Archive for the 'Events' Category



Ladies’ Day with the 463-467 Squadrons Association in Sydney, 16 November 2014

Some three decades ago, the 463-467 Squadrons Association (NSW) (Inc) needed to find a new venue for their Annual General Meeting. One of the squadron veterans was a member of the Killara Golf Club in what’s usually described as Sydney’s ‘leafy’ North Shore, and suggested that the salubrious surrounds of the art deco clubhouse there might be suitable. So they tried it, and it was. After a few years the meeting would be followed by lunch at the club and eventually wives and partners were invited along too. The gents had their meeting in the Billiards Room while the ladies got stuck into drinks in the Dining Room. And then they would all share lunch together.

Such were the origins, says veteran 463 Squadron wireless operator Don Browning, of the now-annual ‘Ladies’ Day’ luncheon. AGMs are no longer required following the winding up of the official body some years ago but the loose association continues to hold the lunches on the Sunday nearest Remembrance Day each November. This year’s edition took place yesterday. And I was there, one of about 55 people in the crowd.

There was a little shuffling of the seats happening at Table 3 when I arrived to stake my claim. No fewer than three Bomber Command veterans were at the table so I cunningly found a spot in between two of them. Don Southwell apologised as he took his seat on my left. “Sorry you got me,” he said. “I thought you’d want to sit next to someone interesting!” I raised an eyebrow. Sitting next to me on my right, was Ron Houghton, who flew a full tour as a Halifax pilot on 102 Squadron and after the war had a long career flying Constellations and B707s with Qantas. To his right, Keith Campbell, a bomb aimer who was the only survivor when his 466 Squadron Halifax was shot down over Stuttgart in June 1944. Keith wore the little gold caterpillar badge that denotes a member of the Caterpillar Club. Don Southwell himself, of course, flew nine operations as a 463 Squadron navigator.

Don Southwell (right), Ron Houghton and Keith Campbell

Don Southwell (right), Ron Houghton and Keith Campbell

I reckon I’d have a hard time finding anyone more interesting than this trio.

I was, in reality, extraordinarily lucky to have three veterans at my table. In all there were nine present, down three on last year, mostly through illness both short and long-term. Most obviously missing for me were Tom Hopkinson, who had to cancel at short notice, and Harry Brown, who is still recovering from complications after breaking a hip a few months ago. Even some of those who were there have been a little in the wars lately. Keith Campbell got the most points for effort though. He’s had a hip operation recently but managed to wrangle a leave pass from hospital for the afternoon.

After a superb meal at which, as you’d expect in this company, the conversation was free-flowing, it was time for some speeches. Don Southwell welcomed the reasonably significant number of visitors, and proposed the traditional Toast to the Ladies:

SOLD! To the man in the blue suit!

SOLD! To the man in the blue suit!

Annette Guterres responded on behalf of the Ladies, both present and not:

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Annette Guterres

The day’s main speaker was Bill Purdy. Before he spoke, however, Don Browning shared a story about him:

Don Browning

Don Browning

Following his tour of operations, Bill was posted to a Heavy Conversion Unit at Wigsley as an instructor. Returning from a training sortie one day Bill found himself close to Waddington and decided it would be fun to buzz the control tower there. So he did. Word of his indiscretion, of course, made its way back to Wigsley, where the Commanding Officer there happened to be the former CO from 463 Squadron, Rollo Kingsford-Smith. Kingsford-Smith gave Bill a good dressing-down and told him that Group Captain Bonham-Carter had demanded an apology in person.
“You are to go to Waddington”, Rollo said.

No problem, Bill thought. It’s only about nine miles away as the crow flies, a short hop in a Lancaster. No sweat.

But Rollo wasn’t finished yet.

“…by bicycle!”

Bill says he hasn’t forgotten that bike ride.

Apart from Phil Smith, of course, Bill was the first Bomber Command veteran I had met who actually flew on the Lille raid of 10 May 1944 from which the crew of B for Baker failed to return. He’s also the only Bomber Command airman I know who still has a pilot licence, flying around in a Tiger Moth from Luskintyre, north of Sydney. But this talk was about his experiences in June of this year, when a delegation of seven Australian veterans went to France to take part in the official 70th anniversary commemorations of the Normandy landings.

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Bill had been on the raid on the morning of the invasion against Pointe du Hoc, a very large German gun emplacement, and it was in this capacity as a veteran of D-Day that he was selected. Interestingly another one of the seven was present at Killara: my lunch companion Ron Houghton.

In any case, Bill gave a good talk. Security on the French trip was tight, he said, with multiple checkpoints to negotiate on the way to the official ceremonies, and traffic was a nightmare with half a million people in the area. But it was one of the best-organised events he had ever been part of and a most memorable occasion, particularly seeing first-hand the damage their 1,000-pounders had done to Pointe du Hoc. Having been there myself a few years ago, he’s right – there are craters everywhere.

Bill was wearing his medals, and they included a particularly impressive-looking one hanging from a red ribbon. While the veterans were overseas the French presented each of them with the Légion d’Honneur, one of the country’s highest honours. It’s the one hanging from his left thumb in this photo:

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Following the talk there was one more bit of official business to take care of: the group photo. Once again, all we were missing was a flight engineer… and a Lancaster, otherwise I would have suggested they all took us for a fly.

Back row L-R: Don Southwell (463 Sqn Navigator), Bill Purdy (463 Sqn Pilot), Hugh McLeod (49 Sqn Rear Gunner), Max Barry (463 Sqn Mid Upper Gunner), Roy Pegler (467 Sqn Bomb Aimer). Front Row L-R: Don Huxtable (463 Sqn Pilot), Don Browning (463 Sqn Wireless Operator), Ron Houghton (102 Sqn Pilot) and Keith Campbell (466 Sqn Bomb Aimer).

Back row L-R: Don Southwell (463 Sqn Navigator), Bill Purdy (463 Sqn Pilot), Hugh McLeod (49 Sqn Rear Gunner), Max Barry (463 Sqn Mid Upper Gunner), Roy Pegler (467 Sqn Bomb Aimer). Front Row L-R: Don Huxtable (463 Sqn Pilot), Don Browning (463 Sqn Wireless Operator), Ron Houghton (102 Sqn Pilot) and Keith Campbell (466 Sqn Bomb Aimer).

I really enjoy the company of these ‘old lags’ and I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to make the trip up from Melbourne to catch up with them a couple of times a year. May it continue for a good few years yet.

Max Barry

Max Barry

Roy Pegler

Roy Pegler

Don Huxtable

Don Huxtable

Ron Houghton

Ron Houghton

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Keith Campbell

Hugh McLeod

Hugh McLeod

Keith Campbell and Ron Houghton

Keith Campbell and Ron Houghton

"How do you work this thing anyway?"

“How do you work this thing anyway?”

Hux and his 'Top Gun Hands". Once a pilot, always a pilot...

“There I was, nothing on the clock but the maker’s name…” Once a pilot, always a pilot…

Keith Campbell, Ross Browning and Ross' socks

Keith Campbell, Ross Browning and Ross’ socks

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Text and images (c) 2014 Adam Purcell

 

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Event: Ladies Day Lunch with 463-467 Squadrons Association in Sydney, 16 November 2014

Details have now been released for this year’s Ladies’ Day Luncheon, held by the 463-467 RAAF Lancaster Squadrons Association (NSW Branch) in Sydney:

  • Sunday 16 November 2014
  • 12:00pm for 12:30pm
  • Killara Golf Club, Pacific Highway, Killara
  • $55pp covers three-course meal with wine/beer/soft drink

Speaking will be Bill Purdy, a 463 Sqn skipper who travelled to France in June as part of the official Australian Delegation to Normandy for the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

For more info, or to book, please contact David Southwell at PO Box 692, Pymble Business Centre, NSW 2073 or david(at)villageconcierge(dot)net.

You can read my post about the 2013 event here.

Super Special Bonus Post: Bomber Command in Brisbane, Part II

My sleuths in Brisbane have uncovered three more photos from the Bomber Command Commemorations held there on 1 June 2014. These images were taken by Vicki Gray, used here by permission via Diane Strub. As you can see the weather was more co-operative than what we ‘enjoyed’ in Canberra!

Ethel Braun - widow of 467 Sqn wireless operator William Braun - on her way to lay a wreath

Ethel Braun – widow of 467 Sqn wireless operator William Braun – on her way to lay a wreath

Ethel Braun and Bryan McGill (463 Squadron gunner) right of centre, with Allan Vial of the Pathfinders left of centre, amongst the crowd at Amberley

Ethel Braun and Bryan McGill (463 Squadron gunner) right of centre, with Allan Vial of the Pathfinders left of centre, amongst the crowd at Amberley

The Australian Squadrons memorial following the service

The Australian Squadrons memorial following the service

Thanks to Vicki Gray – Ethel’s daughter – for taking and giving me permission to post these photos, and to Diane Strub for chasing them down for me.

Bomber Command in Brisbane, 1 June 2014

On Sunday 1 June 2014, Bomber Command commemorations took place all around Australia. In Queensland, the ceremony was held at the Memorial Gardens, near the front gate of RAAF Amberley. Tiana Walker-Adair, whose father was a Halifax navigator, sent me these photos:

Ron Hickey DFC, a pilot with 462 and 466 Squadrons, giving his address

Ron Hickey DFC, a pilot with 462 and 466 Squadrons, giving his address

Ron Hickey DFC with his son David

Ron Hickey with his son David

Her Excellency The Honourable Ms Penelope Wensley AC, Governor of Queensland, with Ron Hickey

Her Excellency The Honourable Ms Penelope Wensley AC, Governor of Queensland, with Ron Hickey

Joanne Adair (who was a former Secretary for Winston Churchill) with Her Excellency The Honourable Ms Penelope Wensley AC, Governor of Queensland

Joanne Adair (who was a former Secretary for Winston Churchill – and is Tiana’s mother) with Her Excellency The Honourable Ms Penelope Wensley AC, Governor of Queensland

Group photo of Bomber Command veterans at Amberley

Group photo of Bomber Command veterans at Amberley

 

Thanks to Tiana for these photos. Only Perth to go now, and I’ve collected the whole set!

 

Bomber Command in Adelaide, June 2014

This is the next post in what I hope will be an occasional series following the events at the various Bomber Command Commemoration Days that happened around Australia earlier this month. This time it is Adelaide’s turn.

The ceremony was held at the Air Force Memorial at the Torrens Parade Ground, just north of the centre of the city. Some 70 people were present, including the Hon Martin Hamilton-Smith, the South Australian Minister for Veterans Affairs. The following photos by Arthur Jeeves were sent to me by Dave Helman, President of the Royal Australian Air Force Association (South Australia), who was one of the organisers.

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Cadet Guard at the Memorial

The Marion City Band at the Bomber Command Ceremony in Adelaide

The Marion City Band at the Bomber Command Ceremony in Adelaide. They donate their time to play at this ceremony each year.

The Padre, Squadron Leader Mark Butler

The Padre, Squadron Leader Mark Butler

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Squadron Leader Dave Helman

Ms Nikki King - daughter of Australian Dambuster pilot Squadron Leader Dave Shannon

Ms Nikki King – daughter of Australian Dambuster pilot Squadron Leader Dave Shannon

Bomber Command veterans and other VIPs amongst the crowd: Left to Right: Squadron Leader Lyne Skinner, Dudley Mitchell, Wing Commander (AAFC)  Peter Gill OC AAFC, Group Captain Ross Bender (92 Wing), Hon Martin Hamilton-Smith (State Minister for Veterans Affairs), Wing Commander Martin Ball (24 Sqn), Wing Commander Bob Macintosh AFC MID. 2nd row far left Squadron Leader David Leicester OAM DFC* (behind right shoulder of Martin Hamilton-Smith)

Bomber Command veterans and other VIPs amongst the crowd: Left to Right: Squadron Leader Lyne Skinner, Dudley Mitchell, Wing Commander (AAFC) Peter Gill OC AAFC, Group Captain Ross Bender (92 Wing), Hon Martin Hamilton-Smith (State Minister for Veterans Affairs), Wing Commander Martin Ball (24 Sqn), Wing Commander Bob Macintosh AFC MID. 2nd row far left Squadron Leader David Leicester OAM DFC* (behind right shoulder of Martin Hamilton-Smith)

Squadron Leader Dave Helman with Group Captain Robert Black AM RFD and Wing Commander Bob Macintosh AFC MID

Squadron Leader Dave Helman with Group Captain Robert Black AM RFD and Wing Commander Bob Macintosh AFC MID

Kevin Fisher and Bill Burnett

Kevin Fisher and Bill Burnett

Squadron Leader David Leicester OAM DFC*, of the Pathfinders

Squadron Leader David Leicester OAM DFC*, of the Pathfinders

Following the ceremony there was an opportunity for drinks and conversation at the Combined Mess at the Parade Ground.

So it looks as if the Adelaide ceremony also went well. I’m hoping to source some photos from the three other events that were held around the same time in Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales. I’ll post them when I get them.

All photos on this post courtesy Arthur Jeeves via Dave Helman

 

Bomber Command in Canberra, 2014

As I headed north up the Hume Highway from Melbourne early on Saturday morning, thin mist was still settled in low valleys and smoke rose directly upwards from the chimneys of roadside homesteads. It was an atmospheric start to my journey to Canberra for the annual Bomber Command Commemoration weekend.

This was the seventh time that the first weekend in June saw Bomber Command veterans, families, researchers, authors and assorted hangers-on converge on the national capital for a weekend of remembrance and reminiscing.

My base for the weekend is no longer called the Rydges Lakeside. It’s been turned into a slick, shiny and slightly pricier hotel called “QT Canberra”, full of odd political references and surprise images of photographers in the lifts. But I digress. On arrival at the hotel I quickly found my first veteran for the weekend, a man named Kevin Dennis. He was wearing, amongst the more usual service medals, an unfamiliar decoration hanging from a light blue ribbon – a Conspicuous Gallantry Medal. More about him later.

Off to the weekend’s first organised event, then: the Meet & Greet function in the shadows of Lancaster G for George at the Australian War Memorial.

The crowd under G for George

The crowd under G for George

Ailsa and Don McDonald

Ailsa and Don McDonald

The two Toms Knox

The two Toms Knox

Tommy Knox

Tommy Knox

It was an excellent function. There was a good-sized crowd present, the speeches were (like a good skirt) short enough to be interesting but long enough to cover everything, the food was good and there were some very interesting people to talk to. At one point, down near George’s tail I was talking to Tom Hopkinson, a 463 Squadron veteran mid-upper gunner. Two ladies approached: Lorna Archer and her daughter Rowena. Lorna’s husband Ken was a 460 Squadron bomb aimer. He is still alive but, at 90, is now too frail to travel and stayed at home in Melbourne this weekend. Lorna wanted to know, if Ken was in a Lancaster and it was hit and he had to bail out, how would he do it?

A fair question. I had a pretty good idea of the answer, but, well, we were standing under a Lancaster and we were talking to a man who used to fly in the things and so… well… why not? I asked Tom if he would like to do the honours. So we weaved our way through the crowd to the nose of the great big black bomber. Tom pointed up. And there, under the nose was the big square escape hatch through which the bomb aimer would have, if the circumstances dictated, been the first out. Which answered the question in a most satisfying manner.

Tom Hopkinson explaining to Lorna Archer how a bomb aimer would evacuate a Lancaster

Tom Hopkinson explaining how a bomb aimer would evacuate a Lancaster

Towards the end of the event, I spied an old man sitting down surrounded by family under (of all things) the German 88mm flak gun that’s on display next to George. His name badge said Alan Finch, 467 Squadron. Good enough for me, I thought. So I sat down and introduced myself. When Alan said he had done his first operation in August 1943 and had remained with the squadron throughout 1944 his name suddenly sounded strangely familiar.

I love modern technology. I pulled out my phone and searched for his name on this website. And there it was: I’d used two of his interrogation reports in my 467 Postblog series. I asked Alan, “Where were you on 24 February 1944?” He responded, “In the air!” Correct! Specifically, Schweinfurt. “Oh yes”, he said, “that was a bad one.”

Alan Finch, 467 Squadron pilot

Alan Finch, 467 Squadron pilot

No kidding. As I wrote here, his aircraft was coned over the target by some 24 searchlights. “Target more formidable than briefed,” he reported nonchalantly on return to Waddington.

This is why I come to these events. I’ve become quite familiar over the last few months with the names of the aircrew who were operating at 463 and 467 Squadrons between January and May 1944. I never suspected that I might run into one of them, sitting under the wing of a Lancaster at the War Memorial.

Laurie Woods talking to Alan Finch

Laurie Woods talking to Alan Finch

Following the function, a fair sized group of those who were staying at the QT met in the hotel bar for a wee nightcap. What followed was one of the better sessions I can remember in some time. Holding court in the corner near the fire was, yes, Don Huxtable. Gathered around him, most of the younger crowd (that is, those under about 60…). Over beers, scotch and sodas the night passed quickly with many, many line shoots.

Don Huxtable, Nikki Harris and Don Southwell

Don Huxtable, Nikki Harris and Don Southwell

Hux and Nikki

Hux and Nikki

Numbers dropped off as the night got later but, still there as the bar staff called last drinks, were an old pilot and his entranced audience.

Dawn broke in Canberra the next day with cloud, mist and rain. Telecom Tower was disappearing into the grey skies.

Where's Black Mountain Tower going?!??

Where’s Black Mountain Tower going?!??

This did not bode well for the morning’s ceremony, planned for the lawn in front of the Bomber Command sculpture at the War Memorial. The decision was made early to move the ceremony to the Commemorative Area, with rows of chairs placed in the cloisters under the names on the Roll of Honour.

At the back of the crowd, personnel of the current iteration of 460 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, lined up under the leaden skies.

The Director of the Australian War Memorial, Dr Brendan Nelson, opened the service, delivering a moving tribute to the aircrew of Bomber Command. Speaking without notes, he quoted a letter written by Colin Flockhart, a 619 Squadron pilot, for delivery in the event of his death:

I love you all very dearly. Please don’t think I’m pessimistic but I do realise what the odds are and I have seen too many of my friends pass on without leaving any words of hope or encouragement behind. Cheerio and keep smiling though your hearts are breaking.

Flockhart was killed on the way home from Munich on 7 January 1945.[1]

Attending the ceremony was His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK, MC (Ret’d), Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, who spoke about how Australians in particular traveled so far from home to fly in Bomber Command. The veterans present were invited to move to the inside of the Hall of Memory to view the wreathlaying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Ross Pearson delivered the Reflections address, paying tribute to those unsung support staff who also served: the armourers, the WAAFs, the parachute packers, the cooks (who worked miracles to make Spam palatable), the briefing officers. He also spoke eloquently on the unique “spirit of aircrew,” reading the citation for the award of the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal to Kevin Dennis, the veteran I had met at the hotel the previous evening. Kevin was a wireless operator who, badly injured by flak during an operation in March 1945, refused to leave his post until the damaged aircraft landed safely. In considerable pain with one foot almost severed from the explosion he had continued to carry out his duties, receiving the critical weather message which resulted in a successful diversion to an emergency airfield. For this, in the process saving his entire crew, he was awarded the CGM, one small step below a Victoria Cross.

This led to the most moving, unplanned, part of the service. After the notes of the bugler’s Rouse echoed off the stone cloisters, Brendan Nelson made his move. It was a breach in protocol, he said, “but we’re Australian and we can breach protocol occasionally.” He invited Kevin to come to the front while he explained why. Kevin is one of just ten RAAF personnel to be awarded the decoration during WWII. But because he required an extended hospital stay to recover, he missed the investiture and instead received his medal in the post. It had never been properly presented to him. Since we had the Governor-General present, Dr Nelson reasoned, it offered a good opportunity to fix that. Kevin came forward, shook Sir Peter’s hand and occupied a position of honour amongst the official party for the remainder of the ceremony.

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This was one of those things which have become typical of Dr Nelson’s time at the helm of the War Memorial. I may not have agreed with him while he was in politics but it’s clear he has a sense of history and a sense of occasion and is a good fit in his current role. This was an inspired moment and it was fantastic to see Kevin being honoured in this very special way.

Kevin Dennis in the media scrum post-ceremony

Kevin Dennis in the media scrum post-ceremony

ABC Canberra had sent a camera crew and, following the ceremony, they interviewed a number of veterans, including Don Huxtable. Given the weather, Hux was wearing a long blue greatcoat. 14Jun-BomberCommandinCanberra 195 copy

Believe it or not, it’s part of his original RAAF-issue uniform.

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Further photos from the ceremony:

Tpm Hopkinson and Angus Cameron

Tom Hopkinson and Angus Cameron

Don Huxtable

Don Huxtable

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Angus Cameron (214 Sqn wireless operator)

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The Group Photograph with the Governor-General

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Kevin Dennis amongst the group

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Dr Brendan Nelson speaking with Don Southwell

Back to the hotel, afterwards, for the lunch. As well as catching up with some of the usual suspects (the McDonalds, the Toms Knox, Knox and Hopkinson, and various assorted Dons) I met a few new people. Stories were shared with Richard Munro, who is the man to contact for 460 Squadron queries. I had a good chat with Wing Commander Tony Bull, the outgoing air attache at the British High Commission in Canberra. And I met Tony Buckland, who was the son of a camera operator with the 463 Squadron film crew, and was carrying his father’s logbook and a spectacular album containing a collection of still photographs from operations.

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Bob Buckland operated with 463 Squadron from June 1944. Among the pilot’s names listed I recognised that of Freddy Merrill, who was another one of the skippers I mentioned in my Postblog. Tony had seen on the guest list that a Merrill was present at the lunch, and wondered if it was the same person.

I thought it probably wouldn’t be. I’d earlier been speaking to Ray Merrill, who is on the right here:

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Ray was a 218 Squadron rear gunner and he is pictured here with Jim Clayton, a wireless operator from the same unit.

As he was not on 463 Squadron at any stage, Ray would not be the Pilot Officer Merrill in Bob’s logbook. But, amazingly, he was connected.

It turned out that Freddy was Ray’s brother. Here’s a photo of Ray pointing his brother’s name in the logbook:

Ray Merrill pointing out his brother's name

Ray Merrill pointing out his brother’s name

A good lunch, then – good food, good conversation and good conversation. It was an enjoyable finish to a fantastic weekend. There were many highlights over the two days. Catching up with many good friends. Meeting new contacts. Drinking with Hux late into Saturday night. Kevin Dennis’ CGM. The Merrill coincidence.

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Ross Pearson, Wing Commander Tony Bull, Don Southwell and Pete Ryan

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Don McDonald, Don Southwell (background) and Angus Cameron

But the main purpose of the weekend, of course, was commemoration and remembrance for and of the men of Bomber Command. In this it was most successful. One of the more poignant moments happened at the Meet & Greet on Saturday evening.

After the speeches the lights dimmed and the sound and light show centred around G for George began. I was talking to Don Huxtable at the time. At the end of the presentation Hux was suddenly quiet for a moment.

“I don’t know how the hell I flew straight and level through all that,” he whispered.

Either do I, Hux. Either do I.

But I’m glad you did.

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© 2014 Adam Purcell

 The Australian War Memorial has further photos available on its Flickr stream, here.

[1] https://www.awm.gov.au/wartime/19/article/

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:

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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.

 

 


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