3 Squadron STORIES
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Arthur with Tiger Moth
After leaving Knox in 1941, I spent the year 1942 doing shift work in the family flour mill at Temora NSW. I had been in the local Air Training Corps and looked forward to joining the RAAF in preference to working 10-hour night shifts in a very uninteresting job.
On the 30th of January 1943, the RAAF accepted my application for admission for aircrew, and, after three months initial training at Bradfield Park, I was posted to 10 EFTS [Elementary Flight Training School] Temora - my home town. In addition to my Tiger Moth instructor, my father on occasions kept watch from outside the aerodrome fence and was able to provide an even more critical commentary on my 'circuits and bumps'.
Bad weather put 37 Course to 38 Course at Uranquinty, near Wagga. After three months flying training in Wirraways, 45 of the 75 trainees who started the course were awarded their 'Wings' on December 15th 1943.
5 Service Flight Training School Christmas Party Menu, 1943, from the Arthur's collection.
On 27th January 1944, an RAAF contingent left Sydney on the Nieuw Amsterdam. A smallpox outbreak provided us with a 12-day stopover in Durban while the vessel was fumigated. We sailed unescorted via Capetown and Freetown, then up the east coast of the USA coming south into the Firth of Clyde on March 11th 1944. After disembarking at Gourock we travelled south to 11 PRC Brighton - which for me was the Metropole Hotel on the beach- front.
Squadron Leader Jack Nicholls captained the UK-based RAAF Rugby team. He also controlled future postings which could lead to Staff Work, Instructing, Drogue Towing or conversion to multi engined aircraft …flying careers which had little or no appeal to me. Obviously the caper was to play Rugby with the 'A' team. (For the more important Inter-Dominion games, Ken Taubman, who had been at Trinity in the late '30s, took over from me - I never was a winger!) This ploy worked; Jack remembered the knock-ons and dropped passes so I was posted to continue training on single-engined aircraft, which avoided the complications and embarrassment of failure in other "team" roles.
It seemed that, to fill in time, the next move was to Whitley Bay north of Newcastle, where a month was spent doing a Commando course and playing football; also in this team was Alec Fitzsimons, with whom I had played football and cricket during most of the years that we were at Knox.
In June 1944 came a posting to Fairoaks in Surrey to do a refresher course in Tiger Moths. We were there at the time of the Normandy landings and carried out a fair amount of 'unauthorized' reconnaissance to see 'how things were going'. Next came a few days at Padgate, a transit centre, and then a stint in Miles Masters at Ternhill and Condover near Shrewsbury in the west country.
The seven months spent in wartime Britain were memorable. There was a warmth, a spirit and a 'oneness' of the people that was something never to be forgotten.
After a week or two at the Embarkation Camp at Morecambe, I left on the 'Alcantara' which sailed in convoy for Alexandria in Egypt, then ultimately to the Transit Camp at Almaza in the desert outside Cairo.
The next day provided an opportunity to visit Cairo, however this pleasure was cut short due to a disagreement with two tall British Army M.P.s. As a consequence I remained in virtual solitary confinement in the desert while all my colleagues moved to the comparative comfort of the Palace Hotel in Heliopolis. Postings from Heliopolis were on a 'first-in first-out' basis, and as I had been last in, I applied for, and was granted, a fortnight's leave.
By hitch-hiking, visits were made to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Natanya, Haifa, Tyre, Sidon, Tripoli, Beirut, and Damascus. It was also possible to fit in a few days' skiing at the Cedars of Lebanon where several years earlier the AIF 7th Division had trained a Ski Battalion. I believe that a member of that Ski Battalion was Reg Roberts, immortalized by his famous mile at the CAS Sports Carnival in 1935. Here was one place where the AIF did us proud as the folks in Bshari could not have been more hospitable.
Back at the Palace Hotel in Heliopolis there was an air of restlessness as no postings had come through and this had created a stampede for leave. Just as soon as the herd had disappeared, the postings came through and I was among the first of them, going to 71 OTU on the Suez Canal at Ismailia. Here we trained for two months on Harvards, some old and battle-weary Hurricanes and equally old but wonderful Spitfire Mark V's.
Late in January 1945 it was back to the transit camp at Almaza and off by DC3 to Italy. This required a stopover in Athens for four days due to bad weather. The Wehrmacht had withdrawn from Athens only three weeks earlier. We were not prepared for the snow and had no rations, but it was nevertheless a memorable experience. We went on to Bari, Naples and to a holding camp at Portici.
Portici was close to Pompeii at the foot of Mt Vesuvius, where there was a market place which provided an opportunity to lighten the kitbag of cricket and football boots and kindred attire which were deemed to be no longer essential for the prosecution of a successful conclusion to the war. While at Portici several of us went to San Carlo at have a laugh at this 'Itie Opera' … as a consequence I went back to see a further five operas during the 12 days we were there. What luck … what a lifetime of pleasure that visit awakened for me.
In March 1945 I was posted to 5 RFU at Guada near Salerno. I think this airstrip had been used by the US Airforce in support of the 5th Army during its drive up the west coast towards Naples. After dropping off my kit in what had previously been a tobacco factory, I went off to meet the O/C of the flight to which I had been assigned. On opening the door of the flight office I was astonished to find my new flight commander was none other that Flight Lieutenant Charley Wannan, who had been Captain of School House in 1938.
During the three weeks at Guada I had amassed two hours of instrument flying in a Harvard, and a total of 10 hours in Mustang Mark III and IV's ... then it was off to join 3 Squadron at Cervia, just north of Forli on the Adriatic coast.
Three Squadron was essentially a Close Support (dive bombing) unit, although with the war drawing to a close, we also attempted to disrupt the retreat of the German Armed Forces by low-level strafing.
I had been with the Squadron only 15 days and had flown 10 sorties when the war ended in Southern Europe. Some of my colleagues had made it to operational flying on 'heavies', but few from the 38 Course era were fortunate enough to join a wartime fighter squadron.
The 'Italian Peace' started with an invasion of cricket teams from virtually every battalion or regiment of British, New Zealand or South African origin stationed within about 200 miles of Cervia. The playing conditions were terrible; we had difficulty finding 11 starters and although we were led by Johnny McNamara, the Catholic Padre, even his 'divine intervention' was not enough to stem the tide of defeats. - But at least we were popular, as our visitors went back to their units glowing in the satisfaction of having beaten the Australians!
We were not idle for long. Marshall Tito had plans to annex the Friuli region in Northern Italy, so 3 Squadron ferried bombs and moved their aircraft to a grass strip at Lavariano near Udine and the Yugoslav border. We left our tent life at Cervia and moved into a village near our airstrip. During these four months we enjoyed Italian village life at Samadencia and it formed a base for many excursions to Venice, Trieste and Gorizia, north to Klagenfurt, Worthesee, Munich, Innsbruck and Bolzano as well as westward to the Po Valley, Milan and Como.
In September 1945 we commenced our homeward journey by train from Udine to Taranto, then by the Winchester Castle to Alexandria, then again by train to Port Said and back to Australia by the Stratheden. Almost two years overseas and back in time for my 21st birthday.
My period of service with 3 Squadron left an indelible impression of democracy as 'it could be'. Badges of rank were a rarity when we were isolated as a unit. We operated a 'Pilots Mess' and all other non-flying officers were members by invitation. Seniority of rank meant little in the air, usually the most experienced airman led the flight - perhaps a Warrant Officer with say 100 sorties would lead others of more senior rank. We drew 'lots' for leave and for the use of 'borrowed' vehicles. I drew Group Captain Brian Eaton and Flight Lieutenant Shorty Ferris, and being only a Warrant Officer, had to go to stores to obtain an Officer's Cap so that we could all stay at the Villa D'este which accommodated 'Officers Only' at Como.
The Three Padres made a strong impression during these formative years of my youth with 3 Squadron. Bob Davies, later to become Bishop of Tasmania, Johnny McNamara, Parish Priest in Melbourne and Fred McKay, later to be Moderator General of the Presbyterian Church and Superintendent of the Australian Inland Mission, were and remained inseparable mates who led by example, and gave true meaning to 'The Brotherhood of Man'.
[See also Arthur's Photo Page.]
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