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BOB GIBBES' TRIBUTE TO HIS GROUND-CREW TEAM

P03372.025
26 May 1942.  Informal portrait of 260714 Flying Officer (FO) Robert Henry Maxwell (Bobby) Gibbes, Commanding Officer of 3 Squadron RAAF, of Balgowlah, NSW,
 standing while eating a meal at an airfield at Gambut in Libya.  FO Gibbes had taken four days to walk back to safety after being shot down in the desert behind enemy lines. 
FO Gibbes later attained the rank of Wing Commander and served with No 80 Wing Headquarters.  He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC)
 in 1942, the Distinguished Service Order in 1943 and a bar to the DFC later that year.  Note the German greatcoat he acquired in the desert.  [AWM P03372.025]

Extract from John Watson and Louis Jones:   "3 SQUADRON AT WAR" (Page 138).

After he had left the Squadron, WCDR John Watson asked Bobby Gibbes to express some of his thoughts about "No. 3". 

"Gibby" wrote these words:

The comradeship and team spirit between each and every member of No.3 Squadron was always very real.  The Squadron pulled together as a team, a magnificent team.  When there was a job to be done, they went to it, irrespective of their particular trade.  At times a superhuman effort from every member was called for, particularly from the ground personnel, who carried out their onerous tasks silently and cheerfully, often under the most shocking conditions. 

They had to set up and strike camp almost continually.  This is in itself a very big job.  A little tented city would spring up and then disappear within a period of three hours.  They had to travel hundreds of miles in extreme discomfort on open dust-laden lorries, the hot sun drying every drop of moisture from their aching bodies.  Occasionally they had to journey in soaking rain, wet, cold and miserable.  More often than not when they did arrive, tired and hungry, at their destination, aircraft had to be serviced; this, of course, coming before their own personal comfort, just as the horses did in the old cavalry period. 

It is hard to single out any particular section.  Every man was a cog in the machinery of the Squadron's organisation.  While every job might not have been so apparent, yet if one man failed, the organisation would no longer run smoothly.

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Let us take the cook as an instance.  This task was, I think, the most strenuous and heartbreaking to be found in any unit.  He was absolutely indispensable to the comfort and morale of the whole Squadron.  His job had to go on despite every obstacle which confronted him.  Meals had to be on time, no matter how odd the hour.  Can you imagine exactly what it means getting a meal together in the desert, cooking out in the open for over 300 hungry men?  You will agree that it would be quite a job.  And believe me it is that and more.  It is an extremely thankless business, even in fine weather.  But then add a howling sandstorm to the scene.  The fire is constantly being extinguished by the swirling sand and wind, fine particles of sand penetrate into everything, no matter where you keep it.  It is not a particularly glamorous job at any time, but nevertheless a vital one which just had to be done - and was.

I will always remember a man who - well, I will call him the oxygen man - slim and wearing rather thick spectacles.  Before every sortie of our aircraft, at no matter what hour, one would see this grand chap refilling the bottle of oxygen, going from aircraft to aircraft, and making a last-minute check to be absolutely sure that every machine had plenty of this precious commodity.  The lives of the pilots depended on him, as he was aware, and he never let them down.

It was a common occurrence to hear aircraft engines run-up and tested far into the night; to see armourers cleaning guns, re-arming and bombing-up in the total darkness; working by torchlight, electricians and wireless mechanics carrying out repairs long after the average man is fast asleep; to hear a motor-cycle cautiously feeling its way through the blackout from 'Ops' room to the Pilots' Mess, bringing with him details of the early dawn show - the despatch rider.

Then there is the parachute section which consists of one small tent where the hanging and refolding of parachutes is carried out regularly.  To repack, the line had to be run out to the entrance of the tent, but the tent was far too short.  It is a difficult job at any time, but doubly so under such conditions.  But the number of pilots of the Squadron whose lives have been saved by parachuting runs well into double figures.  What a great debt all of us owe to this little section.

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The job of the airfield defence section is possibly the most monotonous.  These men are at their gun-posts throughout the hours of daylight, and very rarely do they gain the satisfaction of shooting at the enemy.  But when that opportunity does sometimes come, they are never caught napping.  And so I could go on for hours, to tell of every cog in the smoothly running machine that is No.3 Squadron. 

I vividly recall one instance of perfect cooperation.  The enemy airfield which had just been recaptured had been heavily mined.  The engineers were still busily clearing when our transport planes landed.   In these aircraft were the ground personnel, bombs, ammunition, petrol and hand-petrol pumps.  As soon as the fighters arrived back after a bombing and strafing job a few miles further west, every man - wireless mechanic, fitters, riggers and so on - went to work quickly rearming, refuelling and bombing up.  They coolly ignored the danger of mines, which was certainly very real.  One man, indeed, stepped on a mine with the unfortunate result that he and four others working nearby were killed.  Despite this, in slightly under thirty minutes the aircraft roared into the air again, carrying further loads of trouble for the enemy.  This performance was continued throughout the day and the number of sorties flown by nightfall was astoundingly high.

Pick and shovel work is not usually carried out by skilled tradesmen and technicians, except perhaps to dig themselves slit trenches, which we call 'funk-holes'.  On one January day in 1943, however, the whole squadron turned out to help in preparing the surface of an advanced landing ground at El Hamerit, to enable our fighters to move up more rapidly.  The job was done quickly, willingly and well . . . that was the kind of spirit that always existed in 'Three'.

The grave of 21719 Corporal (Cpl) Donald Arnold Riley, of Gunnedah, NSW. Cpl Riley served with 3 Squadron, RAAF in the western desert; he was killed while walking in front of a machine gun which ...
December 3, 1942.  The grave of RAAF 21719 Corporal Donald Arnold RILEY, of Gunnedah, NSW. 
Cpl Riley served with 3 Squadron, RAAF in the western desert; he was killed while walking in front of
a machine gun that was being cleaned, and five rounds were accidentally discharged. 
This original grave located in the desert was marked by rocks and a propeller blade with details painted on it at the head. 
Cpl Riley’s remains were later re-interred in the Benghazi War Cemetery in Libya.  [AWM P02541.017]

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