After a period on the Volunteer Reserve, a newly-enlisted airman in the RAAF in WWII would find himself posted to an Initial Training School (ITS) to learn about the basics of military life. Each state of Australia had its own ITS. Airmen from NSW would normally pass through No. 2 ITS at Bradfield Park in Sydney. Many thousands of airmen (and women, for there was also a WAAAF school on site) would experience their first taste of the Air Force at this station.
Don Southwell remembers “miles and miles” of parade grounds near the gatehouse of the station. Don was a 463 Squadron navigator in the latter part of the war. Like so many of his era, his Air Force career started at Bradfield Park. Don took me on a drive around the site of the old station shortly before I left Sydney in October 2010. “The WAAAFs could out-drill anyone”, he said.
Don on occasion would need to guard the Station’s boat house, which was down on the banks of the nearby Lane Cove River. He would carry his straw mattress and rifle down a track through thick bush and stay overnight in the boat house. On one occasion he fired his rifle at the water to see what would happen, then spent the walk back to the main base worrying about how he would account for that one cartridge… history and memory do not record how he got away with that one!
Don related stories of airmen crawling through a hole in the fence and removing the white ‘trainee’ flash from their caps to appear to be ground crew and thus less suspicious, to be able to walk up Lady Game Drive to Chatswood Railway Station. Being a Croydon boy, Don says he did the same while officially on guard at the boat house. He simply waited until it was dark, then made his escape to catch a train home. He slept at home that night, returning just as the sun came up the next day.
There is now virtually none of the station left. The CSIRO moved to the area in 1979 when their National Measurement Laboratories were built. In recent years they sold off some of the Commonwealth land on which the RAAF station once stood. But reminders are still there. The main road past the CSIRO’s compound is called Bradfield Rd. Other streets close by are Squadron Circuit and Brevet Ave. And in the corner of Queen Elizabeth Reserve, a short distance from tennis courts where Don says some of the parade grounds were, is this memorial:
Partly funded by the CSIRO and Kuringai Council, it was built in 2006 and forms a fitting reminder to the activities that took place there.
© 2010 Adam Purcell
My good friend Joss le Clercq is a French aviation historian of some note. When I visited Lezennes and the graves of my great uncle’s crew in 2009, I stayed for a few nights with him in his farmhouse between Fromelles and Aubers, about 20km west of Lille.
Joss has the beginnings of a small aviation museum in his back shed. There are parts of many crashed aeroplanes, all dug up around the local area. Among them is one particular bit of metal. Though badly corroded, it is still unmistakably a fragment of a blade from an aircraft propeller. About fifteen years ago, a hotel and a petrol station was being built in Lezennes. While digging the foundations they found some rusted metal – which Joss identified as the remains of a Lancaster. He retrieved two pieces – the propeller blade and a flat fragment of alloy. From local records he deduced which Lancaster the wreckage was from.
These unassuming bits of metal in Joss’ back shed are most probably the only surviving pieces of Lancaster Mk III, LM475:
Of the crash site itself there remains now virtually no trace. The petrol station continues dispensing liquefied dead dinosaurs in its curiously French, completely automatic way. The hotel looked pretty empty when we visited. But there are two large rocks on a small bit of flat ground, which Joss says are pretty close to where he found the propeller blade a decade and a half ago.
I reckon they look ideal for the placing of a small plaque, to mark the spot where the Lancaster came down.
A task, perhaps, for when next I visit.
© 2011 Adam Purcell
A recent article in Sydney’s Sun-Herald, 02JAN11:
Flying Officer Lindsay Page Bacon, a couple of months before the end of the war in Europe, returning from a bombing operation in a 7 Sqn Lancaster which is damaged in combat and struggling to keep height. He manages to avoid crashing into a small town, but in the process destroys what little control he has over the aircraft. All on board perish in the crash.
65 years later, digging at a construction site in Nieuwdorp, the Netherlands, uncovers remnants of F/O Bacon’s aircraft. The town goes on a search for information about the crew, with an aim to build a memorial near the crash site. With the help of the newspaper they eventually find F/O Bacon’s sole surviving brother in Ulladulla, NSW.
People have many motivations for becoming involved in this sort of research. For myself, like many others, it’s about that dusty photograph or logbook, and wanting to know more about someone who shared your name. For others, it’s the technical aspects of the aircraft, or the tactics, or the strategies.
But for people like Hans van Dam, the Dutchman who contacted the newspaper in Sydney, it’s about remembering the men who came from the other side of the world to fight in the defence of his little village – and who never got the chance to go back home.