Archive for the 'Events' Category



The Empire Air Training Scheme, or How I Got To Have Lunch With 40 Veterans At The Same Time

The Empire Air Training Scheme was an agreement between Britain and its Dominion countries that trained ab-initio aircrew and put them into a joint ‘pool’ from which they could be drawn to serve with various RAF units. Some 37,000 Australian aircrew were trained under the agreement, serving in Coastal, Fighter and Bomber Commands. And I recently had lunch with almost 40 of them.

My post written after the Bomber Command Commemorative Day Foundation (Vic)’s Cocktail Party in March started thusly:

“I love collecting veterans.”

It was a throw-away line, really. I was referring to my habit of coming away from Bomber Command-related events with a few new contacts, addresses and things to follow up on. But the line obviously tickled the fancy of Fay McPherson. While we were organising my visit to her husband Gerald a couple of months ago, she mentioned that she and Gerald are involved in running the biannual Empire Air Training Scheme luncheon.

The what?

Fay told me that a lunch is held in Caulfield, Melbourne, every six months for trainees and staff of the Empire Air Training Scheme. In other words, just about any member of Commonwealth aircrew from WWII can attend. Would I like to go along too, she enquired?

Would I what!

I had no idea that such a group existed. I’ve been pretty happy with groups of ten or so veterans from various lunches and events, and we might reach 40 on a good year for the Bomber Command Commemorative Day in Canberra, but the old blokes are usually well and truly outnumbered by family, friends and assorted hangers-on like, well, me. But I felt quite special to be invited to this one: fully two-thirds of those present had served in the Royal Australian Air Force in some capacity during WWII. Such a concentration of veterans I haven’t seen in a long, long time.

Al Beavis, a 608 Squadron Mosquito navigator

Al Beavis, a 608 Squadron Mosquito navigator

And so it was that, a few weeks ago, almost sixty people descended on the Caulfield RSL. As it turns out the RSL isn’t even in Caulfield. It’s housed in a handsome 90-ish-year-old mock Tudor building in neighbouring Elsternwick, and when I turned up last week people were already starting to gather in the bar, where the staff had set up jugs of beer with glasses for a very civilised serve-it-yourself opener. I recognised one or two people but decided I’d go introduce myself to someone new.

John Missen was his name, a genial man with a big white beard and a hearty laugh. John had been in Course 55 at 1 Initial Training School at Somers in Victoria in late 1944, right before the Empire Air Training Scheme began to wind up (I believe Course 57 was the final one). Just 18 years old, he and a mate reckoned they’d have a better chance of seeing action if they volunteered directly for training as air gunners but as you couldn’t be posted overseas until you were 19 someone talked them out of that. John ended up at Signals School at Point Cook and did eventually see service on the ground as a RAAF signaller in Borneo. The war ended before some others from his course, who had been accepted as gunners, got to an operational squadron. A writer and a painter, John told me he’s written a novel and is wondering if he should try to get it published. “It needs a good editor”, he said, “but the problem is that once you get to my age…”

The RSL had decided on this, of all days, to renovate its kitchen, so the meal was a somewhat slap-up affair cooked mostly on a BBQ. But it was hearty enough and the conversation was great. I’d asked to be seated next to “someone interesting”, and Fay more than delivered. At my table were two Halifax skippers (Laurie Larmer of 51 Sqn and Ralph White of 192 Sqn) and a Mosquito navigator (Ken Munro). One of the others at the table was Geoff Clark, who while not a veteran himself was pretty close: he’d completed his National Service in the RAF in the 1950s, working in the Photographic Section with reconnaissance cameras. And the other person was a man named Ian Stevenson, who’d brought along a logbook belonging to his uncle who had been a Spitfire pilot killed over Italy. So we all had plenty to talk about, and even more so when I discovered that Laurie lives just two suburbs over from me.

Ralph White, 192 Sqn Halifax pilot

Ralph White, 192 Sqn Halifax pilot

I wandered around to some of the other tables between lunch and dessert. Someone mentioned the primitive conditions when the Initial Training School at Somers first opened. Apparently it was quite cold and the buildings were very draughty. At this point I heard Ken Wilkinson, a 77 Sqn Kittyhawk pilot, snort. “I was there in July…” he said. Ken thought at first that, as my interest is mainly Bomber Command, he wouldn’t be of much use to me, and pointed me to the two 460 Squadron men across the table. But then he said he had also done some air traffic control while in the Air Force… I’ll be seeing Mr Wilkinson again for a deeper chat, methinks!

Ken Wilkinson - a 77 Sqn Wirraway pilot - calls a taxi to go home after the lunch.

Ken Wilkinson – a 77 Sqn Wirraway pilot – calls a taxi to go home after the lunch.

I also talked with Jack Bell, who I had heard speak during the Bomber Command Panel Discussion at the Shrine of Remembrance in 2013.I mentioned how happy I was to see so many veterans in the one place, and he concurred. But he had a very interesting point too. “A lot of these blokes haven’t told their stories”, he said. “This isn’t the place for it though – too many distractions. You really need to get them on their own.”

Jack Bell, 216 Squadron Vickers Valencia and Bristol Bombay Wireless Operator/Air Gunner

Jack Bell, 216 Squadron Vickers Valencia and Bristol Bombay Wireless Operator/Air Gunner

Which, I thought, is very true. I go to a lot of these sort of functions (indeed I’m madly trying to get this post finished in time before heading to Canberra for a whole weekend of them) and, while they are an excellent way to meet people initially, they are not usually the right sort of environment for a detailed talk. If the old blokes are up for something like that, as Jack said, you really do need to go and visit them.

So six old men will shortly get a letter from me requesting just such a visit. And hopefully I’ll get the chance to go and get some stories from them.

Words and photos (c) 2015 Adam Purcell

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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:

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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

 

EVENTS: Bomber Command Commemorative Day 2015 – Across the Country

While the ‘national’ event is held in Canberra each year, there are also other Bomber Command Commemorative Day events being held across Australia around the same time.

Note that as the Canberra event was brought forward a week this year to avoid clashing with the Queens’ Birthday long weekend, these ceremonies will not be all held on the same day.

At the time of publication not all states had advised their details. This page will be updated when and if they do.

Melbourne:

Sunday 7 June 2015, 12:00pm

in the Auditorium of the Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne

Contact: Robyn Bell, 03 9890 3107 or brucebell (at) netspace.net.au

See here.

Sydney:

Sunday 7 June 2015, 11:00

at the Cenotaph, Martin Place, Sydney

Adelaide:

Sunday 31 May 20145, 11:00

Torres Parade Ground, Adelaide

Held in conjunction with the Air Force Plaques ceremony

Brisbane:

Sunday May 31 2015, 10:15 for 11:00

Memorial Garden inside front gates, RAAF Amberley.

Contact: Ted Vowles 0418 758 072 emvow(at)bigpond.com

Note that registration is essential if you intend to be at this ceremony as it will be held in a secure area.

Perth:

Details yet to be advised.

EVENT: Bomber Command Commemorative Day – Canberra, 30-31 May 2015

Details have now been released for the ‘national’ Bomber Command Commemorative Day events in Canberra, to be held on the weekend 30-31 May 2015. Note the change in date, one week earlier than has been traditional. There are as usual three events taking place:

The Ceremony

The Bomber Command Memorial, Western Sculpture Garden at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra

Sunday 31 May 2015, 11:00 (please be seated by 10:50)

Contact and bookings: Don Southwell 02 9449 6515 or southwelldonald (at) gmail.com

The Meet & Greet

In the shadow of G for George, ANZAC Hall, Australian War Memorial, Canberra

Saturday night 30 May, 18:30-20:30

$60 per person, includes canapes, beer, wine, soft drink.

The Lunch:

QT Hotel

Sunday 31 May 2015, 12:30 for 13:00

$60 per person, includes two-course sit-down lunch. A cash bar will be operating.

Note that the Lunch has been moved back to the QT due to high demand

  Contact for Meet & Greet and Lunch bookings: Ros Ingram, 2A Kitchener St Oatley NSW 2223, ros (at) ingram.org.au or 02 9570 6176

A Cocktail Party in Melbourne

I love collecting veterans.

Though their numbers are undeniably dwindling, it seems that every time I go to a Bomber Command-related event I come away having met a new veteran or two. And last Saturday night, a fundraising cocktail party for the Bomber Command Commemorative Day Foundation (Vic) in Melbourne, was no different.

Because of my own history of living in Sydney most of the events I go to are still in the Harbour City, and so despite living in Melbourne for four and a half years now I regularly travel there for ANZAC Days or other events. Consequently I’m still getting to know the Melbourne-based Bomber Command community. So it was great to see that among the fifty or so guests who gathered on Saturday night at the Nurses’ Memorial Centre on St Kilda Road were five Bomber Command veterans, three of whom I had not properly met yet. Rest assured that was remedied by the end of the evening!

The other two I know well. 578 and 466 Squadron Halifax skipper Don McDonald brought his wife Ailsa, and was working the room as he always does. Though he was wearing a badge with joined Australian and French flags I didn’t get the chance, unfortunately, to ask him about his recent award of the Legion d’Honneur, but that story will have to wait until the next time we meet. 463 Squadron navigator Don Southwell came down from Sydney as a representative of the national Bomber Command Commemorative Day Foundation committee. Don, as well as being a friend of mine is very active on numerous Bomber Command committees and it was nice to have the chance to talk to him at an event which, for once, he did not organise.

Gerald McPherson and Don Southwell

Gerald McPherson and Don Southwell

The other three are all Melbourne veterans. “Poor old Wally McCulloch”, as he introduced himself, was a 460 Squadron bomb aimer. He and his wife had braved a long and difficult journey to get to the function… from their apartment upstairs in the same building! And Arthur Atkins was a 625 Squadron pilot, with a DFC. He approached me after Don Southwell pointed me out as someone with a 463-467 Squadron connection, saying he had a mate who was lost flying from Waddington.

I’d briefly met the third Melbourne veteran, Gerald McPherson, at the panel discussion at the Shrine of Remembrance in 2013 but, until now, had not had a chance to talk to him. He was a rear gunner in 186 Squadron and related the story of his first ever trip in a Lancaster. Up to that point, he told me, flying Wellingtons and Stirlings, he’d always said a small prayer to himself at the top of the runway to help the aeroplanes take off safely. “I never needed to do that in the Lanc”, he said. “You could feel the power as it took off.” He was wearing a Bomber Command clasp so we talked about that for a little while. Coincidentally I had dropped the application for my great uncle Jack’s clasp into the postbox as I was walking to the tram to travel into the city for this event.

It’s not just the veterans, of course. I came away with some other useful contacts too. David Howell works at the Shrine as a Development Officer and is their resident Kokoda expert. In fact he even leads tours along the Kokoda Track (see www.kokodahistorical.com). David is clearly a military history nut – he turned up to the function wearing a WWII RAAF uniform, along with a mate:

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I also, finally, met Andy Wright of Aircrew Book Review. We’ve corresponded before, mostly about blogging and book-ish issues, and we’ve been trying to arrange a time to catch up since he moved to Melbourne from central NSW with his young family a few months ago. This cocktail party offered a good chance to meet. Very generously, Andy had used some of his publishing contacts to source for us some very nice books for our raffle.

The raffle had been my main contribution to the running of the event. It turned out to be very successful with everyone getting involved, and Andy’s efforts, along with a couple more books and an Easter basket or two from Jan Dimmick (one of my fellow committee members), really made it worthwhile. Here are a couple of the winners:

Andy Wright with David Howell, the winner of the 'main prize' - a complete set of Chris Ward's Bomber Command Groups books, donated by Pen and Sword in the UK

Andy Wright with David Howell, the winner of the ‘main prize’ – a complete set of Chris Ward’s Bomber Command Groups books, donated by Pen and Sword in the UK

Ian Gibson with his prize, a Fighting High book donated by Capricorn Link (Australia)

Ian Gibson with his prize, a Fighting High book donated by Capricorn Link (Australia)

Thanks to Capricorn Link (Australia) and Pen and Sword Books (UK) for their very generous donations. And I must also mention the Royal Australian Air Force Association (Victoria), whose treasurer Richard Orr announced a significant donation of funds to the group on the night.

And at the end of the day, fundraising was what it was all about. The Bomber Command Commemorative Day ceremony gets bigger in Melbourne each year, and it is beginning to cost a fair amount to put on. The aim of the cocktail party, as well as being a good chance to bring together people with an interest in Bomber Command in the city, was to raise money to ensure that the ceremony – set down for June 7 this year – can continue to be held. In this it was a success, and I think a good night was had by all.

One last thing, before I get stuck into some more photos. I wrote back in January about a programme run by the Shrine of Remembrance to connect veterans’ groups with schools, to pass the legacies of some of these groups on to a new generation. I’ve been holding this news back for a while now but, as it was effectively announced publicly on Saturday night, it’s time it got a run on SomethingVeryBig.

The Bomber Command Commemorative Day Foundation (Vic) is now part of this important Shrine initiative.

Present at the cocktail party was Scott Bramley, who is the Middle School Chaplain at Carey Baptist Grammar School, in Kew, Melbourne. (His seven-year-old son Hamish was also there and won the final prize in the raffle – a great big Easter basket – but no one believes me when I say it was emphatically not a set-up!!)

Scott Bramley

Scott Bramley

Carey was the school attended by Frank Dimmick, who was a 460 Squadron navigator and the husband of Jan Dimmick, one of my fellow committee members. Though Frank died in 2013 Jan has maintained contact with Carey’s Old Grammarians network and it is through this association that the school was approached and agreed to become part of the ceremony each June. Scott has been the main point of contact, and his enthusiasm for the project is infectious. He’s effectively thrown the resources of the school at our disposal. Year 9 students will learn about Bomber Command as part of their history studies and Carey students are expected to take an active role at the ceremony in June. Let’s hope it’s the beginning of a long and mutually beneficial association between the two groups.

RAAAFA (Vic) Treasurer Richard Orr

RAAAFA (Vic) Treasurer Richard Orr

Don McDonald with David Howell

Don McDonald with David Howell

Arthur Atkins wih Jan Dimmick

Arthur Atkins wih Jan Dimmick

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Vic Leigh of the Royal Air Forces Association (Melbourne Branch). He is a veteran from an RAF Mosquito squadron but served in Australia and the Pacific, and so very modestly refused to appear in the group photograph. Lovely bloke though!

Vic Leigh of the Royal Air Forces Association (Melbourne Branch). He is a veteran from an RAF Mosquito squadron but served in Australia and the Pacific, and so very modestly refused to appear in the group photograph. Lovely bloke though!

Don Southwell. Ron ledingham looking on.

Don Southwell. Ron Ledingham looking on.

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Back, L-R: Robyn Bell (Organiser), Don Southwell, Don McDonald, Elaine McCulloch, Wal McCulloch. Front, L-R: Ailsa McDonald, Fay McPherson, Gerald McPherson, Arthur Atkins

 

Photos and text (c) 2015 Adam Purcell

 

 

EVENT: Cocktail Party for the Bomber Command Commemorative Day Foundation (VIC)

Also just to hand is notofication from the Bomber Command Commemorative Day Foundation (Vic) of a cocktail party planned to raise funds to support the annual commemoration service. Details below…

WHEN: 18:00-21:00, Saturday 14 March 2015

WHERE: Nurses’ Memorial Centre, 431 St Kilda Road, Melbourne (entrance off Slater St)

WHO: All welcome – Veterans, Family, Friends

WHAT: Cost includes bubbly, beer, red and whit wine and soft drinks with finger food also provided

HOW MUCH: $40 per head

RSVP: Robyn Bell: brucebell (at) netspace.net.au or 0439 385 104, by 28 February

Details for payment can be found on the official flyer, here.

 

EVENT: Bomber Command Commemorations in Melbourne, 7 June 2015

An announcement just to hand from the organisers of the Melbourne edition of the Bomber Command Commemorative Day about this year’s ceremony:

The Bomber Command Commemorative Day Foundation (Vic) is pleased to announce the 4th year of commemorating the service and sacrifice of the men and women who served and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in WWII.

In Conjunction with the Shrine of Remembrance we will be conducting the 2015 service at the Shrine at 12.00 noon on Sunday June 7th

Concurrent observances are held in Canberra, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia together with overseas observances in New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Enquiries:

Robyn Bell

03 9890 3107

0439 385 104

brucebell (at) netspace.net.au

Similar events are expected to be held around the country on the same day, including of course the flagship weekend in Canberra. Further details to be released in due course.


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