Posts Tagged 'Bomber Command Commemorative Day Foundation (Vic)'

Bomber Command Commemorative Day in Melbourne 2015

“Here they come!”

The cry went up among the crowd waiting outside the Shrine of Remembrance in the blustery winds of early last Sunday afternoon.

And there they were, right over the target and bang on 1:00pm as briefed. Five aeroplanes from the RAAF Museum’s Historical Trainer Flight – two Harvards, a Winjeel and a pair of CT-4s– swept down St Kilda Road and roared over the crowd. The ‘Sound of Round’ echoed off the buildings. The formation continued south, made a big left-hand turn and then came back across the Shrine again, this time from east to west. The crowd broke into spontaneous applause.

The RAAF Museum Flight passing the Shrine of Remembrance

The RAAF Museum Flight passing the Shrine of Remembrance

A few minutes later the second formation appeared, out of the south this time and made up of seven Warriors and a Cessna from the Royal Victorian Aero Club. Flying lighter aeroplanes than the Air Force pilots, these guys were copping the full force of the windy, bumpy conditions as they turned to the west from dead over the Shrine. But it looked and sounded fantastic. The old flyers on the ground certainly appreciated the dedication and commitment of the pilots from both formations.

The Royal Victorian Aero Club formation passes the Shrine of Remembrance

The Royal Victorian Aero Club formation passes the Shrine of Remembrance

It was a fitting conclusion to the Bomber Command Commemorative Day ceremony which had finished in the new Auditorium inside the Shrine just a few moments before.

The Auditorium was only officially opened last year and this was the first time it has been used for ceremonial purposes. With cold and blustery conditions outside it was certainly a much more comfortable venue for the estimated 140 or so people who packed it to the rafters for the service.

The MC was the unflappable Brian Smith:

Master of Ceremonies Brian SMith

Master of Ceremonies Brian SMith

Squadron Leader Ron Ledingham, Shrine Governor and Bomber Command Commemorative Day Foundation (Vic) committee member, opened the ceremony by discussing its importance to the Shrine and to the Bomber Command community.

Shrine Governor Ron Ledingham

Shrine Governor Ron Ledingham

John Brownbill RFD KSJ, an Army chaplain, looked after the religious aspect of the service and set the scene with a few words on Bomber Command and its part in the Second World War:

Chaplain John Brownbill

Chaplain John Brownbill

Committee member Jan Dimmick – her late husband Frank was a 460 Squadron navigator – read the Epitaph from a poem called Requiem for a Rear Gunner:

BCCDF (Vic) Committee Member Jan Dimmick

BCCDF (Vic) Committee Member Jan Dimmick

 My brief, sweet life is over, my eyes no longer see,

No summer walks, no Christmas trees,

No pretty girls for me.

I’ve got the chop, I’ve had it.

My nightly ops are done.

Yet in another hundred years, I’ll still be twenty one.

                -R.W Gilbert

The guest speaker for the ceremony was former Victorian premier and current Chairman of the Victorian Centenary of Anzac Committee, the Hon Ted Baillieu. He picked up on Jan’s “21 years” theme, remarking that WWII started 21 years after the Great War ended. We commemorate anniversaries like Anzac and the end of WWII, he said, for three reasons: to honour those who served, to educate current generations, and to pass the torch of remembrance on to future generations.

The Hon Ted Baillieu

The Hon Ted Baillieu

Then came the wreathes, including one from Carey Baptist Grammar School, which has now officially adopted this ceremony as part of the Shrine’s ‘Adopt an Ex-Service Organisation’ initiative.

Students from Carey Baptist Grammar School laying a wreath

Students from Carey Baptist Grammar School laying a wreath

This was their first involvement with the ceremony, and it’s a partnership we hope can continue long into the future – first-hand evidence of the passing on of Mr Baillieu’s metaphoric “torch of remembrance”.

On the way out following the service we just had enough time to take a group photo of all the veterans present:

Bomber Command veterans following a commemorative ceremony held at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne

Bomber Command veterans following a commemorative ceremony held at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. Left to Right: Laurie Larmer (51 Sqn), Jim Cahir (466 Sqn), Laurie Williams (460 Sqn), Alan Day, Gerald McPherson (186 Sqn), Jack Bell (216 Sqn), Arthur Atkins (625 Sqn), Colin Fraser (460 Sqn), Don McDonald (578 and 466 Sqns), Don Southwell (463 Sqn), [Unidentified] at rear,  Steve Downes (467 Sqn – seated), Maurie O’Keefe (460 Sqn), Peter Isaacson (460 Sqn), Lachie McBean (467 Sqn)


And then the roar of radial engines heralded the arrival of the flypast.

Afterwards afternoon tea was served in the foyer area. And it was here that something remarkable happened:

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On the left of this photo is, of course, Don Southwell. He’d come down from Sydney with his son David for the ceremony, representing the ‘national’ Bomber Command Commemorative Day Foundation. He’s talking to Steve Downes, centre, and Lachie McBean, right. Steve, a wireless operator, and Lachie, a pilot, were on the same crew. The only two Australians in the crew, they were posted to 467 Squadron right at the end of the war so they never flew any operations. But they had gone through training together. Then the war ended and everyone was posted away or discharged from the Air Force entirely. “We were best mates while we were on the same crew”, Lachie told me, “but we never knew much about what each other had done before the war, and then we were all posted away and lost contact.”

Until recently, Lachie thought that Steve had been killed in a post-war car crash. But about three months ago Lachie’s wife died.

Steve – very much still alive – saw the death notice and recognised his old pilot’s name. He contacted Lachie through the funeral director, and their respective daughters conspired to arrange a meeting at the ceremony– and so the two old crew mates saw each other again on Sunday for the first time in seventy years.

I was lucky enough to be the proverbial fly-on-the-wall as the two old men chatted. Seven decades simply melted away as they just picked up where they had left off.

It was a lovely moment to cap off a most memorable day.

The RAAF Museum Heritage Trainer Flight taxis at Point Cook prior to their formation flypast of the Shrine of Remembrance. Photo courtesy Alex le-Merton

The RAAF Museum Heritage Trainer Flight taxis at Point Cook prior to their formation flypast of the Shrine of Remembrance. Photo courtesy Alex le-Merton

The RAAF Museum Heritage Trainer Flight turns towards the Shrine, Melbourne. Photo from one of the CT-4s in the formation courtesy Matt Henderson

The RAAF Museum Heritage Trainer Flight turns towards the Shrine, Melbourne. Photo from one of the CT-4s in the formation courtesy Matt Henderson

The Shrine Guard

The Shrine Guard

Bomber Command veterans assembling for a group photo

Bomber Command veterans assembling for a group photo

The Bomber Command Commemorative Day Foundation (Vic) Committee

The Bomber Command Commemorative Day Foundation (Vic) Committee

Many thanks to Matt Henderson and Alex le-Merton, the crew of one of the RAAF CT-4s, for the airborne photos.

The Bomber Command Commemorative Day Foundation (Vic) Committee sincerely thanks both the Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal Victorian Aero Club for their critical parts in making the commemorative flypast happen.

© 2015 Adam Purcell.

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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

 

 


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