Archive for the 'ANZAC Day' Category

Anzac Day in Sydney 2017

I was in Sydney as usual for Anzac Day in April – more than a month ago, I know. I’ve been away and then concentrating on other priorities ever since, so I’m only just getting around to posting a few photos.

Along with Bryan Cook I was, once again, honoured to carry the banner for the 463-467 Squadrons Association along the shortened march route down Elizabeth Street. Just one veteran from the group participated in the march, the unsinkable Don Southwell, and he was in a wheelchair. The time is soon approaching when we will no longer have any veterans taking part with us. Until that day, though, I’m happy to continue carrying the banner – but there can’t be too many more to come.

There were several veterans marching with the Bomber Command Association in Australia group, and one or two other squadrons. One of my favourite moments of the day was watching and listening on as, positioned in their wheelchairs in a small circle they all chewed the fat while we waited to form up:

The rather amazing Frank Dell, who was shot down in a Mosquito over Germany one night in 1944. He walked to Holland and actively worked with the Dutch Resistance for the remainder of the war.

149 Sqn Flight Engineer Tommy Knox – a man I’m proud to call a friend

Don Southwell and Keith Campbell looking on as Frank Dell signs an impressive print of a Mosquito 

The march officially concluded on Liverpool St, literally around the corner from the Pullman Hotel where we were to have lunch. So Brian and I simply kept on going, leading Don and his wheelchair in our own private parade, right to the door of the hotel!

Four veterans graced us for lunch, and as usual I made sure I got photos of them:

Don Southwell

Bill Purdy

Keith Campbell

Alan Buxton

The lunch was of the usual high standard put on by the Pullman, and I was asked afterwards to say a few words about my experiences collecting interviews for the IBCC project. This was the first time I’d spoken about some of the stories I’ve gathered (and some of the stories about what happened when I gathered them) and I think it was well received.

And then after lunch, Bryan and I retired to a pub in The Rocks for a scotch and soda each. The barmaid raised an eyebrow at the odd combination, but understood once we’d explained.

You see, scotch and soda was the favoured drink of a much-missed Lancaster pilot named Don Huxtable.

I suspect we might have started a nice little Anzac Day tradition…

Jim Bateman

Tony Adams

Tony and David Kingsford-Smith

Members of the Australian Army Cadets Band once again came into the lunch venue to play a few tunes

Frank Dell tells some of his amazing story to David Davine, who spends his spare time looking for veterans to sign some magnificent prints of paintings of aeroplanes… a TV crew looks on.

 

(c) 2017 Adam Purcell

Anzac Day in Sydney 2016

Something a bit different for Anzac Day this year: I had my photo light gear with me at the 463-467 Squadron Association lunch in Sydney, so I thought it a good opportunity to get some proper portraits of the six veterans we had with us.

Bill Purdy DFC LdH - 463 Squadron pilot

Bill Purdy DFC LdH: 463 Squadron pilot

Don Browning LdH: 463 Squadron wireless operator

Don Browning LdH: 463 Squadron wireless operator

Keith Campbell OAM LdH: 466 Squadron bomb aimer and PoW

Keith Campbell OAM LdH: 466 Squadron bomb aimer and PoW

Don Southwell, 463 Squadron navigator

Don Southwell LdH: 463 Squadron navigator

David Skinner, 467 Squadron pilot

David Skinner: 467 Squadron pilot

Alan Buxton: 617 and 467 Squadron navigator

Alan Buxton: 617 and 467 Squadron navigator

It was a good day, with three veterans marching on the amended route along Elizabeth St. There was a particularly Huxtable-shaped hole in proceedings however. Very sadly, for the first time in many, many years, when someone in the crowd yelled out “Hey, Don!”, the answer was not “which one??”

But while numbers were down for the march (and as I wrote last week I’m not sure how much longer this group will continue to take part), the following lunch had more than 50 people in attendance. And this was what led to probably my favourite moment of the day. At my table were a young couple who I’d not met before. Luke is a relation of the Southwells and he’d brought his partner Sharna along. I mentioned to them in conversation the significance of the little golden caterpillar badge worn by some aircrew, and suggested that if they find someone wearing one they should ask them about it. “Like him,”, I said, pointing to Alan Buxton who was sitting at the other end of the table. “Ooh,” said Sharna, “do you know his story?” I do, I said (he bailed out over the UK returning from a raid when all four engines in his Lancaster caught on fire), but as Alan was right there I encouraged her to ask him herself.

Shortly afterwards Sharna did so. This was the result:

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As I left the lunch about 45 minutes later they were still there: Sharna and Luke listening intently as Alan told them why he has a golden caterpillar.

One more story shared to a new generation. Two more people who have heard first-hand something about life in Bomber Command. This is what it’s all about.

It was a lovely way to end the day.

 

(c) 2016 Adam Purcell

 

Anzackery

Last Friday night I went to see the local Super Rugby team, the Melbourne Rebels, play South Africa’s Cheetahs at the imaginatively named “Melbourne Rectangular Stadium“. While it was great to see a sadly-not-too-common Rebels victory, something odd happened just before the game.

An Anzac Day ceremony.

At the rugby.

Huh?

It’s not even Anzac Day until tomorrow!

Call me unAustralian, but that ceremony made me feel a little uneasy. It did not feel like it belonged there, in that place, in that context. Sport is not war without guns, as David Stephens wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald last year.

Stephens is the secretary of the Honest History coalition of historians and others “supporting the balanced and honest presentation and use of Australian history”. There’s a very long but illuminating transcript of a speech he gave in Kogarah in June 2015 on the Honest History website, and it’s a very useful read at this time of year. Among other things, he argues that Anzac should be “about the private, within-family, remembrance of – and caring about – people who have suffered in war, both those who have been killed and not come home and those who have come home but who are injured in body or mind – and those who live with the memory of the dead and the reality of the presence of the living.” In other words, Stephens sees Anzac as a primarily personal thing that is connected with those affected by war: both the effects on those who were actually there and the effects on the direct families who lived with them. “For families who are directly affected by war,” Stephens writes, “commemoration isn’t parades and wreaths and speeches by politicians; it is something they live every day and every week.”

As we move further and further away from the events being remembered, though, those private, individual stories seem to become lost in the mass. The Great War is now beyond living memory, and in a few short years WWII will go the same way. Meanwhile, Anzac Day continues to increase in popularity, at least if the crowds at the big marches are anything to go by. “The obsession about remembrance has grown stronger the further away we get from the reality,” Stephens writes. “It has grown stronger as the number of people who actually remember the reality of total war has got fewer and fewer.”

Why? Perhaps because Anzac has become almost a secular religion in Australia. We’re in danger of losing the quiet remembrance of individuals and of the terrible things war did to them – and continues to do to them – lost amidst all the cheers, the flag-waving and tears.

This is a part of what the Honest History crowd likes to call “Anzackery.” Stephens again:

Anzackery… is public, very public. It’s marches and flags and hymns and speeches. Nowadays it’s also projections of pictures of Diggers onto buildings, it’s battlefield tours and Gallipoli cruises […] it’s ministers and prime ministers and war memorial directors making emotional speeches to nostalgic audiences about the Anzac legend, it’s Anzac football matches in whatever code you fancy… Anzackery is sentiment and it’s nostalgia and it’s nationalism – which people think is patriotism but which is really jingoism.

I was struggling to articulate ideas like these when I wrote this post last week. That remains an important piece of writing for me because it attempts to deal with the future of my own personal remembrance, both of the great uncle I never knew, and the Bomber Command veterans I did (and still do) know, and all their family members who had to cope with the effects the war had on them. But if I’m being truly honest with myself, it does not say completely what I think I wanted to say. That out-of-place Anzac observance at the rugby last Friday night, though, made me realise how uncomfortable I’ve become with many of the things that go along with Anzac Day these days. The problem is that I’m not quite sure how I can reconcile that realisation with the act of taking up the banner and marching down Elizabeth Street in Sydney tomorrow morning.

I maintain my desire to continue doing so while we still have 463-467 Squadron veterans capable of marching because supporting them, particularly as they get older and older, is an important thing, and many of them have become friends. But once they’re done, so am I. It’s time to find a quieter, more personal form of commemoration.

John Coyne – a veteran of Bougainville and East Timor – describes his own private tradition of remembrance in a beautifully-written piece in The Age last Friday:

These days I choose to head out into the Australian bush surrounding Canberra. Well before dawn’s first light I make my way to a piece of high ground overlooking a valley floor. I stand too with dawn’s first light, sitting silently and generally shivering in the pre-dawn chill.

To the cacophony of bush noises, I reflect on those who made the ultimate sacrifice while on operations, or after they’d returned home. I think about the cost of our service: both the physical and psychological. I remember our stories, good and bad.

After the sun’s rays warm me up I make my way back to my car and return to my family.

This, clearly, would resonate most with ex-service personnel, which I am not. But it’s a lovely concept, and it’s perhaps something to think about as you watch the Anzac Day march on television tomorrow morning.

 

(c) 2016 Adam Purcell

What happens when the last veteran dies?

And the band plays Waltzing Matilda,

And the old men still answer the call,

But as year follows year, more old men disappear.

Someday no-one will march there at all.

– Eric Bogle, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Once again Anzac Day approaches. Once again I will board an aeroplane and fly to Sydney. Once again I will pin my great uncle Jack’s medals to the right side of my chest. Once again I will hoist the 463-467 Squadron banner high, and once again I will march.

But for how much longer?

I’ve been struggling to write about the future of the Anzac Day march – or specifically the future of my part in it – for several years now. At around this time each year I’ve grappled with it, starting something but failing to come up with a coherent argument. So I’ve put it off. Chickened out. Relegated it to the ‘too hard’ basket. But sure as eggs, once again here I am. And the question has become more urgent. So this year I’m going to finish it.

I’ve been involved with the 463-467 Squadrons Association in Sydney for about a decade now. Long enough that I now consider friends many of the veterans, friends and family that make up the group. This is why, despite living in Melbourne for the last five or so years, I still prefer to go to Sydney for Anzac Day: it’s one of only a handful of chances I have each year to catch up with them.

As time has passed, so too has a fair number of veterans I knew. Men like Reg Boys, Rollo Kingsford-Smith and David Walter, among several others, have all gone to the Great Crew-Room in the Sky. In the last year or two however, as those who are left have grown very very old indeed and as age wearied them more and more, the trickle has turned into a flood: George Douglass. Harry Brown. Hugh McLeod. Albert Wallace. And now Don Huxtable. And these are just Sydney-based 463-467 Squadron Association veterans I knew personally.

As year follows year, more old men disappear.

In 2014 just three veterans started the Anzac Day march with the 463-467 Squadron banner. That was the first point at which I began actively wondering about the future of the Squadron banner in the march. One of the three that year was unable to complete the course – and the other two have since died. Improbably in 2015 numbers actually grew to eight, including two riding in trucks and two in wheelchairs, but given the numbers who have died in the intervening year that is likely to have been an aberration. Don Huxtable’s recent passing has further focused minds on a difficult but inevitable truth.

There are now very few 463-467 Squadron veterans left who remain capable of marching behind the banner on Anzac Day. One day, sooner than we all would like, they too will pass.

Someday no-one will march there at all.

And what then?

There’s been a fair bit of controversy in recent years about marching on Anzac Day, and specifically how descendants of veterans, such as myself, fit into it. Originally, of course, it was only the veterans themselves who were allowed to march – and that was highly appropriate. But those were the days when there were a significant proportion of veterans of conflicts like WWI still alive. Those first Diggers are long gone now, and descendants have begun marching in their place. But as the WWII Diggers now slowly fade away, the few who remain sometimes seem in danger of being swamped by the ever-increasing crowds of descendants.

In 2008 it all got too much for the RSL in Sydney. They began politely suggesting that descendants go to the back of the parade instead of marching with their ancestors’ units. In more recent years that polite suggestion has become more assertive, and changes have been made to the traditional format so that WWII veterans are given more prominence at the front of the march (with a strict limit of one carer each allowed with them). Instead of the WWI banners leading the march, they now bring up the rear. This year it’s spread to Melbourne, with similar adjustments on the cards for the southern capital’s march.

Far be it, of course, for me to criticise the involvement of descendants in the Anzac Day march. I have, after all, been one of them for several years now. There’s no doubt that it’s been a special experience. The noise made by the crowds that lined George St during last year’s march during the Centenary of Anzac was, genuinely, quite exhilarating. But at the same time I’ve felt a little uneasy. The applause and the cheering from the crowd is for those original veterans we have marching with us. Once they can no longer march, then what?

The answer, I think, is that once we no longer have any originals capable or willing to march, the time has come to bring down the curtain. The fellowship evident at the 463-467 Squadrons Association luncheon each year – and indeed the increasing numbers seen at that and other functions in the last few years – shows that there remains a place for events of that type. And of course other Anzac Day traditions such as the Dawn Service must also continue. But the March should be for the veterans themselves. While we still have veterans marching with us, I’m very happy to carry the banner for them.

But on the day the last 463-467 Squadron veteran in Sydney dies, it’s time to retire the banner.

And the band plays Waltzing Matilda,

And the old men still answer the call,

But as year follows year, more old men disappear.

Someday no-one will march there at all.

(c) 2016 Adam Purcell

 

 

Vale Harry Brown

Harry Brown

Harry Brown

April 25, 2008 was one of the first years that I joined the 463-467 Squadrons Association for the Sydney Anzac Day March. It was, as I remember it, quite wet.

There were a good few more veterans marching then than there have been in more recent times – I guess age catches up quickly for most people sometime between their late 80s and early 90s. And so that wet April morning seven years ago, back when the old blokes weren’t quite so old, the march was moving a little quicker than it now does.

One veteran, though, was falling slightly behind, so I dropped back to offer him the shelter of my umbrella. We chatted as we marched. His name was Harry, he said, and “I was doing ok until I lost my marbles a few years ago!” I had to admit he looked in pretty good shape to me, notwithstanding the ever-increasing distance between us and the main group of marchers ahead.

Harry (on the right), before the marchers got away from him. Anzac Day 2008., Sydney. The other veteran is David Walter, a 467 Squadron W/Op, who died a few years ago.

But Harry, determined to complete the march on his own two feet, had a plan for that.

Just after the Sydney Town Hall, the traditional march route passes St Andrews Cathedral and then turns left into Bathurst St. We watched the Squadron wheel left in something that may have once resembled parade ground style (it had been over sixty years for these blokes, after all). Cheekily, though, my new friend Harry led me and my umbrella not so much around the corner as across it, cutting the corner and neatly closing the gap (at least a little bit).

No problems with marbles there, then, lost or otherwise.

This happy memory came to mind recently when I learned that Harry – actually Henry Emanuel Brown – 106 Squadron Wireless Operator, died peacefully in hospital on a Sunday night in May.

Harry had completed a year at Teachers College training to be a science teacher (having not yet reached the age of seventeen years) when he enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force, using his brother’s birthday to try and sneak in four months underage. Alas, his family tell me, the duty sergeant knew him and ‘misplaced’ the paperwork until after Harry’s actual birthday. He was called up in August 1942, completed wireless operator/air gunner training in Canada and flew twelve operations with 106 Squadron from Metheringham. Then in March 1945 he went to RAF Warboys, in what is now Cambridgeshire, for a Pathfinder training course.

Harry (centre, marked with his initials HEB) among 106 Squadron aircrew. The man marked KK in front of him is his pilot, Ken Kiesling. Photo courtesy Nancy Jacobs

Harry (centre, marked with his initials HEB) among 106 Squadron aircrew. The man marked KK in front of him is his pilot, Ken Kiesling. Photo courtesy Nancy Jacobs

By the time this course ended, in late April 1945, the end of the war in Europe was but a fortnight away and Harry flew no more operations. He received a commission a week after VE Day and was posted to 467 Squadron, which moved from Waddington to (surprise!) Metheringham at around the same time. There Harry took part in the training for Tiger Force, the planned bomber offensive against Japan. Then the atomic bombs, as we now know, removed the requirement for that, and 467 Squadron disbanded at Metheringham at the end of September 1945. Shortly thereafter Harry returned to Australia and following discharge studied Physics at Sydney University under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme and worked as a research physicist in atmospherics and minerals. Though he told his family that “the last time I saw Europe was out of the back of a bomber and I never want to see it again!” he did eventually return, well into his late eighties, to visit his children.

For the last few years Harry and I had corresponded occasionally after I posted him a copy of the group photograph of aircrew from Killara in 2013. He was one of the rare veterans with an email address (using dictation software rather than a keyboard) and this came in handy when I had technical questions about the role of wireless operator. There were many different types of radios in Lancasters and Harry was a great help in sorting out their various roles.

One of his emails mentioned using one of them to get a fix from “0512 East and 56 North when we were shot up over Hampden” (I suspect that was a dictation error from the software and it should have read Hamburg). My calculations place that position over the North Sea, rather closer to Denmark than to England. To my eternal regret I never got around to asking Harry to tell me more about that particular story.

Anzac Day 2015

Anzac Day 2015

Like many veterans though, most of the stories with which he did go into more detail concerned what could be called the lighter side of life in Bomber Command. As the wireless operator, Harry had a spare moment every 15 minutes or so. He had specially prepared an empty 7lb jam tin and would use that spare time, he told me at an Anzac Day lunch one year, to wander around between each man in the crew, offering them the use of it to answer calls of nature. “Not only was I the wireless operator”, so his punch line went, “I was the piss-pot too!”

Harry had broken his hip in a fall about a year ago and complications arising out of that had meant that he was in various hospitals and nursing homes more or less ever since. We didn’t see him at the Ladies’ Day lunch last November, but he was determined to come to Anzac Day this year, where his grandson Geordie, who is now a member of the Royal Australian Air Force himself, pushed his wheelchair during the march.

1504 Anzac Day002

A little over two weeks later Harry passed away. He was the last remaining member of both his 106 Squadron and his 467 Squadron crews.

5

Thanks to Nancy (Harry’s daughter) and Geordie (his grandson) Jacobs for their help with supplying details and the wartime images in this post. 

Text and colour images (c) 2015 Adam Purcell

Anzac Day 2015 in Sydney

Last week, Sydney got hit by the “storm of this century”. Extremely heavy rain – 255mm over three days, or almost exactly twice the average for the entire month of April – combined with flooding and winds of over 130km/h to cause eight deaths, thousands of fallen trees and untold millions of dollars of damage.

So it was with some relief that the city awoke on Saturday to one of those beautiful gin-clear blue sky autumn days for which it is so known. Patrons at the Grand Hotel, on the corner of Hunter and Pitt Streets, were well and truly into it even as I walked past just before 8.30am to the starting point for the 2015 Anzac Day march.

Just three veterans marched with the 463-467 Squadrons Association last year (with three more in trucks) and, with three of those having since suffered from deteriorating health, my fellow banner-carrier Bryan Cook and I were uncertain that we would have anyone marching at all this year. So we were both happy to find that numbers had in fact grown. In all there were eight veterans taking part. Bill Purdy missed last year as he was flying a Tiger Moth over the city. This year he led the 463-467 Squadron group. Don Southwell was back, feeling comfortable enough to march on foot for the first time in several years. Don Huxtable wasn’t going to let the trifling matter of a recent operation to remove a tumour from his neck stop him (he wore a beanie to cover the bandages). Riding in the trucks were Keith Campbell and Don Browning, and we had two veterans in wheelchairs: Albert Wallace and Harry Brown. Harry was pushed along by his grandson Geordie Jacobs, himself a member of the Royal Australian Air Force:

Jen Lill and Geordie Jacobs with Harry Brown

Harry Brown with his daughter Nancy Jacobs and grandson Geordie

And we had a ring-in with us too. David Wylie, a wireless operator, radar operator and air gunner who served on Coastal Command, had been ‘adopted’ by the Southwells.

A Coastal Command veteran marching with a bomber unit? “Well, we did air-sea rescue patrols,” David said, “and when these blokes ditched into the ocean, we’d go to fish them out!”

Sounds reasonable to me, I thought.

There was a rather long delay while waiting for the march to get going. Bryan found Hux a couple of milk crates to sit on in the meantime, which caused much merriment:

1504 Anzac Day005

But finally, we were off. There was just one thing missing.

“Where’s our music?!?” asked Bill Purdy from the front.

Just as he said that I heard a shouted command – and the Castle Hill Pipe Band appeared out of a side street and slotted themselves in behind us.

There’s our music, Bill.

With the pipes behind us and the cheers of the crowd the noise was spine-tingling, especially where Pitt St narrows just before we turned down Martin Place. It seemed to me, and to at least one or two others, like the biggest crowd ever, and it probably was. We heard later that there were some 220,000 people lining the streets. Hux – ably assisted by Hannah Beech-Allen, and I don’t think Hux was complaining at all about that – was determined to see through to the end of the march. I thought he had finally conceded defeat on the last leg up Bathurst St, but it turned out he just wanted to high-five some young kids who were hanging on the fenceline.

Hux with Hannah

Hux with Hannah

Intrepid leader Bill finally turned around when we reached the end of the march. I saw his eyes widen when he saw the rag-tag bunch of veterans and friends bunched behind the banner. “What a gaggle!” he said. We’d win no prizes for the crispness of our marching this year.

A short stroll followed across Hyde Park to the Pullman Hotel for lunch.

It was a bit squeezy. The room is built for about 45 guests – but we had almost 60, I think the biggest group ever, with more on a waiting list. Two more veterans joined the eight who had taken part in the march: Alan Buxton and my good friend Hugh McLeod. I’m not sure quite how I managed it but once again I had some extremely interesting dining companions. I was seated between Hugh and Bill Purdy, with Don Southwell off Hugh’s starboard wing. The conversation was as stimulating as you’d imagine with that calibre of gentlemen involved (“Did you ever have a nightfighter come in during the landing procedure?” Hugh asked Bill at one point, and I knew he was speaking from experience) and the lunch passed quickly.

The crowd

The crowd

Keith Campbell

Keith Campbell

Hugh McLeod

Hugh McLeod

I overheard an interesting conversation between Alan Buxton and David Wylie. They were talking about parachutes. David related the time when he and his crew were returning from a patrol in their Vickers Warwick (a development of the Wellington)and one of the wheels would not come down. The ground controller told them to point the aircraft east towards the sea and bail out, but they elected to try and land instead because, David said, “I’m afraid of heights”. Here Alan chuckled. He was wearing his little golden caterpillar badge, earned departing his Lancaster by parachute when all four engines caught alight crossing the English coast on the way home from an operation. “It’s different when you have to get out”, he said. “And we had to get out.”    

David Wylie

David Wylie

Alan Buxton

Alan Buxton

And so another Anzac Day passes. The World War II veterans are getting fewer, and many of those who were there are much more frail than they were even a year ago. But they are still there, and while they keep coming to march, I’ll keep carrying the banner they so proudly march beneath.

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Tommy KNox and Keith Campbell on the truck

Tommy Knox and Keith Campbell on the truck

Bill Purdy showing off his Legion d'Honneur

Bill Purdy showing off his Legion d’Honneur

The paparazzi at work. Back row, L-R: Bill Purdy, Alan Buxton, Hugh McLeod, David Wylie, Don Southwell, Don Browning. Front row, L-R: Albert Wallace, Keith Campbell, Harry Brown and Don Huxtable.

The paparazzi at work. Back row, L-R: Bill Purdy, Alan Buxton, Hugh McLeod, David Wylie, Don Southwell, Don Browning. Front row, L-R: Albert Wallace, Keith Campbell, Harry Brown and Don Huxtable.

Don Huxtable

Don Huxtable

 Text and Photos (c) 2015 Adam Purcell

 

ANZAC Day 2014 in Sydney

It started at a different spot than over the previous seven decades.

At a much earlier time.

And the trains weren’t running (or so we thought).

And it was raining.

And there were (of course) road closures in the CBD.

But we eventually made it to the start of the 2014 ANZAC Day march in Sydney last Friday.

(And it was still raining).

We found, in a large group of veterans and other hangers-on sheltering under one of Sydney’s tall office buildings, four familiar faces in front of the 463-467 Squadrons Association banner.

Clearly we’d found the right place.

Names

Left to right: Don Southwell (463 Squadron navigator), Don Browning (463 Squadron wireless operator), Don Huxtable (463 Squadron skipper) and Hugh McLeod (49 Squadron rear gunner)

The rain abated for a moment and, with a little bit of encouragement from the RSL marshals, the various banners of numerous Air Force associations formed up on Pitt Street. Bryan Cook (the young bloke on the right of the photo above) and I (on the left side of the banner) shuffled the banner sideways through the crowds, passing an Army LandRover in the back of which we found two more veterans we knew, wireless operator Harry Brown (106 and 467 Squadrons) and bomb aimer Keith Campbell (466 Squadron). We were marshalled into position as the rain started and the umbrellas came out once more. Don Southwell took the LandRover option, leaving us with three veterans for the march, with three people representing various other squadron members acting as carers. It was still raining.

As the rain dried up the march proceeded. Unfortunately we were in the middle between two different bands, each playing a different beat, and so marching in step was a challenge. We made it past the Cenotaph at Martin Place and half way down George St when one of our veterans – Don Browning -started wobbling a little and made the decision to retire. A carer detached from the column to assist. No great harm done however, and in the end Don made it to lunch before the rest of us, having procured a lift from somewhere.

Having completed the march, we carried the banner to the Pullman Hotel, across the road from Hyde Park, for what turned into a great lunch. In all fifty people attended, and as well as the six veterans who participated in the march we were joined by four more: David Skinner, Alan Buxton, Albert Wallace and George Douglass.

This is the third year that the Association has used the Pullman and they put on their usual fine show. The food was excellent and the service top-notch, but of course once again it was the conversation which really made the afternoon. Here’s Bryan talking to George Douglass:

Bryan Cook talking to George Douglass

…and Hugh McLeod:

Bryan Cook and Hugh McLeod

….and here’s my partner Rachel (who came along because she “wanted to meet all those old blokes you keep talking about”!) asking Alan Buxton about the significance of his little gold caterpillar badge:

14Apr-ANZACDay 129 copy

And even the veterans themselves, who know each other well, found things to talk about. Here, Hugh McLeod and Don Southwell examine Don Huxtable’s medals:

Hugh McLeod points out something on Don Huxtable's medals to Don Southwell

We gathered the veterans for a group photo (though one managed to evade detection in this photo):

Names

Back row: Alan Buxton, Don Huxtable, Hugh McLeod, Don Southwell. Front row: David Skinner, Keith Campbell, Don Browning, Harry Brown, Albert Wallace. Missing: George Douglass

Outside, the rain continued to pour down. But as the desserts were being served, the day cleared up into one of those magnificent, mostly blue-sky autumn days for which Sydney is so well-known. The most disappointing thing about the timing of that was that 463 Squadron stalwart Bill Purdy was unable to lead the planned Tiger Moth flypast, open cockpits and rain not being particularly good bedfellows.

Age is now, undeniably, wearying the veterans of Bomber Command. This was clear in the lower numbers of veterans taking part in the march, and indeed this is the key motivation behind the RSL’s move to change the format of the march in Sydney. Very few veterans are now under 90. It won’t be too much longer before, like the veterans of the Great War before them, there are no longer any originals left to march. But the number of people present at the lunch last Friday is encouraging. The interest from family and friends remains high and, while that continues, so too will the memories of these two Squadrons. And while we still have Bomber Command aircrew with us, occasions like these offer the chance to talk to and celebrate some of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met.

The 463-467 Squadrons Association ANZAC Day lunch, Sydney 2014

The Lunch

David Skinner talking to Keith Campbell

David Skinner talking to Keith Campbell

Geoff Nottage and Don Southwell

Geoff Nottage and Don Southwell

Rachel McIntosh and Adam Purcell

Rachel McIntosh and Adam Purcell

Don Huxtable's medals

Don Huxtable’s medals

 

Photographic portraits of all ten veterans who attended the lunch are on a separate post, here. Text and photos (c) 2014 Adam Purcell.