Posts Tagged 'Melbourne'

Werribee Liberator

If you head down the Geelong Road a short distance out of Werribee in Melbourne’s south west, you soon come to two almost identical big old buildings sitting beside the road. They are a little incongruous, until you realise that they sit next to a great big paddock which looks like it could once have been an aerodrome.

Indeed it was, in fact, once an aerodrome – leased by the Royal Australian Air Force from the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works in 1940 for a satellite relief landing ground for the nearby stations at Laverton and Point Cook. And the two big hangars are the last survivors of five, of American design, that were built there between 1942 and 1943. The original design called for steel to be used in the construction of the frame and roof trusses, but a shortage of that material meant that instead they were built using wood from the Otway Ranges.

Aeroplanes have not flown from Werribee for many years, the field reverting to MMBW use in the early 1952s. But there’s still at least one aeroplane in one of the hangars. It’s a Consolidated B-24 Liberator, one of only eight in the world and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere. The actual aircraft is 44-41956, a B-24M, and while it never saw active service it did serve with the RAAF as A72-176 at 7 Operational Training Unit at Tocumwal. After five decades being used as temporary accommodation and as a wool shed on a farm at Moe in Victoria’s south east, the aircraft was acquired by the B-24 Liberator Memorial Restoration Fund and moved to Werribee in 1995, where it has been the subject of a slow, heroic and extraordinarily high-quality restoration ever since.

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The hangar is open for visits three days a week and this afternoon I finally managed to go and have a look. It’s an impressive operation. The old hangar is full of aeroplane – I have no idea how they’ll get it out of the building once they’re done. It’s a tight fit, and the tailplane isn’t even attached yet. There are aeroplane parts everywhere, workshop areas that were in use while I was there and displays related to Liberators in general and this one in particular. They have four operational engines (none yet fitted to the aircraft) and they conduct public runs on a specially-constructed test rig once a month or so.

You can even duck under those amazing sliding bomb bay doors (apparently this was the favoured way for Liberator aircrew to access their machines) and stand up inside the aeroplane’s fuselage to have a look at the interior of the beast. There was a refreshing lack of safety barriers or fun police present – evidently the Fund has gone down the very practical “common sense” path. Standing here, looking up past the wireless operator and flight engineer’s positions to the cockpit, I thought of men like John McCredie who once flew – and indeed was compelled on one occasion to bale out from – these big silver birds.

Inside the Werribee Liberator, looking forward from the bomb bay

Inside the Werribee Liberator, looking forward from the bomb bay

There are those who have publicly lamented the lack of a WWII-vintage bomber in Victoria. Those people, I think, are doing this group a disservice. Here is a genuine WWII bomber, and indeed a genuine Australian bomber, and it’s right on Melbourne’s doorstep. I’m told the organisation holds about 97% of the parts required to make a complete Liberator, and what they are missing is non-essential ‘aesthetical’ pieces. So they certainly will eventually reach their goal of a fully-operational Liberator (albeit restored to taxying status only, much like Just Jane was when I visited it in 2009). The intent is to reach “museum piece” status, which apparently requires at least 51% of the aircraft to be verifiably original.

All they need is money. It costs a very reasonable $5 to go and have a stickybeak around ($5 more on engine run days), and further donations are much appreciated. They’re a very welcoming lot, I thought – so if you’re in the area, make the effort to go and have a look. You won’t be disappointed.

More details, including opening times, on the Fund’s website.

I’m not in any way affiliated with the B-24 Liberator Memorial Restoration Fund, and visited as a paying member of the public.

© 2017 Adam Purcell

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.

Guest Post: Bomber Command June Commemorations in Melbourne

This post written by Squadron Leader (Retired) Ron Ledingham, Shrine Governer, Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne, who I worked with on the committee which organised the Melbourne event

The annual Victorian Memorial Bomber Command service was held at the Nurses Memorial Centre (NMC) St Kilda Road Melbourne at 2 PM Sunday 1 June 2014.

All up some 100 people attended and we all but bulked out the NMC facility. The Shrine of Remembrance was unavailable due to the significant extension works currently underway there so the nearby NMC facility was chosen instead. The NMC staff were very helpful and of great assistance.

Of interest, as we did not have the traditional direct support of the Shrine facilities, we ported all of the service music requirements, etc to a lap top computer and ran this through the NMC integrated IT network-worked well. We also introduced specific Bomber Command popular band music and pictures from the Bomber Command Memorial in London-all well appreciated by those attending.

The Shrine did provide direct support in the form of:

  • SQNLDR RAAF (Retired) Ron Ledingham, Shrine Governor, as the convener of the service on behalf of the Shrine Trustees.
  • Supply of 100 poppies.
  • Printing of a number of Order Of Service (OOS) booklets.
  • Printing and distribution of a flyer for the service particularly since it was being held off site from the Shrine.

We also received support from the Air Cadets and had some 8 boys and girls with adult escorts who held banners and basically assisted with seating of guests and general support during and after the service.

The list of dignitaries was most impressive including the Hon.Josh Frydenberg MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister who laid a wreath before departing to Canberra. Some 12-15 wreaths total were laid.

Wreathes at the Bomber Command Commemoration in Melbourne. Photo: Ron Ledingham

Wreathes at the Bomber Command Commemoration in Melbourne. Photo: Ron Ledingham

The service was opened and managed by Ron Ledingham . He explained why we were holding the service at the NMC in lieu of the Shrine and also pointed out that it was for this year only due to the extension works current being done at the Shrine.

There were three speakers being Wing Commander Peter Isaacson AM DFC AFC DFM (key speaker), Group Captain Terence Deeth as RAAF PAF Representative and the Hon Ted Baillieu, Chairman, Victorian ANZAC Centenary. All were very well received. Peter in particular was actively sought out by many after the service for signatures and conversations and delivered a very moving talk.

Peter Isaacson giving the Keynote Address Photo: Ron Ledingham

Peter Isaacson giving the Keynote Address Photo: Ron Ledingham

 

Group Captain Terrence Deeth, RAAF. Photo: Ron Ledingham

Group Captain Terence Deeth, RAAF. Photo: Ron Ledingham

The following people carried out official roles during the ceremony:

Key Guest Speaker                 Wing Commander P.S.Isaacson AM DFC AFC DFM

Chaplain                                     John Brownbill RFD KSJ

Jan Charlwood                          Daughter of Don Charlwood

Laurie Williams                        Ode

Jan Dimmick                             Bomber Command Poem

Brian Smith                               MC

Following the service light refreshments with hot finger food were provided.  This was also very well received and created a very interactive and friendly opportunity for people to mingle and catch up. A group photo was taken of all veterans present and many, many photos were taken.

Bomber Command veterans in Melbourne, June 2014. Robyn Bell, Committee convenor, front left. Photo: Ron Ledingham

Bomber Command veterans in Melbourne, June 2014. Robyn Bell, Committee convenor, front left. Photo: Ron Ledingham

The after service get-together proved to be just as important as the service itself and was considered by all to whom I spoke to be a key component and opportunity to care and share. I was personally approached by a number of people who really appreciated the service and efforts taken to pull it together as well as other questions and offers relating to the Shrine and memorabilia.

Overall it was a very moving and very well attended and received service function. The numbers were up by about 50% on last year even though it was held off site.

In 2015 the annual memorial service will return to the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance.

 

Words and photos (c) 2014 Ron Ledingham, on behalf of http://www.somethingverybig.com

Shrine

On the south side of the Yarra River in Melbourne, a mile or so from Flinders Street Station, is a large and rather imposing stone building. The Shrine of Remembrance sits on slightly elevated ground, with large Doric columns on all sides and a truncated pyramid soaring into the sky.

I went for a ride on my bicycle last month, down the Moonee Ponds Creek trail, over the Yarra at Docklands, and along St Kilda Road. I could see the Shrine in the distance. I cycled across and stopped for a visit.

Underneath the Shrine is the Crypt – a quiet space with bronze panels on the walls, regimental flags hanging from the ceiling and a sculpture in the middle. Climbing some stairs through the middle of the stone walls of the Shrine, I emerged in the Sanctuary, which is the heart of the memorial. Perhaps it may have felt more sanctuary-like had a busload of tourists not also shown up at that exact moment. It is a space reminiscent of the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, perhaps not surprising given the particular functions of both spaces. In the middle, sunk below floor level, is a slab of marble upon which is the Biblical inscription, ‘GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN’. On Remembrance Day, November 11, each year, at precisely 1100, a beam of sunlight comes in through a special hole in the roof and falls onto the stone.

Marvelling at the effort and calculations that would have been needed to make that little party trick work, I climbed some more stairs up to the Balcony level. It’s not a particularly tall building when compared with the skyscrapers across the river, but it’s still a nice outlook from the top. The view to the east reminded me a little of Greenwich in England. And to the west, a couple of miles away, I could see Albert Park and, beyond it, the bay.

A couple of years after the war ended, Fannie Johnston left her “little rose + honeysuckle covered cottage” (A01-114-001) in Dayboro, Queensland, and moved to Melbourne. In September 1949 she made the short journey from her new home in Barrett St, Albert Park, to the Shrine of Remembrance. There, she left a large floral arrangement, “in precious memory of Dale and his pals” (A05-184-004). She sent some photographs of the flowers on the steps of the memorial to the families of some of Dale’s crew mates. Copies survive in the collections of Freda Hamer, Gil Thew and Steve Butson.

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Carefully wrapped up alongside the photos in Gil’s box is a small sprig of pressed rosemary.

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As I walked back towards my bicycle, I turned and looked back at the Shrine. In my mind’s eye I could see Fannie Johnston placing her large bunch of flowers on the steps.

All I had was a small red poppy.

 

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Photos: Freda Hamer, Gil Thew and author

© 2011 Adam Purcell