Sunday History Photo / NSW

Submitted: Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 08:41
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So, why Tocumwal, the back of beyond, for the largest aerodrome at the time in the Southern Hemisphere? To answer that question we have to go back to those fearful years, to the beginning of 1942, when Japan's military might was in full flight towards us. England's invincibility had just been shattered with the sinking of the capital ships Prince of Wales and Repulse, off Singapore which had fallen almost without fight, Papua New Guinea was being occupied and Australia itself was under attack, with the first of 64 air raids on Darwin and surrounding areas. For the first time, bombs were falling on Australian soil and Australian people for the first terrible time were experiencing the terror of air attack, the crash and concussion of bombing, the roar of machine gunning, the stench of smoke and fire and death, and above all, the awful realisation that we were virtually defenceless against an enemy in full cry towards us. Our few obsolete Wirraway fighters were brushed aside, an immediate total loss - a squadron of Kittyhawks newly arrived with inexperienced pilots and our few anti - aircraft batteries had no hope of stemming the tide.

Although there were many superb acts of deformation and bravery, both civilian and military, unfortunately panic set in before proper organisation and control could be set up. Hundreds of civilians and servicemen escaped southwards, knowing full well that if air raids were followed by troop landings, they would suffer the same ominous fate as the conquered peoples to the north. To prevent the spread of panic to the entire Australian population, the Government immediately imposed a blanket censorship on the extent of the disaster in Darwin and Broome. newspapers reported the occurrence of the main raids, the dropping of some bombs, limited damage, a few casualties, and the Australian people slumbered on.
But the Government knew what we were up against and well knew the pitiable state of our defences, the hopelessness of defending our endless shoreline and vast empty interior. Withdrawals began - one totally unreported but significant event was the biggest droving operation in Australia's history - the movement of 80,000 head of cattle to the south, out of all northern areas to deny this food to the invader.
Everything was concentrated behind the Brisbane Line, the little known, but horribly realistic defence line between Brisbane and Melbourne. All to the north and west of it surrendered to the Japanese and the corner south and east of it hopefully within our defence capability. Think of it - not a line between Cairns and Broome, or between Brisbane and Perth, or even between Brisbane and Adelaide, but just a corner between Brisabane, Sydney, Canberra, Albury and Melbourne. All the rest in the hands of the enemy. So, along this front line they needed large airfields from which they could attack the Japanese advance across Australia.

Tocumwal was selected because of its flat, open terrain, considerable distance from the coast, readily available power and water, road and rail links and within reasonable reach of Melbourne headquarters. It was decided that a heavy bomber base be built for the US Army Air Force.
One day, several farmers noticed strangers on their properties cutting telephone wires and removing poles and fences. When approached, the visitors simply told the farmers to vacate their homes, pack their belongings and get off their properties. It was as sudden and brutal as that. Their homes, sheds and fences were immediately bulldozed and construction work began at once, such was the urgency of February 1942. Some 2,700 construction workers of the newly formed Allied Works Council descended on Tocumwal and in a frantic effort had the runways ready for the first landings in five weeks.

It was a prodigious feat - around the clock, thousands of workers excavated earth, carted granite base from the local quarry, rolled foundations, poured concrete and tar and dug miles of drains. At night, the Tocumwal plain was lurid with glare and smoke from hundreds of flares. Machinery was commandeered instantly - two huge drag lines dredges each weighing 120 tons, crawled 70 miles from Deniliquin at a third of a mile per hour - they came straight across country, building their own pathway, filling, crossing and clearing creeks, drains and channels as they came. On the field they were followed by old Bedford and Ford trucks, all the farmers tractors, horses and drays and the huge labour force wielding pick and shovel.
Despite the crisis, Australians will be Australians - two anecdotes are revealing. One story is of a truckie who went to the main gate with his load, got his payment chit signed by the foreman, then sneaked out a side track with his load still aboard, then came round to the main gate again and again. And there was the Ford truckie who kept going down the runways at a snail's pace. When asked by the American construction captain why so slow, he said "I'm running - in my engine after a rebore." The Yank yelled back at him saying "Get that Ford truck going flat out, we've got plenty of motors and we'll keep putting in new ones until the job's finished - now get going," or words to that effect.
McIntyre Field, as the Americans named it was a huge undertaking. The four runways each a mile in length, and the 70 miles of taxiways and roads, absorbed three months output of BHP's tar production. There were 450 buildings, including the giant hangars capable of housing the 110 foot by 70 foot Liberator bombers, and a huge 200 bed RAAF hospital complex of buildings secreted in a forest of Murray Pines, well away from the field.
Overall it was spread over 8 square miles to ensure defensive dispersal of aircraft, fuel and personnel. It was disguised as much as possible by designing the accommodation buildings in the shape of normal houses and by aligning them on continuations of the streets of the town. In 16 weeks it was largely complete - the Americans poured in - over 7,000 of them were to spend time at Tocumwal.
The rail - head disgorged endless amounts of men and material. Over 400 interned aliens under control of the army, provided the huge amount of labour required to handle the rail cargo at the break of gauge on the Victorian / NSW border. The Americans shook their heads in disbelief at the inefficiencies caused by the different rail gauges in each state.
By the end of 1942, after expenditure of some three million pounds, the aerodrome was ready to meet the onslaught which daily seemed inevitable. Then on the 8th. of May, the Battle of the Coral Sea halted Japan's advance, reinforced by the successful repulse at Midway, Milne Bay and Kokoda. It now looked as though Australia was safe - a huge selective sigh of relief!
The Americans took off from Tocumwal. One morning the local residents woke to find the tent cities gone, the vast aerodrome silent and empty. General George C. Kenney commanding Allied Air Forces in the South West Pacific Area, just looked at it and said -
"Mighty fine base - shift it 2,000 miles closer to the enemy."
Which is exactly what the Americans did - they did it all again at Garbutt Air Base at Townsville in Queensland.
The Tocumwal Aerodrome had gone through a frantic construction stage one, a brief American occupation stage two, and in November 1942 it entered its main stage three, with the RAAF operating it as a giant multi - function aircraft depot and training base for bomber air crews and paratroops.
As all types of aircraft were ferried in, they were serviced, modified, armed and made fully operational. The types of aircraft made a formidable list - you may remember some of their names:-
Airspeed Oxford, Avro Anson, Bell Aircobra, Boeing Flying Fortress, CAC Boomerang, CAC Mustang, CAC Wackett Trainer, DAP Beaufort, DAP Beaufighter, Consolidated Liberator, Curtiss Kittyhawk, De Havilland Dragon Rapide, De Havilland Mosquito, Douglas C47 Dakota, Lockheed Hudson, Lockheed Lightning, Lockheed
Lodestar, Lockheed Ventura, Noorduyn Norseman, Supermarine Spitfire, Vultee Vengeance.
Aircraft were in the air night and day, seven days a week, practising take-offs and landings, flying formations, fighting tactics, bombing and gunnery. Spent cartridges littered the ground, even into the gardens of the local houses, houses which at night cowered in the white glare of landing lights or vibrated to the roar of engines being run flat out in the engine test cells. Vultee Vengeances were used to tow drogue targets for the gunners, not a popular duty, and Kittyhawks attacked formations of Liberators in mock aerial battles.

Long flights of over 3,000 miles to learn navigation, and the featureless terrain of western New South Wales was ideal for this purpose as it was similar to flying over the ocean. Fifty four of the big Liberators were stationed at Tocumwal and they turned out eleven man crews every two months. Young boys of 18 or 19 had to become men in that all too short two months, responsible for the operation of a big aircraft and all its complex systems. A clerk had to become a competent pilot, a factory worker a flight engineer, a teacher a bomb aimer, an accountant a navigator, a telephone linesman a wireless operator, a baker a gunner - imagine you and I meeting a giant bomber tomorrow and having to take it to war in 8 weeks time.
What this desperate pressure meant of course was that there were plenty of accidents and many young men died during training. It was a deadly mix of untried aircrews, new aircraft that malfunctioned or were sabotaged, inexperienced ground staff and not least the often appalling weather conditions - extreme heat and cold, gale force winds, drought conditions and unbelievable dust storms, which blocked out the sun and reduced visibility to zero.
"A flight of Liberators returning from a long range exercise, all short of fuel and desperate to land. The airfield invisible through a pall of dust. They get the OK to land, down they go, at the last moment thank heavens, they sight the runway, wheels and flaps down, throttles back, but wait, the runway looks too narrow and what's that truck doing there? Shock takes hold as they realise it's not the runway but the Tocumwal Road. Slam the throttles forward, a tremendous roar of the engines as the plane staggers upwards just in time to miss the truck as they hurtle over the Tocumwal roofs and through the canopies of the river red gums, then frozen with fear, a near vertical bank to avoid another Liberator looming out of the murk also trying to get down through the dust. They miss by a whisker, just as well because the two bombers in collision just there would have taken Tocumwal clean off the map."
The dust was an ever present menace to all things mechanical - in the hangar after a dust storm, they swept 600 kilograms of dust from the wings and fuselage of a Liberator.

Apart from the adventures of the bombers, the fighter pilots were always looking for trouble. By the very nature of their training they took a lot of chances. They flew on the edge and were encouraged to do so in order to develop the skills and reflexes required for combat flying.
The Beaufighter was used with outstanding success as a ground attack weapon. "Two Beaufighters hurtling at ground level across the open plains of the Riverna, one above the other. They come over a rise and are confronted by a stand of Murray Pines. The lower one cannot rise being covered by the upper plane. It streaks between the tree trunks shearing off the wings and engines. The fuselage ploughs on to an eventual gentle stop - the crew steps out to try again another day. One of the propellors still stands in a cairn on the property."
Low flying was also hazardous for the local people. The Beaufighter was known as Whispering Death, because it flew ahead of its sound and you could not hear it coming.
"A still hot day, quiet but for the rhythmic jingling of harness as the team of Clydesdale horses steadily haul the plough. The farmer sits on the plough steering along the edge of a channel bank. He's traveling at about 4 kilometers an hour. He looks up. In that split second his eyes meet those of a Beaufighter pilot who comes over the bank at 400 kilometers per hour in complete silence. But the sound comes. As the plane disappears, it comes with an earth shattering roar and with it the concussion of air and slipstream, and to those magnificent horses it's as though the world has come to an end - which indeed it had for the farmer as he died under the frenzied hooves of his terrified animals."
And Lake Mulwala played its part in tragedy too. Paratrooper training was tough and unforgiving. Parachute jumps were made from Dakotas over open country just north east of the Tocumwal Aerodrome.
"Local residents watched a string of paratroopers tumbling out of the open door, their parachutes blossoming in a long line of descent. But one paratrooper made a mistake - his parachute line became entangled in the tail - plane of the aircraft - he was caught in the buffeting slipstream of the propellors. The plane tried every manoeuvre to free him. Another lane went up to try and nudge him loose, all without success. As the minutes ticked away, local people watched the drama, horrified to see the trooper tumbling and spinning as the plane kept circling. Then the Dakota headed for Lake Mulwala to see if they could drop him safely in the water. They descended to about forty feet over the lake, slowed almost to stalling speed and the trooper released his harness. He was dead when they picked him up out of the water and he lies buried in the Tocumwal Services Cemetery - Trooper Eric Johnson, 20 years of age."
There are many stories to be told about the Tocumwal Aerodrome and the way people lived and played. With 5,000 RAAF personnel, including 400 WAAAF's descending upon a township of then 500 people and staying nearly 20 years, there are stories there worth saving. The impact upon the town must have been considerable - the shops and cafes inundated. The church congregations swelled to capacity, romances led to weddings, entertainment in homes, cinemas and dance halls were packed out, cricket, football, tennis, and swimming at the famous Tocumwal beaches were popular forms of recreation. Touring entertainers gave concerts in the giant hangars - when Gracie Fields sang Ave Maria and The Lord's Prayer to a hushed audience, 5,000 young faces crumpled into wistful longing for home and loved ones.
The aerodrome's stage four was, in hindsight, a crime and a tragedy. At the war's end, Tocumwal as Australia's major aircraft depot, received hundreds upon hundreds of all types of aircraft for mothballing and storage. The rows of aircraft, packed wing tip to wing tip stretched as far as the eye could see, from one perimeter fence to the other. Nobody wanted these faithful machines that served Australia so well. Everyone wanted to forget the war and all things warlike.

After languishing in the elements for ten years or more, they were all, every last one of them, chopped up and smelted down into ingots of aluminium. Post-war, with everything in short supply, aluminium was a much needed commodity. It was needed for pots and pans and for the new Holden motorcar coming into production. Scrap metal merchants set up smelters on the aerodrome and bought the planes by the hundreds - 157 Pounds 12 Shillings and 6 pence each for complete Beaufighters, 20 Pounds for Beaufords, 15 Pounds for Kittyhawks, 8 Pounds for Vultee Vengeances - Liberators, Flying Fortresses, Mustangs, Mosquitoes, Wirraways, all went to the furnaces.
Today, anyone of these aircraft would be priceless. It's easy to be wise after the event, but it's beyond understanding that someone, somewhere did not have the foresight to save a few of these Australian treasures. Similarly, nearly all the 450 aerodrome buildings and all the hospital buildings were sold and removed. After the war when building materials were virtually unobtainable, the hangars, huts and workshops were snapped up by builders, giving no thought to any historical value. One of the biggest hangars, a giant igloo type, can be seen today in use at Cornish Fruit Growers at Cottons Road, Cobram, and many huts, built in the shape of houses form a section of the suburb of O'Connor in Canberra where they are now Heritage Listed by the National Trust.

Three hangars remain at the aerodrome, two for storage, and the other now deserted after Sportavia went out of business and was locked up due to asbestos concerns
Today, there are several restoration groups in Australia, which are moving heaven and earth to reconstruct some of the aircraft that we have lost. The aerodrome is associated with the Liberator reconstruction group, which regularly visits our area to search for missing parts. They use metal detectors and proper archaeological dig techniques - they have unearthed many valuable parts to add to a wing from New Guinea and a fuselage from Gippsland in Victoria. It is a ten year project and they work with voluntary labour, freely give.

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Reply By: kevmac....(WA) - Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 10:08

Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 10:08
WOW ! Another top story !
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Reply By: Member - Andrew & Jen - Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 11:18

Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 11:18
Doug T

That is very interesting
Went through there a couple of years ago and had no idea of the WW2 history of the place. Just had a squizz at Google Earth and could see the faint outline of some of the original runways. So next time I will spend more time trying to chase this aspect of the history of the town.

You also recently posted one about Lake Boga. I had been through there many times but never stopped so I made a point of going into the Catalina museum about a month ago. Over the past few years they have put a lot of effort into making it into a really top class attraction. Again, I had only a hazy understanding of the role these planes played in the Pacific theatre, having taken a greater interest in the Shorts in the Atlantic. I bought the book on Catalinas by Stewart Wilson and have enjoyed it greatly.

So thanks for you research effort posted every Sunday. It is the first thread I open!
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Follow Up By: wombat100 - Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 11:30

Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 11:30
Yes- 5 stars for the Lake Boga effort !!
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Reply By: Ron N - Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 15:16

Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 15:16
Thanks Doug, that's some intensive reading. The story of Tocumwal Aerodrome is a story of wartime desperation and the crushing of numerous families lives and dreams and properties, amongst the Wartime steamroller.

A lot of the people displaced by the Tocumwal aerodrome lost everything and were never properly recompensed - and certainly did not receive any monetary recompense until a number of years later. The eventual compensation was completely inadequate.

The aerodrome construction was driven wholly by the Americans, and I don't believe Australian Govt would have been so ruthless when it came to site selection or displacement of people, if the Americans weren't pushing it - even though there was a war on.
And of course, the bottom line is the aerodrome was located in the wrong place, anyway.
Much further North was the better location, as George C Kenney noted later.

The comment about the Beaufighter, that it "flew ahead of its sound" is not technically correct. Nothing can "fly ahead of its sound".
The advantage the Beaufighter had, was that it used the sleeve-valve Bristol Hercules radial engines which were exceptionally quiet, due to the lack of a clattering poppet valve train and a very quiet exhaust note.
The open exhausts of the Bristol Hercules radial were as quiet as any engine fitted with a muffler.

As a result, the normal roar of an approaching conventional poppet-valve aero engine, was completely absent in the case of the Beaufighter.
You couldn't hear them until they were virtually on top of you. Thus, the nickname the frightened Japanese gave them - "Whispering Death".

Coupled with low-level bombing attacks on Japanese shipping - which the RAAF specialised in - the RAAF Beaufighter fighter-bombers did nearly as much as the American Liberators did, to destroy the logistics of the Japanese war effort.

Typically, a formation of RAAF Beaufighters would approach a Japanese shipping fleet at just above sea level, and from behind, or on the ships rear quarter. This helped defeat any radar identification - and also surprised the crew, who were always scanning the skies at height, looking for aircraft.
In addition, it was often difficult, and took time, for ships to lower guns to fire at sea level.
The silence of the Beaufighters was the last piece of assistance needed.

The Beaufighters would swoop upwards from sea level in the last few seconds, and drop their bombs on the Japanese ships with superb accuracy.
Most bombs were dropped from great height, and this often led to inaccuracy where the bombed object survived with minimal damage.
The devastation of Jap shipping led to the strangulation of supplies needed to support the Japanese troops, and they then ran short of everything from ammo to food.

The waters between Rabaul and PNG are littered with multiple dozens of Jap ships sunk by the RAAF Beaufighters as the Japs tried to run supplies to their troops in PNG.
As a result, the Jap troops in PNG were soon short of ammo and guns, and starving.

Here's a brilliant YouTube video of the Beaufighter story. It includes colour film of Beaufighters from late in the War, showing the Beaufighters firing rockets, as well.

Beaufighter - the Forgotten Warhorse

Cheers, Ron.
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Follow Up By: Life Member-Doug T NSW - Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 16:35

Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 16:35
Thanks Ron for the fantastic reply, unfortunately I can't watch the YouTube link due to limited Internet GB's , it is 1 hour and 28 minutes long.
Intersting you say (Nothing can "fly ahead of its sound") please correct me if I'm wrong but if a Jet fighter...F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is flying at Mach 1.8 (1,190 mph, 1,915 km/h) ....Mach 1.8 is 1.8 times the speed of sound then it has to be way ahead of the sound .

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Follow Up By: Ron N - Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 17:31

Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 17:31
Ahh, yes! - Sorry - you got me there! - I was still stuck in WW2 aircraft! LOL

Yes, aircraft that break the sound barrier, "fly ahead of their sound".

However, it was nearly impossible for any WW2 aircraft to break the sound barrier - this was not done until Oct 14, 1947, when Chuck Yeager broke through the sound barrier at 45,000' in the rocket-powered Bell X-1 experimental aircraft.

Cheers, Ron.
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Reply By: Member - Talawana - Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 17:24

Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 17:24

Thank you once again, my father-in-law enjoyed the read. Great read yet again.

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Reply By: Ron N - Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 17:59

Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 17:59
It's hard for us today to imagine the terror the Japanese war machine instilled in ordinary Australians - or the desperate planning behind the instigation of "The Brisbane Line".

However, having known and spoken to a lot of people who endured WW2 at home due to age, infirmities or local postings, it is evident that the "fear of the Jap" was very real and in everyones minds during early 1942.
A lot of this came about from the reporting in the late 1930's of the Japanese military atrocities in China (the rape of Nanking) - and the early reports that filtered in, about regular major Japanese successes - despite censoring.

A couple of events come to mind. My mother told me how, several times during early 1942, rumours filled Perth that a large force of Japs had landed on the coast just up from Perth, and civilian panic ensued.

There's a big old military depot in Bellevue, W.A., next to Midland (known as Midland Junction during WW2). The place is now owned by Smith & Sons, Auctioneers.

I rented one of the buildings there for quite a few years, and an old local veteran I spoke to one day, told me that one night during early 1942, rumours filtered through that the Japs had landed on the coast, and were making their way inland.

Such was the irrational fear amongst the locals with regard to the Japs (and sad to say, lack of courage of a few), that he said some blokes in the depot just jumped into trucks as soon as the rumour starting spreading like wildfire - and they drove straight through the perimeter fence, in their haste to retreat from the supposed advancing hordes of Japanese!

The rumour was just that - a totally unfounded rumour that grew larger with every re-telling - and they were, no doubt, some highly embarrassed local soldiers who were intercepted further East, and stopped and returned to Bellevue to face a raft of charges - desertion, damage to military property, and unauthorised use of military vehicles.

However, at the time, these blokes actions were quite understandable, if not justifiable. They obviously had visions of being overwhelmed by screaming hordes of Japanese, and the numbers of soldiers and the amount of armaments located locally, would have been laughable.

Cheers, Ron.
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Reply By: Member - Kevin S (QLD) - Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 21:42

Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 21:42
A chap who was my boss for a few years around late 1950s and early 1960s had been posted to Tocumwal to learn to fly bombers. That plan came to a sudden halt when he returned from a training flight one day with several meters (yards it would have been then) of high tension wire wound around his propeller boss. So he was sent off to England to fly Spitfires in the hope that he would kill some of the enemy before he killed himself. Obviously he survived and as far as I know still survives today. He would never disclose how many of the enemy he dispatched but he had a substantial period of active service.

The airfield at Charters Towers was one of two bases from which aircraft departed to attack Japanese shipping during the Battle of the Coral Sea. And if you are visiting Townsville, at the old fort at the northern end of The Strand, they have installed a huge schematic that shows the position of ships during the Coral Sea action. It is at the observation area where the cenotaph provides magnificent views of Magnetic Island.

I am familiar with Tocumwal from visiting there many years ago when a resident of Victoria. And during the first couple of years of my life I escaped being evacuated to Barrington, probably due to the success of the Coral Sea Battle. I finally got there under my own steam, earlier this year.


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Reply By: Motherhen - Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 22:30

Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 22:30
What an amazing and little known part of our hidden war history. I was aghast at the farmers being treated like that, and having their houses bulldozed :O.

Thanks for keeping us informed with your much watched for Sunday segment.


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Follow Up By: Life Member-Doug T NSW - Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 23:29

Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 23:29
The compensation some got was quite good for those years , Henery A Lilburne got 548 pounds 10 Shillings, a lot of money back then , plus the fact there was a war to won at all costs.

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Follow Up By: Life Member-Doug T NSW - Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 23:30

Sunday, Nov 09, 2014 at 23:30
My error, 574 Pounds 10

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Reply By: RodH, Sydney - Monday, Nov 10, 2014 at 08:45

Monday, Nov 10, 2014 at 08:45
It is really worth spending time at Tocumwal. My father-in-law spent time as an aircraft mechanic during the war. We've enjoyed a couple of trips to the town and I certainly enjoyed this post.
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Reply By: Member - Bruce C (NSW) - Monday, Nov 10, 2014 at 15:27

Monday, Nov 10, 2014 at 15:27
Well Doug, I think you have excelled yourself entirely with this one.

All your SHP are interesting but in this one you managed to include more of the human side of things with the little asides, such as the Ford Truck Driver and the Paratrooper.

They would have been exciting times to live in especially around one of these bases although I guess my uncle would have had something else to say on that score as he was in Darwin and lost half his face working on an aircraft. He survived, held a pilots licence for many years, flew often, and lived a full life till the age of 93, just a few short years ago.

Mind you I would not like to see such times again.

I think you get the "above and beyond" merit with this one Doug.

All the best and thanks Doug,
At home and at ease on a track that I know not and
restless and lost on a track that I know. HL.

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Reply By: Member - Laurie K (WA) - Tuesday, Nov 11, 2014 at 23:14

Tuesday, Nov 11, 2014 at 23:14
Well done Doug and thanks

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Reply By: Nargun51 - Wednesday, Nov 12, 2014 at 09:42

Wednesday, Nov 12, 2014 at 09:42
My father was a chippy working on building the hangers.

At the time, the roofs of the hangers were the largest unsupported wooden spans in Australia, wide enough to take the wingspan of a Liberator.

As mentioned, it was a 24 hour operation; it appears there was a 24 hour two up game running on the field; the area was surrounded by a hessian fence about 8 feet tall, and the amount of people in the school could be determined by the thickness of cigarette smoke appearing above the hessian.

To ease tensions on the base, they set up a boxing ring where men could have a punch up or settle scores in a bit of controlled safety.

When the contractors arrive, they took over the best pub in town; when the RAAF arrived they were relegated to the 2nd best pub and then to the 3rd pub (a “blood house”) when the Americans arrived.
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