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Malta Pilgrimage

 
The Association's wreath for Peter Enright, on his grave in Malta.

[Reprinted from the Times of Malta, Monday, September 17, 2012] 

Small Talk that Led to a Big Responsibility...

A casual conversation with an elderly stranger turned into a deeply emotional mission for Maltese-Australian, Frank Gauchi, who was tasked with delivering to Malta a set of 69-year-old photographs of the war-torn island.

While walking in Miranda, his Australian hometown, the 57-year-old saw an old man closing his letterbox after finding it empty.

“No news is good news!” Mr Gauchi remarked. 

“We started talking and that’s how I met Tom Russell – the last survivor of a group of 22 Australian pilots who fought the Germans during World War II,” he said. 

As soon as Mr Russell, 95, found out that Mr Gauchi had been born in Malta, they immediately got on.  The former Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) pilot wanted to give a set of 380 photographs [taken by official photographer Laurence Le Guay at around the time of 3 Squadron RAAF's  hectic nine-day stint on the island in 1943] to the Malta Aviation Museum.  Tom requested copies of the photographs from the Australian War Memorial and handed them to Mr Gauchi, along with instructions to lay wreaths on the graves of two Australian ground-crew members buried in the Kalkara military cemetery.


WWII veteran Tom Russell with Frank Gauchi who took Tom’s historic photos back to his native Malta.
[Photo: St George and Sutherland Leader]

Mr Gauchi fulfilled all of Mr Russell’s requests during his four-week stay in Malta – in a trip that he described as “emotional” and “mind-blowing”. 

“Meeting the last surviving 3SQN Australian pilot who was in Malta, and the fact that he chose me, was very emotional and very tough – I felt a great sense of responsibility for what I had to do,” he said.

And how did Mr Russell know he had chosen the right man for the mission?

“He tested me – before I left he called me and said he was giving me his wings, to do with as I pleased.”  Mr Gauchi felt there was no way he could keep them and told Mr Russell that he would pass them on to the aviation museum in Ta’Qali.

“That’s the right answer,” Mr Russell told him.

From our Roll of Honour:

Corporal (Fitter D.M.T.) William FLEMING, service number 411135, is buried at Malta (Capuccini) Naval Cemetery. Prot. Sec. (Men's) plot F, coll. grave 35. Age 23. 
Son of William and Florence Louisa Fleming, of Gordon, New South
Wales, Australia.

Died on 21/7/43.  His death occurred as a result of an accidental explosion while using petrol to 'delouse' a newly-occupied building near the airfield at Pachino, Sicily. 

Leading Aircraftman (Driver Motor Transport) Peter Edward ENRIGHT, service number 29797, is buried at Malta (Capuccini) Naval Cemetery. R.C. Sec. (Men's) plot P, coll. grave 6. Age 27.  
Son of Jerimiath Joseph and Mary Margaret Enright of Goomalling, Western Australia.

Leading Aircraftman Enright received petrol burns along with Corporal Fleming in a ground accident at Pachino, Sicily.  He died on 25/7/43, four days later, in hospital at Malta.  (Pilot Officer Tom Russell, who had entered the room at the time of the explosion, was lucky that he had been wearing a long-sleeved shirt and long trousers that protected him from most of the petrol flash, compared with bare-chested ground-crewmen working in only shorts and boots, in the torrid Sicilian summer.  Tom was taken to Cairo for treatment for his burns.)

 

Some pictures of the visit to Malta by Frank:

Kalkara Naval Cemetery


Frank Gauchi lays wreaths in the Malta Kalkara Naval Cemetery, beside the graves of the two 3SQN men [Bill Fleming and Peter Enright] who were fatally burnt in an accidental petrol explosion
 while they were trying to clean out a captured building at Pachino airfield, Sicily.  The hardness of the limestone in Malta means that most of these graves had to be excavated with
 explosives, and multiple burials per plot are usual here.  The shared memories of these war casualties are very poignant. 

Also commemorated on the beautiful Malta Memorial to the Missing are:  Kittyhawk pilots Bob Shearman (lost at sea on a training flight before commencing operations with 3SQN in Tunisia); Ken Goulder (shot down by flak in Sicily); Maurice Hayes (shot down by flak off the east coast of Italy near San Benedetto);  and Mustang pilot Ron Fountain (lost in terrible flying conditions over the Adriatic Sea between Yugoslavia and Italy).

  
Malta Memorial to the Missing and Frank with the Malta Roll of Honour.

 


Frank in a Spitfire cockpit at Malta Aviation Museum. 
The Museum were very generous hosts for Frank’s visit, where he deposited the portfolio of 1943 photos by Australian war photographer Lawrie Le Guay.

 

Below: A selection of the Laurie Le Guay's Malta photos.
(From the collection of 380 pictures sent by Tom to the Malta Aviation Museum.)

These depict the service of 3 Squadron there in 1943, for a few weeks prior to the invasion of Sicily

http://static.awm.gov.au/images/collection/items/ACCNUM_SCREEN/MEA0190.JPG
Malta. July 1943.  A Kittyhawk aircraft of No. 3 Squadron RAAF warming up for the first attack against Sicily.
Note a ground crew member sitting on the wing of the aircraft and the other aircraft in the background.

 

http://static.awm.gov.au/images/collection/items/ACCNUM_SCREEN/MEC2044.JPG
Malta.  13 July 1943.  A Curtiss P40 Kittyhawk aircraft of No. 3 Squadron RAAF,
taking off from an advanced landing ground for operations over Sicily. 
The aircraft serial number is FL307 "B" and is flown by Flying Officer Tom Russell.
 
http://static.awm.gov.au/images/collection/items/ACCNUM_SCREEN/MEA0201.JPG 
Malta. July 1943.  3 SQN ground crew standing by, awaiting return of fighter aircraft from Sicily.
http://static.awm.gov.au/images/collection/items/ACCNUM_SCREEN/MEA0211.JPG
Malta. July 1943. Preparing to bomb up aircraft (code CV-H) of No. 3 (Kittyhawk) Squadron RAAF on an airfield,
in readiness for a raid by the RAAF over Sicily.
 
http://static.awm.gov.au/images/collection/items/ACCNUM_SCREEN/MEA0149.JPG
Valetta, Malta. c. July 1943. Members of RAAF walking along a street on their first sight seeing tour,
on arrival at Malta after leaving the North African coast. 
http://static.awm.gov.au/images/collection/items/ACCNUM_SCREEN/MEA0171.JPG
Valetta, Malta. c. July 1943. During a sight seeing tour of the area RAAF airmen inspect buildings
damaged by bombs dropped in German air raids.

http://static.awm.gov.au/images/collection/items/ACCNUM_SCREEN/MEA0169.JPG
Valetta, Malta. c. July 1943. A member of the RAAF gazes out from the terrace overlooking the harbour.
  
http://static.awm.gov.au/images/collection/items/ACCNUM_SCREEN/MEC2034.JPG

 Malta. c. July 1943. Choir boys and priests entering St John's Cathedral in Malta.

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