Sydney turned on an absolute sparkler for ANZAC Day yesterday. The sky was clear, blue and brilliant, it was warm in the sun (but with that delicious autumn chill to the air in the shade) and the air was almost perfectly still. Perfect conditions, then, for an ANZAC Day march.
I flew up from Melbourne early, catching the fast, clean and efficient (but horribly expensive) airport train into the city centre and arriving with enough time to spare to walk around and enjoy the atmosphere for a little while. The contingents from some current naval ships in particular, stepping off as I crossed Castlereagh Street, displayed some very impressive marching. I headed for Elizabeth Street and the usual starting point for the Air Force veterans.
In all there were six veterans marching, with one more traveling along the march route in a truck provided by the Australian Army. They were Don Browning, Hugh McLeod, Don Huxtable, Bill Purdy, Don Southwell and George Douglass, with Harry Brown in the truck. As usual, shortly after setting off from Elizabeth St we reached King St… and stopped, again, for about forty minutes:
I placed my end of the banner in the safe hands of veteran pilot and rear gunner Hugh McLeod for a few moments, and quickly snapped a photo of an animated conversation which was taking place between Bill Purdy, David Southwell and Don Browning (who had again come prepared for the long wait with his own walking-stick-with-inbuilt-stool):
As much as we complain about the delay I’ve found in the last few years that it’s during this stop that some of the best conversation happens among those marching. And this year we were joined at this point by a group of people wearing kilts and carrying bagpipes and drums who inserted themselves into the column in front of us. They looked suspiciously like a pipe band… They turned out to be the Castle Hill RSL Pipe Band, who had already ‘done their bit’ making one round of the march course earlier in the day. But one of their members was also marching in memory of a relation with the 466-462 Squadron Association, which was the unit in front of us. So they decided to support him and ‘go round again’. All of which worked in our favour. They sounded superb, and at the end of the march I overheard Don Southwell exclaim, “That was the best march of recent years…. we were all in step!”
A friend was watching the ABC Television coverage of the march and spotted us as we went past the cameras. He later sent me a photograph he had taken of his screen:
At the conclusion of the march I tried to find the band to thank them for their music but they had done like pipers generally do and taken off in a hurry to the nearest pub. Meanwhile, we headed across the road for lunch at the Pullman Hotel, the same venue as has been used in the last couple of years. Once again, the food was great, the service attentive and the conversation outstanding. I was lucky enough to find myself on a table in the company of no fewer than three of our veterans (Don Huxtable, Hugh McLeod and George Douglass). At one point, Association President Don Browning was telling a story about a raid he was on, with appropriate deadpan asides added from Don Huxtable who had been on the same trip (“I recall the weather was awful… do you remember that Don?” “Fifty-foot ceiling, mate!”). When Browning related that his bomb aimer had called for them to go around again, I heard a grim chuckle from Hugh: “I’ve experienced that too…” There were stories flying left right and centre and it was a very enjoyable afternoon. We were again joined by the young musicians of the Australian Army Cadet Band, who played a few numbers and got a certain old pilot to drum along with them:
In all, a really good day. There were lots of familiar faces to catch up with, and a few new people to talk to as well. I even met Col Edwards, whose uncle was Bob Coward, a 463 Squadron mid-upper gunner who was killed over Holland in 1944. Col first got in touch with me through the Lancaster Archive Forum and again through a comment on this blog. Bob Coward’s crew took a second dickie pilot along with them on one of their operations. The pilot? One Don Huxtable, who at yesterday’s lunch was sitting at the same table as Col, three seats along.
A few further photos from the day follow. Click on the image for full-size.
A top day, and well worth the flying visit to Sydney. I’ll be back next year.
(c) 2013 Adam Purcell
Four posts in a week! There will consequently be a short delay before I publish the next update on SomethingVeryBig. Next post is due on May 10.