3 Squadron Stories
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BY STAN CURRAN
3 Squadron's Austers and Mustangs in a hangar at RAAF Fairbairn (Canberra) circa 1949. [Neil Follett Collection]
a member of 3SQN Association Queensland for many years. He was an Engine
Fitter in WWII and retired as a Squadron Leader / Engineer Officer in 1975.
Stanís story below was originally featured in ĎThe Whispererí, the newsletter of the Boston and Beaufighter Association of Queensland. It reflects a stage in RAAF history which will not EVER be repeated, set in the time of 3 Squadron flying Mustangs, Wirraways and Austers out of Canberra, a far cry from the Squadron's later fast-jet operations.
After WWII, the RAAF had an "interim" Air Force for about two years; this was to allow time to change over from wartime to a post-war Permanent Air Force. The standard for the new Permanent Air Force was very high and towards the end of the interim Air Force, it was realised that too many skilled men had been culled out; new recruits were required. It was decided that a recruiting drive was necessary.
It was 1948, I was in No.3 Squadron in Canberra. We were equipped with Mustang and Auster aircraft. I think the Austers were mainly used for instrument flying. Most personnel were WWII veterans. To say the pilots were a bit "Gung Ho" would be an understatement. They were very skilled Mustang pilots and to them the Austers were mere toys.
Beautiful Stanwell Park. Obviously prime recruiting territory...
No.3 Squadronís share of the recruiting was to embrace the South Coast of NSW, between Nowra and Stanwell Park. We were to take three Austers, three pilots and two ground staff and the new Sikorski helicopter, which was still on trials, to meet us at Nowra. The plan was to go to HMAS Albatross at Nowra, stay overnight, and fly over to Nowra the next day, then go on to Wollongong, book into a hotel and operate from there for the next week. I was selected to go as Corporal Engine Fitter / NCO in-charge. A Corporal was needed to sign the daily serviceability checks. The other ground staff was a Flight Rigger.
Although I was stationed at Canberra, my wife Daisy and I had our home in Sydney, and I was lucky to get home at week-ends. It would be a good opportunity to have a week's holiday with Daisy at Wollongong, so we made a double booking at the hotel and arranged to meet there.
We met the helicopter crew at Nowra, and next day we flew around the Nowra district. The pilots were authorised to do low-flying, and also to take civilians on joy flights, providing they first signed an indemnity form. The pilot I was flying with decided to fly low up the Shoalhaven River. It was pleasant flying up the river, when suddenly the pilot pushed the stick hard forward and at the same time he was saying something unprintable. It was only then that I realised we were flashing under a cable that was strung across the river. We must have missed it only by inches. That was the end of low-flying up the river.
We were making our way up the coast. At Kiama the helicopter was on the oval, and my pilot did a demonstration of slow-flying. I could hardly believe an aircraft could fly so slow without stalling. I was a little concerned as the oval had a ring of tall trees around it; if we stalled we would have nowhere to go but the trees. All went well; we landed at Wollongong, secured the aircraft for the night and went to the hotel where Daisy was waiting to meet me. Next morning we went down to the strip, which was parallel with the beach. One of the pilots coaxed Daisy to go for a flight for the first time - she had some reservations but bravely went along. As soon as they were airborne one of the other pilots said to me, "Give me a start, and we will go up and formate on them." Imagine Daisyís surprise when she saw another aeroplane only feet away tucked behind the starboard wing.
After we landed and re-fuelled, the pilots decided to go in different directions. My pilot decided to go north up the coast. Soon after leaving Wollongong we were passing over a large Surf Club building. The club house was in the middle of two large open-top dressing sheds, menís on the south side, ladies on the north side.
The Surf Club at Austinmer in the 1940s.
The large open-roofed change-rooms are beyond the sand at left.
It was obvious that the members were sun lovers, as each shed had numerous benches for the members to lie on, and get an all-over suntan. I soon became aware that the pilot was intent on recruiting more females than males, judging by the number of times we flew over the north shed. I thought they may become offended and complain, instead quite a number stood up and waved. Needless to say - during the week the surf shed had plenty of attention!
I didnít tell Daisy, as I thought she wouldnít have approved.
We went up to Stanwell Park and back, low-flying both ways. The surf club just happened to be in our flight path on the way back. When we landed the Rigger saw us in. By the look on his face I guessed that something was wrong. He said, "A kid kicked a football when you were flying low on the beach, and you hit it."
The ball had gone through the propeller, damaged the front engine cowl, then bounced into the leading-edge of the port wing. The dent in the wing wasnít too bad, it would be a big repair job, but was OK to fly. The engine cowl was a mess. I took the propeller off and then the cowl. Then I took the cowl to a garage in the town and borrowed some panel-beating tools. I had to be careful not to stretch the metal, or the Dzus Fasteners would be out of register. After about an hour it looked pretty good, so I took it back, and was pleased to find it fitted perfectly.
The next day we were flying over Port Kembla at about 1,000 feet; the pilot said, "That looks like a nice big flat paddock down there, Iíve always wondered how these would glide. If anything goes wrong we can land there." With that he switches off the engine! It glided OK, but he had left it a bit late to re-start the engine. When he tried, there was no response....
We were getting dangerously low, so he gave away the engine, to concentrate on a dead-stick landing. I was getting concerned, the paddock looked like a bowling green when we had height, but the lower we got the worse it looked. There was some livestock, cows and hens and the ground was rough, it looked bad. We were lucky enough to land without incident. We pushed the aircraft onto a road, about 20 feet away. The road went for about half a mile in a sweeping bend. The pilot was confident he could take off, if I lightened the load by going back in a taxi.
I "blew" the engine out (open throttle, switches off, petrol off, and turned the engine several revolutions); the engine started first time. Then the pilot did a clever take-off, following the bend of the road. Of course we had quite an audience for all this, one of the locals rang a taxi for me, and I met the pilot back a Wollongong.
The next incident was the following day. We were flying over Port Kembla, and there was a man on top of a flat-roofed shed, painting it green. The pilot said, "Watch me put him off the shed." I thought I would rather be watching from the ground. The pilot flew in real low and straight at the man. I expected to see him jump off the roof. To my amazement he stood up, feet apart, and shook his fist.
A low-flying Auster.
The pilot said, "He's mad. Iíll put him off this time." I had reservations about who was mad, and I wasnít too fussed being where I was.
When we went around again, the same thing happened. The man still shaking his fist.
I thought, "Iím glad thatís over!" - When to my dismay, the pilot said, "This time or never." I really thought it was going to be never.
This time he went in below the height of the shed, ever so close. I had a vision of the man between the port wheel and the wing tip. As we flashed over I saw his right arm go up, in a throwing action.
The pilot said, "Heís absolutely mad." I didnít say anything, but a lot of thoughts were going through my head.
On the way back I was wondering whether the man had thrown anything at us. As soon as we landed I had a look at the port side of the fuselage, and sure enough there was wet green paint splashed along the side. I put some petrol on a rag and wiped it off. (I wonder how many people have been in an aeroplane, and had it painted when flying over a shed?)
On the Friday night the pilots went to a dance and a party with the nurses at the hospital. During the party it was arranged that they would put on an Air Race on the Saturday morning. The course was to be around the lighthouse at the beach, in line with the main street, then up the main street for about two miles to the hospital; about ten laps, doing very tight turns around the hospital and the light-house.
A modern-day view of the Wollongong lighthouse - a spectacular "turning pylon" for an air-race!
Well, it certainly stirred things up in Wollongong. We ground staff heard that some of the senior hospital staff made complaints in high places.
There were questions asked in Parliament. It was feared the pilots may be in trouble. However, we didnít hear any more about it.
Daisy went home on the Sunday. We had a great week and the No.3 Squadron "Recruiters" went back to Canberra.
In memory of Stan, who died on 10th July 2010, in Brisbane.
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