I Remember When....Snippets
By Don Snedden
Most of us modelers often go behind the scenes and study the men who flew and maintained their Air Force’s aircraft. It is not so surprising we find many similarities. Towards the end of WW2 many of the Luftwaffe’s higher officers petitioned Hitler that Goering must be removed from commanding the Luftwaffe in order that it could be more effective in defending Germany.
In the Royal Australian Air Force much the same thing happened. At this time the Pacific war had moved northwards leaving the islands around and to the north of New Guinea populated by the Japanese Army which no longer even resembled an organized force. Due to Allies control of the air and sea they had received no supplies for a long time. In fact the Japanese command had actually abandoned their troops as it was impossible to rescue them.
Many Japanese had left the heavily bombed and ruined coastal towns and, in the jungle, cultivated gardens so they could have food. The American patrols in this area would often come across these gardens and either leave them alone or take some fresh produce leaving in return things such as cigarettes and tinned meat. Thus there was an unwritten truce prevailing.
In late 1944 then the Americans had moved northwards to where the battlefront was and handed over garrison responsibilities to the Australian forces. Politically this posed the question that; if the Australian public realized that their forces were only doing garrison duty they would not, by physical effort or financially, support the war effort so much. On the contrary the politicians would have been thrown out of office. So our politicians devised what must be one of the biggest scams in history Orders were destroy all Japanese gardens, which gave the Japanese the choice of quietly starving to death or fighting to death against those who destroyed their food supply. Thus our army suffered unnecessary causalities.
For the RAAF side I am in debt to Group Captain Clive (please call me Clive, I hate killer) Caldwell who twice gave a a talk to the club which I belonged. For much of the following I am indebted to the late Clive Caldwell who was one of the officers concerned in the “mutiny”.
From the RAAF viewpoint they were having unnecessary losses due to aircraft failure, poor navigation when flying hundreds of miles over the sea dotted with occasional island specks, sudden and unpredictable tropical storms (some of which could tear a plane apart) bombing buildings that had long been deserted and abandoned and the gut feeling that whatever you did was having no effect on the war.
Late in 1944, on behalf of his officers the commander of 81 Wing presented a report to his seniors saying, in effect, that the RAAF were suffering losses against isolated enemy pockets who had long been neutralized as a threat to the allies. According to Caldwell the RAAF wanted to go to the front line and fight. After some months it was realized the RAAF hierarchy were taking no notice of this report so, in February 1945, seven senior operational officers including Clive Caldwell tendered their resignations. Caldwell said they laid down the gauntlet of either stop this stupidity and move us to the fighting area or we will resign, go back to civilian life and tell the whole story to newspaper reporters.
At first the Brass hats (or should that be heads?) cried “mutiny”. Someone then pointed out that these officers were not disobeying any orders; they were continuing to lead their pilots on missions and also were quite within their rights to resign.
Understanding if their actions became public knowledge the least of the accusations against the politicians would be “killing their own men to remain in power” the government of the day stepped in and with political power and dexterity threw a blanket over the whole thing. They appointed a Royal Commission but made its terms of reference apply to accusations of illegal alcohol trading and that RAAF aircraft were used to transport alcohol. The important issue of RAAF operational activities was ignored.
Caldwell said most of the officers were reduced in rank, and, in his case the joke was on the RAAF. He had been promoted to Air Commodore but you had to serve a fortnight? a month? before you were confirmed in that rank. So he was reduced from acting Air Commodore back to his substantive rank of group Captain.
Would this scam devised by our politicians be one of history’s biggest?
Broome and the Diamonds
Alternative title: Bureaucrats Go Mad
During the evacuation from Java (now known as Indonesia) all the aircraft had been stripped of unnecessary fittings in order to carry as many passengers as possible. The drill was to sneak in after dark, rapidly load and get away as far as possible before daylight and the Zeros came. A senior KLM pilot, Captain Smirnoff was busy loading his DC-3 when a man came up, gave him a small parcel saying “someone in Broome will collect this” then disappeared. Angry because his loading had been interrupted Smirnoff shoved the packet behind his seat. (I don’t know if this was at the same time or not but a similar package had been given to another DC-3 which also failed to arrive in Broome.)
Smirnoff had sighted the Australian coastline and turned south towards Broome. I can imagine the great relief of the passengers at being in sight of safety turning to horror when the Zeros, returning from their Broome raid, attacked the DC-3. Smirnoff must have done some remarkable flying because the riddled and heavily damaged DC-3 was still, but barely, flying when the Zeros left. Smirnoff had no alternative but to make a crash landing at Carnot Bay. He finished up close to the waterline. Carnot Bay has a name but nothing else. The North-West country is definitely no place for a seaside holiday home.
The surviving passengers, some of whom were wounded, were placed in the shade of rocks and what food and water was shared out. A few days later they were found by some aboriginals who procured food and water for the party. Some of them set off for the nearest white settlement and brought help back. The nature of the countryside and the distance traveled meant it was almost a fortnight before they returned.
During this time Smirnoff had too much on his hands to give any thought to the package or even wonder what was in the package. Actually it contained industrial diamonds, a very valuable item in wartime. Back then the bureaucrats thought in very simple terms – “The plane arrived in Australia with the diamonds on board. The diamonds are missing, therefore they have been stolen. Ergo: The captain did it.” (The plane did not carry a butler).
Whenever there is a mystery and someone asks “who did it?’ the return cry is “the butler did it”. I don’t know if the origin was from Agatha Christie’s novels or not. It was a flimsy case and Smirnoff was completely exonerated from any misdoing. Muttering obscene curses the bureaucrats retired behind their bales of red tape.
Then an occasional diamond began to appear and a beachcomber, Jack Palmer, was connected with the appearances. Jack had been employed by the RAAF to help salvage anything useful from the DC-3 so he was a ripe target for the bureaucrats.
The case against Jack was nowhere proven. Jack admitted to finding some diamonds but to him they were just pretty stones which he gave to his lubra (native wife, probably without any wedding ceremony.) He told me he didn’t mind being charged, it got him a free holiday in Perth.
Jack would drive around in a pre war car (actually there were no post war cars in Broome) and point to what he called a Japanese bullet hole in the pillar behind the driver. I’m a bit skeptical as the hole is perfectly round.
Then one day the doctor told Jack he had only a short time to live. Jack withdrew all his money from the bank and set out to have a good time. Jack’s usual dress was thongs and black boxer shorts without any pockets so the wallet was stuck in the waistband. One midday Jack walked into the Conti (Continental hotel but always called the Conti). Jack’s face was as long as a telegraph pole, he had lost his wallet! A couple of free beers from well wishers helped but by evening he was smiling again. The wallet had been found and returned to him.
If you are interested in the diamond story then go to http://home.st.net.au/~dunn. There is a wealth of information on what happened to and in Australia during WW2.
Sincere apologies for my absence but had some serious medical problems. At the end of August I was awarded the O.B.E. No, not the British Order of the British Empire but the Australian OBE (Over Bloody Eighty).
Broome’s First Air Raid
I am presuming most of you would know about this and the success of the Japanese. At this point in time the Japanese Naval Air Force was the best trained and most war experienced. Talking to one who was present during the raid he said the Japanese were of small build and after the raid the bodies were so horribly burnt the only identification that could be made was “adult” or “child”.
In those days a raid such as this meant only one thing, an invasion was close. There was panic in Broome and half the population got into their vehicles and went to drive south. In a week they were back in the town, the “wet” had finished but most of the creeks and rivers were still impassable.
To demolish the radio station a hole was dug in the floor and filled with 500 pounds of explosives. If the station was to be blown up the operator would pull a switch near the door then had two minutes to get away. Later on it was reasoned that there were now enough troops to repel an invasion so it was arranged that two trucks would race to the station, one filled with troops to cover the evacuation and the other to carry receivers and a transmitter to a spot in the where aerials had been erected to maintain contact with the south. This High Frequency transmitter was of very early 1930s vintage and in my time, despite a tall mast, we could not contact Perth or Darwin, even at night when a transmitter range is increased. The explosive was removed and the hole filled with rubble. It was plainly visible during my time in Broome.
After I left Broome a new station was built outside the town and the old station purchased by a newly formed bowling club. When I went back in 1998 I visited it and was promptly asked where this explosive had been stored. The club bar was where the radio operator’s desk had been and I asked the barmaid to move a couple of feet to the right. I said “She is standing right where it was.” No kidding, the barmaid promptly jumped three feet to one side.
There were no wrecked aircraft on land and only one in the bay that could be reached a Dornier (?). This was at very low neap tides and viewed while waist deep in water. The moment you felt the tide change you began walking the couple of miles to the shore. Walk swiftly or the tide would beat you to the shore.
The Cybermodeler Online editor has passed to me two excellent comments made by Bruce Ballinger. One is to more clearly explain what an Australian expression means so it is understandable in America. The other is to provide some background on myself. To the latter first:
I wrote to the Cybermodeler Online editor with a query about his walk arounds. In his answer he asked what I knew about rigging biplanes (which are my love.) A few personal emails resulted in the publication of Windsock. (I wonder how far into the story readers got before they realized their leg was being pulled.) Then I made mention of my life which was lived in a totally different era than today’s and gave him a couple of instances, and so snippets were born.
I was born on 29th August 1927 in a suburb of Sydney. The exact date was put in because you never know, someone may enjoy the snippets so much they will send me a couple or more million bucks. About 1948 I did try to join the interim RAAF but was found medically unfit. I lived in Sydney until 1951 when I passed examinations for the Radio Operator’s First Class Certificate of Proficiency which entitled me to operate any licensed radio station in the world.
I did a short time at Sydney Radio (VIS). Just before Christmas 1951, my transfers began. First to West Australia, where I did a couple of days familiarization at Perth Radio (VIP) before going to Geraldton Radio (VIN) about 200 miles north. Four months there, followed by 7 years in Broome (VIO). Perth ( 3months) and then to Fiskville (in Victoria) overseas transmitting station way outside of Melbourne. Escaped the cold winter three months later by volunteering to spend a year on Willis Island (VIQ) way past the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland. Six months later I escaped and spent a fortnight at Townsville Radio (VIT) then Brisbane Radio (VIB) on relieving duties while the staff had their leave. Back to Sydney Radio (VIS) in charge of the watch. Relieved the Officer in charge at Melbourne Radio (VIM) for two months then back to Sydney Radio for a couple more years.
During this time I married for the first time. Then I was transferred to Thursday Island (VII) in Queensland at the tip of Cape York. I loved the type of work I was doing but circumstances forced me to return to Sydney and chuck the job away. I started again with Department of Civil Aviation. Then my wife went off with another man leaving me with a pile of debts. Investigation into her life proved very, very interesting. Some of this investigation resulted in the marriage being annulled because of her bigamy. Before leaving at the end of 1965) she put me into a private hospital called Chelmsford run by a somewhat mad doctor (I was unconscious at the time.)
Back at work I was struggling to throw off the effect of all the drugs that had been pumped into me and at the same time finding out more about my “wife” and finally had to become bankrupt in 1966. In 1968 I met an English lady and married her a year later. After 35 years she had a succession of strokes and passed away. Now I surf the internet, getting drowned when the internet bill comes in. Despite the old age illnesses, I can still get around and enjoy life. Nowadays every afternoon I must crash (maul the mattress. pummel the pillow, in other words, have a sleep).
I GET PREGNANT. For some time I had pains in my abdomen and the doctor diagnosed it as appendicitis. He wanted to delay any operation until the ‘‘wet” was over as wounds take a long time to heal and are more readily open to infection in that weather.
I lasted until about 3am one morning. I was in so much pain that I had to ring the boss to come and finish my shift. He took one look at me and rang the doctor. Next thing I was in the hospital and sedated. I was on the operating table that day because the appendix was close to bursting. I was so long there that word around town that I had croaked (kicked the bucket, dead.) The doctor told me that the appendix was the size of two thumbs, one on top of the other and if he didn’t cut the right membrane it would burst. He was about to close me up and get the Flying Doctor to come down from Derby (120 miles north) and give him a hand when he found the membrane he had been looking for.
A few days later one of the other patients came in and said he saw a baby in a bottle in the doctor’s surgery. We were all treated to a graphic description of his discovery. About a half hour later the doctor walked in carrying a bottle. He was immediately greeted with the cry “that’s the baby in the bottle”. Somewhat puzzled the doctor said that was Don’s appendix. There was no way the other patients would believe him. From then on I was bombarded with such questions as “do you want twins?”: “what are you going to call it?”: “who is the father?” My answer to that was I would not embarrass someone in the ward by say whom it was.
I AM HAULED TO COURT. In those days the police would issue renewals of your driver’s license. Saw that mine was up so went down to renew it for another year. Then the conversation went like this: “You bloody dope. You didn’t renew it last year! Don’t worry we’ll fix that. By the way we just got a load of prawns sent up from Perth, go into the kitchen and join us.”
A couple of weeks later one of the constables came to the house and began talking to me. He seemed very embarrassed so I asked him why. His answer was I had been summoned for not renewing my license. I took the summons but wondering why it happened. The police were not one to string you along (lie), so the answer remained a mystery for some time. The magistrate was away doing a circuit of other towns in his district so two Justices of the Peace were to hear the charge.
All they could find were severe sentences until they found they could issue a fine.
An aboriginal called Max was also in court for the same reason as I. Max, who could not read or write, was the delivery boy for the butcher. They would give him a parcel and tell him whom it was for. Despite the number of parcels, it was said that Max never made a mistake in his delivery. He was employed by Sam Male who owned he biggest the biggest store in town, Streeter and Male. I never knew who Streeter was. Sam stood up and said he keeps Max’s license in his safe and he forgot to renew it. The JP’s said “sorry Sam, Max is the person charged and we fine him ten pounds.” Everyone knew that Sam would pay the fine.
I copped (got) the same fine, about 1/3rd of a week’s salary. About a month later the native affairs officer, we were very good friends until his death a couple of years back, Joe came up to me and said the police had had a little talk with him. They had told him the story of why I was summoned and Joe knew he was to pass this onto me. There was a Clerk of Courts who was relieving in Broome. He and I became friends. The bugger used to borrow my car and never put any petrol in it. Considering petrol was five shillings a gallon in Broome, but less than half that in Perth, I had some extra expense. When it came near the time for him to go back south, he decided that he would prove his efficiency by issuing some summons for minor misdemeanors. The police knew I would be ropeable (be hogtied so I couldn’t knock that b******s head off).
How long have I been a modeler? I will let you work it out.
At the age of 5 Dad would make me a wooden sword. I insisted on a longer piece at one end for the wings and at the other an upright piece. I didn’t know what it was called and what it did but all airplanes had it. Two years later Dad got fed up with my demands and gave me some wooden lathes, nails and a hammer. Being at the end of the Great Depression all these had been used many times and were long past any use by date. I distinctly remember that the upright piece always split. Then began cardboard cutouts on cereal packets. Mum and the next door neighbour would always allow me to go and get their cereal. I had the grocer dragging out box after box until he found one that I didn’t have. I remember one plane was an all red Hawker Fury biplane. I have never seen one. Has any other modeler?
Then at the age of ten (1937) I was introduced to balsa kits. Bit of a money problem here. Working on Saturdays I would earn two shillings from delivering ice, bread, fruit, milk and anything else available. Mum made me put a shilling away for clothing etc but the other shilling was mine to spend and no questions asked. But kits were nine pence which left me no money to go the pictures.
I got an education delivering bread. The carter had four of us kids delivering the bread as he wanted to finish his run before midday.
Once he asked me “did Mrs. so and so leave a note?” “Oh yes innocent little me replied “but it was all figures so I left it there.”
I was sent back to get that note. I learnt that he was a Starting Price bookmaker, an illegal but popular occupation.
Another time working on an ice cart there was this medium sized dog who would always bark his head off at me. If I didn’t watch him he would go for my legs. One day I carried the block of ice with tongs instead of a bag. Held it low and when the dog began barking I took my eyes off him. My plan worked; there was sudden yelp as he hit the ice and the dog went well away from me looking puzzled. He still barked at me each Saturday but wasn’t game enough to come near.
Kits being slow in purchasing I discovered that block and sheet balsa were much cheaper. Only problem was there no were plans available just some that would appear in “Flying Aces).” I remember one showed the “Lady Peace (Northrop Gamma?)
It had templates but I wasn’t sure how to use them and anyway it seemed they would make model building longer.
Our main cutting and shaping tool was to take a doubled edged razor blade and break it lengthways. Then each side was broken so you were left with two pieces that came to a sharp point.
You always knew a fellow modeler because of the nicks in his fingers.
By 1942 I was working in Sydney so would often go down to the Mitchell Library and get copies of Janes for the WW1 era.
I worked on the scale that a man was 5 feet to his shoulders and a foot from shoulder to top of head. It was many years before I found out that a chap called James Hay Stevens used the same scale.
Later when I got my hands on some of the early Harlborough 1/72 scale plans I found that I was closely accurate.
In 1956 I was entitled for leave and what with leave previously not taken I had almost 6 months. Believe me such leave gets boring after two months. I took a job delivering bread and when I left the overseer said I was the only one accurate in my bread count.
I couldn’t work that out, Mum and the three neighours each got a free loaf every day.
To return to West Australia I bought an Austin A40. Dad being a good all round mechanic and I overhauled it. Thankfully not much needed doing. The weather turned wet so I took off. Later Mum wrote and said the day after I left the roads south were closed because of flooding. I know I had to go down to the middle of Victoria before I could turn westwards.
The Nullabor “highway” was a graded dirt road and looked smooth but I was continuously jolted. When I switched the head lights on there was nothing but different textured sand where the holes were. There was no way you could miss them. On I went, passing burnt out semi-trailer after semi trailer. Slept one night in the car and the next at a motel on the western end of the “road”.
Told there were no petrol stations on the road (correct) I four five gallon cans and filled up in the middle of nowhere. Dopey me forgot to put the petrol cap back on with the result that next day I limped in Southern Cross in low gear, full throttle and just making walking pace. It took all day for the Austin agent to clean the tank, fuel lines and carburetor. When I finally reached a friends place south of Perth it took the next two days stripping the interior and getting rid of the bull dust. (Most it anyway.) When I was due to fly back to Broome, my firm would pay for shipment of the car so, on good (?) advice I covered it with floor polish for protection against the sea air.
Later it took oodles and oodles of water and elbow grease to remove the polish.
Deciding to stock up on balsa I went to a model shop and half way through the ordering the owner said “would you like to try one of these?” and brought out a plastic Merit kit .Oooohhh all those lovely biplanes. I dumped my balsa order and just about cleaned him out of plastic kits. He sold me two tubes of polystyrene cement and when I asked was there a special way of using it he said “no, use it the same as balsa cement.” Being brought up on lots of glue means a strong join, add in the tropic heat and I had a good collection of praying mantis wings and bowlegged undercarriages. But I was happy. ‘
When they decided to test an atom bomb on the Monte Bello Island a flight of Lincolns was stationed in Broome to take wind and atmosphere readings when the bomb went off. I did pinch a ride but sat on the main spar beside the wireless op all the time. Saw sweet Fanny Adams of the countryside.
The bomb went off on Saturday morning and I had the noon to 6pm shift and the telegraph line to Perth. An RAAF bod kept coming up and giving me messages to send. On his third trip I just pointed to his previous messages and said add those you have to the pile. I told him the journalists further south were hogging the landline sending messages about the bomb and I couldn’t get through. About 15 minutes later an officer came up, handed me a piece of paper with a code word written on it and said that would give me priority. The way I got through was to keep tapping my key spoiling Perth’s reception. Perth halted and told me to shut up. Instead I sent the codeword and the red carpet was promptly unrolled for me. All afternoon whenever I sent my call sign (VIO) the red carpet was waiting for me. I rather enjoyed telling everyone to shut up and listen.
Snippet No.6. I CHEAT DEATH FOR THE FIRST TIME
The oil boys were always at me to come out to their camp. One morning I was off duty at 6am and not due back until 6pm the following day so I decided to visit them. Checked the oil, water and petrol then broke the golden rule, I did not tell anyone where I was going and when I would be back. Drove along the main road north, turned off the bush track to go the last seven miles and about half way there when I happened to glance at my analogue oil gauge. It showing 40psi, I blinked and it was 35 then 30. I had just swung off the track when there was an ominous CLUNK from the engine as it seized. Later on it was found that it had thrown a piston through the engine block.
Only resource was to walk the last 3 miles or so. Whatever the town temperature is the bush is anywhere up to ten degrees higher. In fact the oil boys had ripped the side panels from their Dodge engines for cooler running. All I can remember is seeing the camp and a voice yelling “get him to the cookhouse and feed him hot tea”. They fed me tea until it was pouring out of my ears then shoved me onto a bed for a sleep. I was woken by the simple expedient of putting a cold beer bottle on my back. (In the tropics if you drink cold water on a hot day you are a candidate for stomach cramps.) I found the nearest tree and made room for the beer.
The next day they decided to go to town two days early so I could be towed in. It was OK until they got off the bush track onto the main road and increased speed. Up came the bull dust until all I could see was a few feet of tow rope in front. If that rope veered to one side or the other I did the same. Bull dust is finer than the finest talcum powder and gets in every where when the wind blows. Arriving outside my quarters the two oil chaps roared with laughter at me. Looking into a mirror all I could see was two eyes and a mouth. Everything else was covered in red bull dust. I needed a long shower to feel clean.
In those days the town had bore water and even after filtering through charcoal it smelt like warm chicken guts and would rot a car radiator in six months. It was undrinkable so we relied on tank water and the monsoon season (known as the “wet”) to fill our tanks.
Amongst the flood of oil seekers was a group with 4wheel drive large size Dodge utilities. They would drill a hole in the ground, shove in some dynamite and let it go bang. Their instruments would tell them what the chances of finding oil were. Actually none was ever found anywhere in Australia.
There were three hotels in Broome, the Continental (the Conti) being the premier hotel. Bedrooms were along one arm and consisted of two beds a wardrobe and a dressing table.
There was a large open space called the window and a door.
Showers and toilets were at the end of the arm. Like most of the other building the walls and roof were galvanized corrugated iron. This was a material that could stand the rigors of transport and any dents could be belted out with a hammer. Another was the Governor Broome (the GB) which was much further down the scale. Lastly the Roebuck Bay down in Chinatown. If your worst enemy wanted sleeping and food accommodation you would send him there (and never see him again). It was very unpopular when the king tides were on. The tide would drive the sand fleas across the road and into the Roebuck Bay. These little buggers made no noise, they would bite and get away before the sting began.
When I was a kid I stayed with a bush relative. A canvas water bag hanging up gave fairly cool water to drink. I tilted the bag and had a drink not realizing that a bee was in the spout. He gave me sting, my aunt pulled the sting out then put some vinegar on the spot and, whacko, the pain went. That old bush remedy is good for all sorts of stings.
I became friendly with the oil chaps and when they found that I held the championship for dirty stories I was challenged. They would come to town every fortnight and stay overnight. The contest was held at the GB. I remember we each bought a drink and our evening meal was served at the bar. After that someone in the crowd always made sure we never went thirsty.
Next morning I woke wishing that the bulldozer racing around inside my head would stop. Went down to the Conti for a hair of the dog that bit me and found my challenger busy doing the same.
Being polite I asked him who won but he had no idea of the result.
Some of last night’s audience drifted and we found my challenger had won by a whisker because he knew a couple of jokes learnt in Persia.
Dogs, I’ve had a few in my time but only two really stick in my memory. One was mine and the other was a friend’s but with both there was a strong mutual love affair.
My younger brother loved training and tracing greyhounds though at his age a friend had to act as legal owner. One night in the late ‘40s he came home and said the two greyhounds had raced into a blackberry bush and came out with this. He unzipped his safari jacket and a puppy’s head stuck out. I have no idea what made me say “that’s mine”. It was a Heinz dog (57 varieties). Build was a fox terrier but the white coat had very large black splotches and it was shiny and glossy. Naturally I called it Patchy. M um would not allow her past the lounge room door but every morning Patchy would be disobedient and go to my bedroom. When she saw I was asleep or had gone to work she contentedly walked back and would not go into my bedroom until next morning.
She loved chasing motor bikes. In those 99% of the bikes had the exhaust running down the right hand side (nearest the center road out here.) Of course the inevitable happened. On chap went by riding a twin Triumph, a twin exhaust bike. Suddenly Patchy’s barking turned to a painful yelp and she dived under the house. The house was built on piers so I crawled in after her. She cuddled up whimpering with fright and pain from a burnt nose. Unexpectedly a strange voice said “is the dog alright? It was the motorcyclist kindly enquiring. I assured him everything was Ok and he went on his way. When my brother and I got motor bikes there was no way Patchy would even come near them.
Looking back and remembering the attitude of the motor cyclist I grew up in a different aura than todays. No graffiti, yes we did raid a neighbours fruit tree but didn’t wantonly destroy it. The other doc, Mac, I met in a very unusual way but will save that for later on.
Snippet No. 3
Horrie Miller was running a small airline out of Perth and approached MacRobertson (a wealthy chocolate manufacturer) for finance to extend operations up to Darwin and to other our back places in West Australia. This was in the late 1920’s and the first aircraft were mainly Bristol Fighters converted to tourers capable carrying two passengers and some freight. Many survey flights had to be done finding safe landing places within the short range of the Bristols.
Horrie persevered and his airline became a lifeline in the North West. The nickname was Mickey Mouse airlines because it never left Perth on time and had a habit of misplacing baggage and air freight. In late 1956 I was returning from leave and at Onslow the pilot was told he had to fly to a certain cattle station (ranch to you Americans) and pick up an injured stockman (cowboy) and fly him to a hospital. Passengers were off loaded and told there would only be an hours wait so it was not worth running them you into town (actually a small village) and back.
Passengers could wait in the waiting room. This was three walls and a roof covered years ago in tree branches and leaves that were now withered and dried. The floor was the red sandy soil and no seats. Toilets? Plenty of scrub around and being the hot middle of day snakes would be sleeping. So much for the romance of outback flying. After almost two and half hours of waiting the Dakota came back. Thankfully we climbed aboard desperate to be air borne into cooler air. Before croaking for a drink of water we were amazed to see the two front seat rows had been removed and in their place, blocking the cockpit door, was a huge cogged wheel. It was from an oil digging rig and was going for repair. Oh, how I wished I could have witnessed the struggle to get that aboard. The hostie told me that every seat had to removed to get that wheel aboard.
Snippet No. 2
In the mid 1950’s oil was found at Rough Range about halfway between Broome and Perth. It turned out to only a pool but it sparked off a nation wide hunt for oil. One of the first to arrive in Broome was an ex-RAAF Mosquito. Pilot and navigator sat up front, the bomb bay was full of gadgets that would sniff the ground for whatever mineral or liquid the gadgets were tuned for. Behind the trailing edge there was a door for the gadget operator. This was Vince, a cheerful chubby man. To enter the Mosquito he had to put his parachute in first then climb in and don the parachute. He was unable to board the plane wearing his parachute. Remember that important fact. Incidentally, though I knew the whole crew, Vince is the only name that sticks in my memory.
One day just before I ceased work at midday the radio operator rang and said the Mozzie had lost an engine causing the loss of some instruments and making the crew doubtful of others. If I came out to the drome I would get some good photos. Unfortunately I had an empty camera. No film in the stores and the boat bringing up supplies was a week late.
Nevertheless I raced out to witness events. The Mozzie had overload tanks on each wing so went out to sea. Only one dropped off, the other remained in position on the dead engine side. The undercarriage was lowered and the appropriate lights came on. No one knew for sure if it was locked. Because of his size Vince was unable to bail out and in the event of a belly landing he would be trapped because the bottom of his door was under the fuselage. All in all the stage was set for what could be a disaster. I turned to say something to the crew chief but his look of strain told me no. The Mozzie touched down at the beginning of the longest strip and the wheels were locked down. The plane was let run until it had used up ¾ of the strip and then the pilot was game enough to see if the brakes worked on both wheels. They did. First out was Vince still WEARING his parachute and his shadow five lengths behind him. He was closely followed by the pilot and navigator, they were a bit slower, their shadows were only three lengths behind them.
That afternoon I had occasion to drive the crew chief somewhere. As we left their quarters I remarked that there were four pair of trousers hanging on the line. “Oh it is our normal wash day” was the quick reply. “then where are the pants of your two mechanics?” was my query. It was quite remarkable how quickly he changed the subject. Was I right in believing that I had seen the old saying come true? And four times at that.
In a long life I’ve seen and done many things which have been ground under the wheels of progress. So these snippets of the past will sometimes be non-aviation but hopefully interesting to you. I suggest you have an atlas showing the various states of Australia so you can have a better grip on what I write.
From 1952 until 1959 I was stationed in the pearling port of Broome (North West Australia) which figures in may of the snippets so a description may help you understand how isolated we were. In the days when the only contact with the shore was by radio I was one of the operators on shore who handled all their traffic ranging from SOS, medical emergencies down to private messages. Every capital city had a radio station and Broome was one of six other stations scattered around the Australian coast. Our shift roster covered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We had one day a week off duty.
In the 1950’s the “roads” north and south were mere wheel tracks through the bush with similar tracks branching off to windmills or stockmen’s (usually unoccupied) huts. Only the mad or very daring drove around Australia. Our contacts with southern civilization were a telegraph line (not telephone) a ship every six weeks or so and six airplane flights a week. Apart from three nights a week outdoor movie there was no other manufactured entertainment, you had to make your own. If you didn’t, then knowing that today is the same as yesterday and tomorrow will be the same as today would soon send you “troppo”. Public transport did not exist; you walked or had your own car, or traveled by taxi at two shillings a head and other passengers would be picked up join you. Cars of those days had bench seats in front and back. After the movies going home was great fun. Those who would get off last got in then those getting off first would sit on their laps. So the taxi would be carrying ten passengers each paying their two shillings. Good money in those days. With such a long but necessary introduction I had better make the first snippet a shortie.
Horrie Miller who founded and owned Mac Robertson Miller Airlines lived in Broome in semi-retirement. One evening a recently purchased DC3 landed and naturally Horrie wanted to have a look at his new purchase. Wearing the usual Broome outfit of khaki shirt and shorts and wearing thongs Horrie had his head poked in the wheel bay. I was talking to the skipper when we noticed the second dickey walk up to Horrie and chase him away. The dickey then walked up to us with the expression “I got rid of that bum before he stole anything” written clearly on his face. Before he could say a word the skipper said “I see you have met Mr. Miller who owns this airline,” All of sudden the second dickey was an inch tall, and with a totally different look on his face.
Talking with Horrie a day or so later I related the incident and it gave Horrie a good laugh. At the end he said the dickey was only doing his job. There is a famous expression that goes “I was so scared I s--- my pants.” I have actually seen four pair of pants hanging on the line after such an incident. I will relate this in the next snippet.