet 5 inch (166cm) height bar. It had been a bit like qualifying for the Olympic high jump in reverse for the bar would have had to be lowered somewhat. The problem was that I had to be raised up. The assistant taking the measurement quietly advised me to raise up on my toes a little and all was well. A patchy sleep pushed such thoughts out of my mind and I woke to the knock of the conductor bringing a cup of tea. Further down the line past Northam we stopped at Spencer’s Brook for refreshments where sleepy, partly-clothed or pyjama-clad passengers go out to get something to eat. I remember talking to one of my fellow passengers on the platform and as people passed by eating hot pies he said to me, “That’s what I like to see. Hot pies eaten on a nice cold morning. It’s good for our business”. It turned out in later conversation that he was a sales representative, or in those clays a commercial traveller, for one of Australia’s big manufacturers of Anti-Acid powder and tablets.
I reported into No. 4 Recruit Centre at Yorkshire House at No. 194 St George’s Terrace, where I had done my medical, and was duly processed into the Royal Australian Air Force as an Aircraftsman Clerk Stores at 6/- (60c) a day. My particulars were rechecked against my original information and I confirmed that my full name was Earl Douglas Cash born 15/7/1919, my religion was C of E and my nationality was British (we all were then: God Save the King). Yes, my next-of-kin were my Mum and Dad, Sarah and Walter Cash of 7 Herdsman’s Parade, Leederville (later to be Wembley).
Once these formalities had been dispensed with I think the system was for the newcomers to be given time off for lunch and told to be back at one o’clock to board the Air Force trucks taking us to No. 4 Recruit Depot at RAAF Station Pearce. It was at Bullsbrook about 27 miles (44km) from the City. There were thirty of us in my batch of recruits and we travelled up to the base by truck. We knew that we would all be together for our service numbers ran in sequence, probably on an A-Z names basis. My number was 29559. We arrived at the Pearce base around 3pm and marched to our hut where we would live for 6 weeks while doing the recruit training course. We were still in civies and carrying our small cases.
We were handed over to our Drill Instructor Corporal Sid Russell who was to be our “master” for the term of the course. He checked us into the hut against his A-Z list and we either picked out our places or just stood by the beds as we came to them. I was about number 5 or 6 on the right hand or west side as we came in. What the recruits learnt that day was the A-Z system which applied to most everything in the service. If your name was “Aardvark” you were first in the line on payday, first in the line for needles and vaccinations, and first in anything when they checked a list. But if your name was “Zenith” you would be unlucky and find yourself at the lowest point of the pay parade or whatever, and even the “needles” for inoculations and six-monthly boosters would be blunt when your turn for “dart practice” came.
Once we had occupied our bed places in the hut Corporal Russell sat us down while he explained who he was and his place in the scheme of things while we were on course. He then talked about the ground rules for our training and our conduct on the station. Our bed bases were made up of three pieces of board that fitted into two end supports a few inches high. It meant that we would sleep close to the floor once we had drawn our straw mattresses.
The talking over we marched down to get our palliasses containing a heap of straw that, if not ready, would soon be crushed into dust as we tossed and turned in the nights that lay ahead. We got our blankets and pillow at the same time and went back to the hut and after laying the mattress we placed the folded blankets and the pillow neatly at the head of the bed against the wall. That was to be a daily task before we headed for the parade ground.
It was now time to get issued with our uniforms and go off to the clothing store (or “L” Group) for our issues. Boots, shoes, socks and underwear, shirts and ties, drab summer uniform, blue winter uniform, blue pullover, braces (a novelty now), shorts, overalls and a blue beret to go with them, a forage cap, a hat, a shaving set, housewife sewing kit, towels, badges, an overcoat and a rain cape. Sizes were not a big problem, as the RAAF had provided for all types with 36 sizes in uniforms. Mine fitted well. It took up to an hour to get fitted out and then with our kitbag and arms full we staggered back to the hut to look at our gear and talk about it, for most of us had never had so many clothes at any one time in our lives. We were straight out of our civvies into our new gear and then off to the airmen’s mess for tea.
Day 2 saw us up early and down at the ablution huts for a shower and a shave, and then it was off to breakfast. I remember that first breakfast well. It was better than the Army for there was a variety of cereals to start off with, and a choice of three main courses plus plenty of toast and butter and jams. It was a great way to start our first day on the parade ground as Squad 69.
One of my first surprises on enlistment day had been meeting with Doug Kevan. He was the brother of Dot Kevan from Norseman who, as earlier pages tell, was a close friend of mine with whom I shared regular correspondence. Another recruit was Bill Cairns-Hill who was at Perth Boys School with me. The others were all strangers but not for long as a few days marching in new boots up and down the parade ground in the hottest month of the year broke down any barriers. Everybody had the same complaints about hot days and sore feet, and many had sunburn problems. Doug Kevan got hit bad in the back of his legs and I think Wilf Chapman was another who suffered. My three months in the Army had tanned me up a bit so I had no worries. However, marching in new boots on hot days did nothing for our feet and we had to ease the problems, aches and blisters for most, by putting our feet, boots and all, under taps and filling them with water. It had worked for me in the army.
The sore feet were soon joined by sore arms as Squad 69 marched up to the main medical section for vaccinations and inoculations against this and that. No repeats for me or anybody fresh from military camp and that pleased me. On that day we did a little more parade ground drill before knocking off and getting ready for tea. Now that we were in leisure time we could go to the canteen and to the recreation rooms where the welfare groups provided entertainment and reading facilities, and writing materials. The base had a hall for picture shows and concerts where the latest movies were shown. I remember a war bond rally being held there.
We had a lights out time of 10pm with some latitude on picture nights. Without a curfew an odd bod or two would have had lights on all night, but luckily Cpl Russell had his room inside the otherwise open hut and he monitored things pretty well. Mind you, if he had not been there we would have solved any such problems. Sore arms and moans and groans were much in evidence that night as the injections took their effect, more on some than on others.
The next day our Squad was rostered for an “emu parade” in place of drill and gymnastics as we had a few arms giving trouble. The emu parade is actually a rubbish clean-up exercise. We had to pick up all the papers and other junk laying around the huts and other residential buildings. I added to the problem when I lost my handkerchief sometime after using it to wipe my brow. Tied up in the corner it had my “bank” consisting of a one-pound note and a one-shilling piece ($2.10). It was never reported as found, so I suppose one of the “emus” picked it up and kept it. “Some emu”.
The course was a teaching unit in which we were instructed in the workings of the RAAF and its place in relation to the other services and the overall defence plans. Aircraft recognition was taught to us through the use of photos and models of many types. We needed to know about hygiene, particularly in operational areas, and we were given information on tropical diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. The protection against smallpox came home to our squad when their arms came up about 10 days after the “needles” parade. The boys lay about the hut for the worst couple of days and we who had been through it in the army helped out by running a few messages to the canteen and the post office.
The squad soon became familiar with handling the Lee Enfield .303 service rifle (the same weapon I trained on at Melville camp) and that meant we were ready to be rostered for guard duties in and around the base which extended to certain areas away from base such as the water pumping station. My first night on guard duty found me patrolling the 25 Squadron hangar area from 8pm. It was not too bad for an hour or two but then it palled a bit. The wind was blowing enough to rattle the hangar doors every few minutes and in the pitch dark with the hangars empty it was a bit eerie.
All of a sudden there was a movement and I did what I had to do and challenged, “Halt who goes there?”. Quickly the reply came, “Orderly Sergeant”, “Advance and be recognised”, I called. The effectiveness of the guard was being checked and had been found to be OK. The rifles were never loaded as I recall as nobody wanted to lose a Sergeant or anyone else through a panicky recruit. He was safe with me. Within 18 months or so the tables would be turned and I would be the “Orderly Sergeant” with the duty of checking the guard security along with the “Orderly Officer”. In war “Halt who goes there” can be famous last words. Later I will tell of hearing those words again up at Lae in New Guinea.
Physical training with gym equipment was part of the course and for this we were in the charge of Warrant Officer O’Neil. A big man but friendly enough. He put us through our paces and for some it hurt a bit but a few sessions toned everybody up. I remember that wherever we leapt over the “horse” in a somersault he would give me a help along by tipping me over for a perfect landing and say, “Over you go, Tich”, or something similar but always, “Tich’.
Drill, drill, drill was the order of most days as we marched up and down the parade ground. Over the weeks the Squad developed style and precision as we learnt and re-learnt many movements. The commands were all parts of parades and ceremonial occasions. We had to react quickly to such DI’s commands as, “Squad, to a Wing Commander in the RAAF, salute”, and “Squad, to a Colonel in the Army, salute”, and occasionally to “Squad, to a Captain in the Salvation Army, salute” The last command sometimes brought a saluting response, and a roar from the DI, “What are you doing? Wake up”. It was a bit of fun at times like that for there was always somebody to fall into the trap.
We needed to put our best foot forward in parade drill as we were now part of the line-up for the regular weekly station parade that was reviewed by the Commanding Officer of RAAF Pearce, as we marched past him and the flag. We also owed it to our instructor, and to ourselves, to put on a good show. We were in competition with other rookie squads for DI’s liked to have their squad one of the smartest on the parade ground. Apart from the ground staff recruit squads there were over 200 aircrew trainees on base at No. 5 Initial Training School. Like us, they were given plenty of the parade ground drill and marching.
We had now been issued with respirators, or gas masks, and were soon put to the test when we were placed in the hands of Corporal Harold Jacka, the gas instructor. The gas mask was carried in a strong haversack type bag that was worn across the chest when in use, and carried by shoulder straps when not in use as you see in repeats of British wartime movies. I now use one for my fishing tackle bags for it has four handy pockets and other extra space.
We were instructed about the various kinds of gases and their effects and how their presence could be detected. Once we could get our gas masks on quickly we were ready for the next part of the exercise, a trip into the gas chamber. We stumbled around it in the semi-darkness and not being able to see much through the mask eyepieces anyway. The trick was simply to follow the walls around with your hands till you reached the door again. Anybody who carelessly pulled at their mask got a few whiffs of tear gas and shed a few tears. It was a blessing that gas masks never had to be put on because of enemy gas attacks in World War II.
Our six weeks training was now coming to an end and we all were giving some thought to where our posting out of the recruit depot would take us. When we first arrived at Pearce we were given a form to complete stating where we would like to be sent to. Most of the single men and some married men simply put “overseas”. The rest named Perth or somewhere in Australia. When the postings were advised to us overseas postings went to married men and the local postings went to single chaps. Such was life and the RAAF.
Just the same, the thirty members of Squad 69 took it all calmly. They were a pretty good bunch all round, and here is as good a place as any to put as many of their names as I can remember into print. A-Z we had no A’s but two B’s, Ken? Baldry and Jack Blair, who was in shipping after the war. Then we had Bill Cairns-Hill, Wilf Chapman (later of WA Newspapers) and myself. I recall no D’s or E’s but we had Freddy Fairhead, a doer if there was one. He always had a laugh or a joke on tap. He went into real estate after the war. We had Wal French, possibly an accountant, and a grey-headed chap named Flindell, but not the Barney Flindell of 14 Squadron, a later friend of mine. Next in line was Bert? Gloede and then Bob Hill and Ken Hipkin who had been posted to No. 4SFTS Geraldton. Bert Jefferson and George Johnson came from accounting fields. Bert later was commissioned as an Accounting Officer.
Joe Kay was a happy-go-lucky fellow who joined in the many hut discussions on every subject under the sun, and Doug Kevan was a quiet one with a dry sense of humour who could always throw a sensible comment into an argument when required. He had a little Volkswagen to use when he had a bit of leave. Jim Lightfoot was a railways accounts man and we were posted to the same unit where we worked together for about a year. Moseley and McPherson were older men than some of us for we were a mixed-up group agewise. I remember them as using their life experience in discussions with us younger fellows. “Curly” Olsen was young and outgoing and was always ready for a playful wrestle or a bit of skylarking in the hut. Bill Pearce was an old hand at accounts and a heavy smoker. I met him later in New Guinea. Smiling Aub Perry was a sprint runner. Tucker, Wells, and Whelan complete the list except for the seven not recalled. I must find out who still remembers them.
Our six weeks course ended with a passing-out parade in which we marched at our best, and the release of the postings information. The postings list saw me posted to No. 4 Service Flying Training School at Geraldton as from 25 February 1941. Everybody from the squad was off somewhere and all that remained for us to do was to get a clearance from No. 4 Recruit Depot and the movement orders and travel warrants to take us off to our various destinations. The clearance papers had to be signed by the clerks in the many station sections that we had done business with like the barracks store, the other stores, the pay section and so on. I think that Corporal Russell had to sign them as well. I am not sure but he may have been a Sergeant when we left. We all shook hands in farewell as we worked our way around the “clearance” trail. One adventure was over for us and a new experience began.