The New South Wales State Aviation School

The New South Wales State Aviation School was a civilian organisation whose existence is directly linked to the story of the Australian Flying Corps during the First World War.

 

NSW State Aviation School

The insignia related to Australian aviators of the First World War are one of my areas of collecting interest. Whilst most of these are associated with the Australian Flying Corps (AFC), there are also some lesser known badges which are closely linked to the Australia’s early military aviators. The New South Wales State Aviation School was a civilian organisation whose existence is directly linked to the story of the AFC. The school wore military styled uniforms and distinctive insignia on their caps and jacket sleeve. Very few surviving examples are known to exist and I am still searching for examples for my own collection. If anybody can help, please contact me. 

NSW Aviation School
Cap badge of the New South Wales State Aviation School. The badge is embroidered in coloured cotton on khaki-grey wool twill with a brown eagle in front of a yellow rising sun. Beneath the eagle’s head is a yellow edged circle bearing the badge of the State of New South Wales in red, yellow, pale blue and white. Around it is a pale blue and yellow scroll ‘AVIATION SCHOOL N.S.W.’ in red. Collection: RAAF Museum, Point Cook.

 

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New South Wales State Aviation School sleeve badge embroidered in coloured cotton on grey wool twill. The embroidery is backed with lightweight buckram. This badge was worn by Alan Ernest Buzacott during his training at the NSW State Aviation School at Richmond, near Sydney, between July and October 1918. He was a member of the 6th class run by the School and obtained his aviator’s certificate on 25 October 1918. Although Buzacott qualified as a pilot he graduated too late to be able to serve in the First World War. AWM Accession Number: REL33412

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The New South Wales State Aviation School opened on 28 August 1916 as a supplement to the Australian Flying Corps Central Flying School (CFS) at Point Cook in Victoria. The school was located at Ham Common, now site of the Richmond RAAF Base. The Premier of New South Wales, William A. Holman was a keen proponent of military aviation, so he put New South Wales State finances behind the development of the school, financing the procurement of two American Curtiss training aircraft, with two additional Curtiss JN-B4 aircraft acquired in 1917. Whilst the aim was to train pilots for the AFC, it was foreshadowed that after the war the school would continue to train pilots for civil aviation purposes.

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Twenty-five students were chosen from 230 applicants for the Flying School’s first course. Applicants had to be 18 to 30 years of age and in good health. Preference was given to commissioned officers, engineers, mechanics or other specified trades. All students trained at their own risk and no compensation was offered on account of death or injury. Instruction included lectures and practical training over 12 weeks followed by an examination. Workshop training, to familiarise students with the construction and operation of aircraft and engines, was required for at least 160 hours while only four hours of flying time were required, of which not less than two were to be ‘in complete charge of the aeroplane‘. The applicant also had to pass the test for the Royal Aero Club Certificate. If unsuccessful, an applicant could qualify as an Aircraft Mechanic, provided he demonstrated ‘the necessary mechanical ability and sufficient merit‘.

Of the initial course, 19 trainees qualified despite delays due to bad weather. Students were housed and taught in purpose-built accommodation on site and referred to themselves as BPs, probably from the term Basic Pilot Training. A total of six training courses were conducted by the flying school with the last completed just before the announcement of the Armistice in 1918. The rationale for the school had always been driven by politics rather than demonstrated need and this did cause some friction with the military. Graduates were deemed as being inexperienced in military flying and tactical skills and as a civilian training school, pilots did not automatically gain commissions in the Australian Flying Corps, but had to submit for further examination by the Central Flying School in Victoria.

 

 

Only a handful of qualifying pilots secured commissions with the AFC leading to considerable frustration. Their services were offered by the Prime Minister to the Royal Flying Corps and some embarked for England to serve either as cadet pilots or mechanics. There was uncertainty as to how long the war would last and their training was also seen to be inadequate by the War Office for the same reasons as those of the Australian military. By the fourth intake a group of students were making their dissatisfaction over their future known. There was also wrangling about allowances and having to fund their own travel to the UK or Egypt to enlist.

Nevertheless, Premier Holman persisted, and two further courses were run prior to the war’s end. The sixth course started in August 1918 and by Armistice in November, a total of 71 pilots had graduated with 20 joining the AFC and 40 going to the RFC (and, after April 1918, the Royal Air Force). Seven graduates lost their lives during the war, 3 in the AFC and 2 in the RFC and 2 in the RAF.

After the war, effort was made to convert the school to a civilian flying school, but the costs associated were becoming prohibitive and the NSW Government eventually asked the Commonwealth Government to take control. In 1923 the Commonwealth purchased the site and in 1925 became RAAF Base Richmond, home to No 3 Squadron.

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Richmond, NSW. 1917. Studio portrait of Wallace (Waddy) Andrew McDougall showing both the cap and shoulder sleeve insignia being worn. McDougal initially enlisted in the AIF as a Gunner (Gnr) on 27 November 1916. He was discharged on 4 January 1917 having qualified as a pilot at the Aviation School in Richmond. On 5 January 1917 he was appointed 2nd Lieutenant in the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) and embarked overseas on 21 November 1917, where he completed further training in England, and served in France before returning to Australia on 28 February 1919. (Donor A. McDougall). AWM Accession Number: P02844.001

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NSW State Aviation School graduate Nigel Love in the cockpit of his RE8 serial B3420 along with comrades from 3 Sqn Australian Flying Corps circa 1917/18. Nigel joined the army in 1915 at age 23, and was about to leave for Gallipoli as part of reinforcements for the 18th Battalion when he saw a circular about learning to fly. He was selected in the first intake of 25, out of 230 applicants, for the NSW State Aviation School in August 1916. He graduated as an officer/pilot and received strategic battle training in England before joining 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps (AFC) in 1918. The squadron was attached to the newly formed Australian Army Corps on the Somme in northern France, under John Monash. On his return from the war he marked out the site of the new airport at Sydney, with the first passenger leaving from there in November, 1919. Nigel Love also established Australia’s first aircraft manufacturing company and piloted the airport’s first commercial flight from Sydney to Melbourne. Photograph: The Nigel Love Collection

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The Darwin Aviation Museum – Northern Territory, Australia

Some photographs and review after my recent visit to the Darwin Aviation Museum

Darwin Aviation Museum-17Replica of a Supermarine Spitfire Mk VIII on display at the Darwin Aviation Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Darwin Aviation Museum (formerly known as the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre) is situated about 8km from the Darwin CBD, on the Stuart Highway in the suburb of Winnellie. It grew out of the activities of the Aviation Historical Society of the Northern Territory Inc  which was established in 1976 with the aim of recovery, restoration and document of aviation relics related to the defence of Darwin in World War II.

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Wreck of the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M-2 Type ‘O’ fighter of Petty Officer Hajime Toyoshima who was forced to land on Melville Island during the attack on Darwin of 19 February 1942. Toyoshima was subsequently captured by a Tiwi Islander, Matthias Ulungura and interned at Cowra in NSW under the alias, Todao Minami. He was one of the camp leaders of the infamous escape attempt on 5 August 1944, blowing the bugle to start the breakout. After recapture he committed suicide and is buried in the Japanese Cemetery at Cowra. Photo” Julian Tennant

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Wreck of the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M-2 Type ‘O’ fighter of Petty Officer Hajime Toyoshima on Melville Island shortly after his crash landing. Inset shows Toyoshima’s POW identification photo. The wreck is on display at the Darwin Aviation Museum.

Over the years the museum has expanded to cover all aspects of aviation history in the Northern Territory and today it features one of the largest private collections of aircraft and aviation artifacts in Australia. Housed in a custom built hangar that was opened in 1990 after the Society was able to secure a B52 G bomber and currently exhibits 19 aircraft, 21 engines and numerous other related displays.

Aircraft include a B-25D Mitchell Bomber (one of the few surviving in the world), a replica Spitfire, Mirage, Avon Sabre, a Royal Australian Navy Wessex helicopter that assisted in the clean-up of Darwin after Cyclone Tracy, F-111C and the centerpiece, the aforementioned  Boeing B52 G Stratofortress 92596 “Darwin’s Pride.” This aircraft entered service with the USAF in December 1960 and made its last flight (to the museum) on 1 September 1989. The museum was chosen for its final resting place as Darwin Airport allowed B52 Bombers to take off at their maximum ‘take off weight’ with full fuel tanks or payload.

This relationship with Australia’s American allies is well documented in the museum and includes several artifacts from the USAAF’s 33rd Pursuit Squadron which flew P-40 Kittyhawks and was virtually wiped out when the Japanese attacked on 19 February 1942, right up to the present day deployment of the  Marine Rotational Force – Darwin (MRF – D).

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Uniform and flying helmet of Lieutenant Robert F. McMahon of the 33rd Pursuit Squadron USAAF who engaged the attacking Japanese aircraft in his P-40 Kittyhawk during their bombing raid of Darwin on 19 February 1942. Photo: Julian Tennant

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United States HMLA-367 patches from the MRF-D 2019 deployment. US Marine Corps Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367 (HMLA-367) is a United States Marine Corps helicopter squadron consisting of AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters and UH-1Y Venom utility helicopters. Photo: Julian Tennant

One of the aircraft that I was pleased to see was the De Havillland DH104 “Dove” called Manatuto after a town on the north coast of East Timor. My interest in this aeroplane relates to a beautiful civilian Transportes Aéreos de Timor pilot’s wing  that I hold in my collection.

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Pre 1975 Transportes Aéreos de Timor Pilot wing. Brass and enamel multi-piece construction with rotating propeller. Collection: Julian Tennant

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Transportes Aeros de Timor (Timor Air Transport) De Havillland DH104 Dove ‘Manatuto’  Photo: Julian Tennant

The Manatuto was registered to the Portuguese Government and operated by the Transportes Aéreos de Timor (Timor Air Transport). Originally based at Dili, Manatuto provided regular passenger, mail and cargo service throughout Timor and to Darwin. In October 1975, just before the Indonesian invasion of Timor, the aircraft flew to Darwin. It was admitted to Australia as an ‘aircraft in transit’ but was subsequently declared an illegal import and impounded after the Indonesian invasion before finally being donated to the society by the Portuguese Government in 1978.

Unlike the Darwin Military Museum, which I reviewed in my previous post, the provenance of the exhibits here are well documented and as a collector whose focus is uniforms and insignia I found several pieces that aroused my interest including some of the less well known RAAF uniforms from recent times.

RAAF Flight Service Uniform c1980-1990. Photo: Julian Tennant
RAAF Flight Service Uniform c1980-1990. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Helicopter Air Crew Vietnam display. The mannequin is wearing the Gentex SPH-4 Helicopter Helmet, which was first produced in 1969 although this particular helmet appears to be a post war example. He is also equipped with a US Army issue 2-piece “Nomex” flight suit and the “Armour, Small-Arms-Fragmentation Protective” jacket which was commonly referred to as the “chicken plate.”  Photo: Julian Tennant

The museum also has a small cafeteria and bookshop which, in addition to their range of aviation and military histories also has model aircraft as well as generic Northern Territory related paraphernalia for sale. Overall, this is an interesting museum well worth the few hours I spent examining the exhibits. It is quite easy to get to using public transport as the number 8 bus stops at the front gate, but if you have a hire car and can set a day aside, I’d suggest combining it with a trip to the Defence of Darwin Experience and Darwin Military Museum at East Point which is about 20 minutes away.

Entrance to the Darwin Aviation Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Darwin Aviation Museum
557 Stuart Highway
Winnellie Darwin, NT 0820
Australia

Phone: +61 (0)8 8947 2145
Email: info@darwinaviationmuseum.com.au
Website: https://www.darwinaviationmuseum.com.au/

Open: Every day 09:00 – 17:00

Entry Fees:
Adults: Au$16
Children under 12: $8
Seniors (65+): Au$12
Family pass: Au$36.00

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Australian Airborne Insignia #4 – RAAF Combat Controller Teams

A look at the insignia of the Royal Australian Air Force, Combat Controller Teams (CCT) of B Flight, 4 Squadron, one of the newest additions to the Australian Special Operations community.

 

The Combat Controller Teams (CCT) of B Flight, 4 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force are a relatively recent addition to Australia’s special operations capability. They trace their origin to 2006 when the Australian Special Forces Commander asked the Deputy Chief of Air Force whether the RAAF was capable of fielding personnel similar to the United States Air Force Combat Controllers who had been working alongside Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan.

As a result, the RAAF Air Group Combat Commander established the Special Tactic Project Proof of Concept Trial. The aim was for selected volunteers to pass the commando training cycle and trained as Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) before deploying in support of special forces.

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Australian Joint Terminal Attack Controller patches 2006 – 2019. Whilst not exclusively Special Forces (the 5 week course trains personnel from all three branches of the ADF), like most contemporary Australian insignia, these JTAC patches have been extensively faked to supply the collectors market. These four patches are examples of original insignia requested for wear by the end users. Collection: Julian Tennant

Between 2008 and 2009, three intakes completed initial training and four members were deployed with the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG). This resulted in the ‘Combat Controller’ mustering (RAAF terminology for ‘trade’) and Air Surface Integration officer stream being created in 2012 and the CCT role declared an Initial Operating Capability.

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RAAF Combat Controller Team member. Note the distinctive CCT qualification patch on his chest. Photo: Department of Defence.
RAAF CCT Havoc Strike
A Combat Controller from No. 4 Squadron calls in close air support from a PC-21 during Exercise Havoc Strike 2020. Note the 4 Squadron patch on his right shoulder.  Photo: Corporal Craig Barrett (Australian Defence Force)
Exercise Diamond Storm 2019
A Royal Australian Air Force No. 4 Squadron Combat Controller frees a quad bike from its pallet after a parachute insertion into the Mosquito Flats Drop Zone in the Bradshaw Field Training Area during Exercise Diamond Storm 2019. Note the CCT patch on his right shoulder and helmet ANF. Photo: Department of Defence.

Selection to become a combat controller is open to any member of the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Volunteers first complete an 8 week CCT intake course which provides ground skills training and prepares them for the Special Forces Entry Test (SFET). Those who pass the SFET must then undertake around 18 months of testing and training in which they are required to complete the commando reinforcement cycle, JTAC, aviation meteorology, assault zone reconnaissance and air weapons delivery courses.

2020 Commando Selection Course
A Royal Australian Air Force combat controller from the Australian Defence Force School of Special Operations supervises Commando Selection Course candidates during an early morning physical training session at Holsworthy Barracks in Sydney, on Friday, 16 October 2020. Photo: Australian Department of Defence

The video below, shows the CCT’s conducting their annual parachute continuation training as part of Exercise Havoc Drop 20-1 which took place 13-17 July 2020 at Wagga Wagga in NSW.

Upon qualification they are presented their distinctive grey CCT beret and qualification brevet, becoming part of B Flight of 4 Squadron, RAAF, which is the squadron tasked with providing operational training to Forward Air Controllers (FAC) and support of the Australian Army’s Special Operations Command. The Squadron is divided into three main roles, FAC(A) is the airborne control of air assets, JTAC training (C Flight) and CCT (B Flight).

Since their formation, the CCT’s have conducted operations with SOTG, participated in several joint exercises with allied nations and recently in late 2019 early 2020, assisted in humanitarian operations within Australia as part of the ADF efforts to combat the devastating bushfires that swept large tracts of the east coast of Australia over the summer months.

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RAAF CCT display at the ‘From the Shadows: Australia’s Special Forces’ exhibition at the Australian War Memorial in 2017/18. Unfortunately I did not record the caption detail surrounding the RAAF CCT Commendation for Gallantry medal group shown in the display. Note the PVC Combat Controller Team patch. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

Beret & Insignia

Special Operations Education & Training Centre
 Special Operations Training & Education Centre Commando qualification beret parade, November 2019. 36 army personnel and 3 RAAF combat controllers passed the 14 month-long commando reinforcement cycle. The RAAF combat controllers are awarded the RAAF ‘air superiority grey’ berets whilst the army personnel receive sherwood green berets. Photo: Sergeant Janine Fabre (Australian Defence Force)

Once qualified, Combat Controllers are awarded a distinctive Combat Controller Team insignia which is worn as a qualification badge and (a variation) also on their beret. The badge (NSN 8455-66-162-5061) consists of a Fairbairn-Sykes commando dagger on a winged shield. The  dagger represents the close link combat controllers share with the special forces they support. The shield symbolises  the protection of ground forces, from harm during combat operations and the wings represent the air-power integration role of the combat controller.

CCT badge dress regs
Detail from the Air Force Dress Manual showing the embroidered Combat Controller Team qualification Badge.

The badge is worn on the left breast of dress uniforms, 3mm above medals/ribbons or flying badge if applicable. Cloth, metal and a mess dress miniature versions are used, depending on the uniform type.

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One of the Royal Australian Air Force’s combat control officers wearing his qualification brevet, featuring a Fairbairn-Sykes commando fighting knife and wings, at the Australian Defence Force School of Special Operations commando reinforcement cycle graduation at Holsworthy Barracks, Sydney, on Friday, 13 November 2020. Photo: Corporal Sagi Biderman (ADF)

A similar design metal badge which features shortened wings is also worn on a black shield on the CCT beret which, unlike other RAAF berets is ‘air superiority’ grey, the colour signifying the presence of aviation in the daily duties of the combat controller. Mark Corcoran and Arthur Butler, author’s of the excellent reference books, Metal Uniform Embellishments of the Australian Army – Post 53 (‘QE II series’) volumes 1 & 2 also feature some of the prototype variations of the badge on their charliebravobooks blog which is worth checking out.

RAAF CCT insignia
Beret badge and Commando wings worn by the Combat Control Teams of B Flight 4 Squadron RAAF. Collection: Julian Tennant

CCT’s also wear a distinctive parachute qualification wing which differs from the standard Air Force parachutist badge. The wings are referred to in the Air Force Dress Manual as a ‘Commando Badge’ (NSN 8455-66-157-9911) and reflects the Army’s commando parachutist qualification design but has a white parachute with light blue wings on an Air Force blue background. A miniature version embroidered with gold bullion on a black background (NSN 8455-66-134-1212) is worn on the upper left sleeve of the mess dress jacket. The authority for the award and withdrawal of the Commando Badge is the Commanding Officer, 4SQN.

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Page detail from the RAAF Dress manual showing the distinctive Commando parachutist wings worn by qualified CCT members of 4 Sqn RAAF.
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Australian Army officer Major General Adam Findlay, AM, Special Operations Commander for Australia, presents a grey beret and congratulates a new Royal Australian Air Force combat control officer (left) at the Australian Defence Force School of Special Operations commando reinforcement cycle graduation at Holsworthy Barracks, Sydney, on Friday, 13 November 2020. Note the parachute wings. Photo: Corporal Sagi Biderman (ADF)

CCT’s have also been seen wearing a variety of Combat Controller Team patches and distinctive RAAF ANF insignia, some of which are shown below. At this stage, these insignia are less well known amongst collectors as they are tightly controlled by the unit and have not (yet) been subect to the massive number of fakes and reproductions that have occurred with other Australian Special Forces insignia. Sadly, it is only a matter of time before the fakes start appearing on eBay and elsewhere. If you do have original examples of the RAAF 4 Squadron or CCT patches or insignia, for sale or trade, I am really interested in hearing from you as I’d love to add these to my collection. 

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CCT and ANF patches circa 2012. A No. 4 Squadron Combat Control Team (4SQN CCT) member on board a C-130H Hercules aircraft during Exercise Pitch Black 2012. Photographer: LACW Shannon McCarthy (Australian Defence Force)
Exercise COPE NORTH 19
CCT patch circa 2019. A Royal Australian Air Force No. 4 Squadron Combat Control Team, load equipment onto a Japan Air Self-Defense Force KC-130H Hercules, as part of Exercise Cope North 19, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Photo: Sgt Kirk Peacock (Australian Defence Force)

 

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CCT helmet showing one of the patches worn by the team during Exercise Havoc Drop from 13 – 17 July 2020 near Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. Havoc Drop is an annual training exercise to maintain the operational parachute currency requirements of 4 Squadron personnel. Photo: Cpl Dan Pinhorn, Department of Defence

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The Aviation Heritage Museum – Bull Creek, Perth, Western Australia

Note: Click on the smaller images to enlarge and read caption information.

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Australian Flying Corps (AFC) pilot standing by a replica of a Sopwith Camel fighter. Photo: Julian Tennant

The North Wing is home to the larger aircraft in the collection and has a greater emphasis on the Royal Australian Air Force and its operations during peace and war. This is very much an ‘old-school’ type museum with an emphasis on artifacts rather than interactive displays or gimmicks to keep the kids entertained. Naturally there is a greater focus on Western Australia’s role and the Second World War does have a much greater emphasis than subsequent conflicts, with Vietnam and more recent conflicts almost entirely absent.

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Entrance to the North Wing of the RAAFA Aviation Heritage Museum of WA. Photo: Julian Tennant
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1934 period RAAF Mess Dress uniform worn by (then) Flight Lieutenant Ivor. J. Lightfoot. Photo: Julian Tennant
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RAAF mechanic servicing a De Havilland Tiger Moth training aircraft. Photo: Julian Tennant

The layout of the museum may also appear somewhat random, rather than following a cohesive timeline and this may have been dictated due to space considerations. I suspect that it may also be due to the nature of the museum and what it represents in terms of preserving the history of aviation in WA, rather than trying to explain a linear sequence of conflicts or historical events. Many of the items have been donated by members or their families and it is nice to see some of the more unusual (and sometimes banal) objects on display rather than being hidden from public view in a storage facility somewhere. This more than makes up for the somewhat cluttered and disorganised feel of the museum in my opinion.  

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Second World War period Middle East Issue Fly Swat, RAAF officers issue Pith Helmet issued in the Burma / Indian operational theatres and a souvenir dagger from Somalia. Photo: Julian Tennant
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British Airborne Forces Welbike Paratrooper’s Motorcycle. The Welbike was a single seat motorcycle produced during WW2 at the direction of Station IX (the “Inter Services Research Bureau”) for use by the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Between 1942 and 1943, 3641 bikes were built and although not much used by the SOE, some were issued to the British 1st and 6th Airborne Divisions, seeing use during Operation Market Garden at Arnhem. Photo: Julian Tennant

As can be expected, the ‘draw-card’ exhibits for most visitors would be the aircraft on display, however as an insignia collector, it is the uniforms and badges that attracted me. The Aviation Heritage Museum does not disappoint in this aspect. It displays some rare and unusual insignia, including what appears to be an Australian Flying Corps patch (see images above), the likes of which I had never seen before, despite having the AFC as one of my primary areas of collecting interest. It also shows some of the older Squadron patches and some more recent items from the more obscure RAAF support units.

My one criticism re the insignia is that some of the displays include obvious (to the knowledgeable collector) fakes such as the AFC wing which is featured on the pilot by the Sopwith Camel in the South Wing. The brevet is one of the copies sold by Lukus Productions and is even available in the museum shop and yet there is no information stating that the uniform being displayed is not authentic in all respects. There were also others that I was not convinced were genuine, but were not marked as being replicas. This is not a good practice IMO as it does potentially undermine confidence in the descriptor didactic panels for other displays as well. However, I only noticed this in a few displays and overall was very impressed by what I uncovered as I made my way through the museum. 

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Leather patch (with photo showing reverse) and Observer wings of the 531st Squadron, 380th Bombardment Group (H), 5th Air Force (USAAF) which flew B-24 Liberator bombers in the South Western and Western Pacific during WW2. The 380th was placed under the control of the RAAF and operated out of Darwin from May 1943 until February 1945. Photo: Julian Tennant.

 

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View of the North Wing of the RAAFA Aviation Heritage Museum of WA. Photo: Julian Tennant
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3 Control Reporting Unit Patch and Disruptive Pattern Desert Uniform (DPDU) worn by a RAAF airman when he arrived at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan on Christmas Eve of 2008. Photo: Julian Tennant.
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Bell UH-1 Iroquois (Huey) Helicopter of 9 Sqn RAAF. Photo: Julian Tennant

In addition to the two display hangars the museum also has a separate library, photo archive, model aeroplane club room and of course a gift shop which features a good selection of aviation related books, including some out of print, second-hand publications, models and other related memorabilia.

The museum is easily accessible by car, or if using public transport by train with Bull Creek train station located approximately 500m away.  It is open every day, except Good Friday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day from 10:00 until 16:00 and along with the Army Museum of Western Australia, should definitely be one of the museums you see when visiting Perth.

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RAAF Squadron patches and reproduction pilot’s wings on sale in the Museum shop. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Aviation Heritage Museum
Air Force Memorial Estate
2 Bull Creek Drive,
Bull Creek WA 6149
Australia

Website: https://aviationmuseumwa.org.au/
Email: museum@raafawa.org.au
Phone: +61 (0)8 9311 4470

Open: Every day from 10:00 until 16:00 (except Good Friday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day).

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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content every second Sunday (at least) and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

 

 

WW2 Caterpillar Club pin to RAAF pilot, Group Captain P.G. Heffernan

The Caterpillar Club began in 1922 shortly after an American aviator, LT H.R. Harris, made an emergency descent using an Irvin parachute over McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio, USA. The lucky escape captured the attention of two visiting newspaper journalists, Maurice Hutton and Vern Timmerman. After discussions between Hutton, Timmerman, parachute manufacturer Leslie Irvin, Harris and another airman, Lt. Frank B. Tyndal, it was decided to form a club that recorded the names of individuals whose lives had been saved making an emergency descent using a parachute.

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Milton H. St. Clair, parachute engineer and co-founder of the Caterpillar Club, points to a sign for Caterpillar farm tractors. Photograph – Smithsonian Collection NASM-9A16107

Parachute engineer and founding club member, Milton H St. Clair, came up with the idea of using the caterpillar as the club’s symbol after a discussion as how to best represent membership. He recalls,
“Not long after our conversation I received literature about the Caterpillar Tractor Company from a relative, showing the design of their advertisements that is a wavy streak with ‘Caterpillar’ written across its face. I immediately got in touch with Timmerman and Hutton, and suggested to them that the organisation be called ‘Caterpillar Club’ for several reasons, namely; the parachute mainsail and lines were woven from the finest silk. The lowly worm spins a cocoon, crawls out and flies away from certain death if it remains in sight of the cocoon. A better example of what a pilot or passenger should do in the case of an uncontrollable plane could not have better figurative depiction. Hutton and Timmerman gave enthusiastic support to this name.”

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A November 1943 article from Aviation Week magazine commemorating the then Colonel Harris’ achievement of becoming Caterpillar #1.

Two companies are usually associated with Caterpillar Club awards, Irvin and Switlik, although other parachute companies also used the symbol for brief periods of time. The pin featured here is an example awarded by the Irving Air Chute Company during WW2 for members of its Caterpillar Club European Division  and I will feature my Switlik pin in a future post.

The Irving Air Chute Company was formed by Leslie Irvin in Lexington Kentucky. A clerical error had resulted in the addition of a ‘G’ to Irvin’s name when the company was registered and this was amended to the Irvin Air Chute Company post WW2. In 1926 Leslie Irvin went to Great Britain where he established the Irving Air Chute of Great Britain Ltd at Letchworth, Garden City, Hertfordshire and as a result the European Division of the Caterpillar Club was formed.

Irvin’s Caterpillar Club European Division badge was originally made in 9ct gold (and later in gilt brass), is 20mm long and 4mm wide with ruby eyes. They were made by the jewellers, Mappin & Webb London. The badges produced in America were originally 10ct gold. The badge has a blank reverse upon which the recipient’s name is engraved behind the gold attachment pin. Many of the British made awards also feature a ‘9ct’ gold mark at the base. The pin was presented in a blue velvet lined presentation box, accompanied by a membership certificate and card.

Irvin Caterpillar Club pin presented to RAAF pilot Patrick George Heffernan O.B.E, A.F.C after he made an emergency descent on the 6th of November 1943. The pin measures 20mm long, 4mm wide, has ruby eyes and is engraved "G.C. P.G. HEFFERNAN" on the rear. Collection: Julian Tennant
WW2 Irvin Caterpillar Club European Division pin presented to RAAF pilot Group Captain (later Air Commodore) Patrick George Heffernan O.B.E, A.F.C after he made an emergency descent on the 6th of November 1943. The pin measures 20mm long, 4mm wide, has ruby eyes and is engraved “G.C. P.G. HEFFERNAN” on the rear. Collection: Julian Tennant

The pin that I have in my collection was presented to Royal Australian Air Force pilot, Group Captain (later Air Commodore) Patrick George Heffernan O.B.E, A.F.C., who entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon in 1925 and in June 1929 went to the Air Force as a Pilot Officer. Heffernan had a long career which included qualifying as a RAAF parachutist in October 1930 and being awarded the Air Force Cross for his part in the rescue of RAF personnel from a Wellesley Bomber which had crashed in Western Australia in 1938. He was formally awarded his membership as no. 16000 of the Caterpillar Club European Division in February 1945 as the result of a training accident that occurred in November 1943.  He gives the following account of the jump that earned him membership of the Caterpillar Club in Bill Johnson’s book, Ripcord Australia.

“I joined the RAAF in 1929 and along with six other RAAF pilots we were sent to the UK in in 1943 to command various RAF squadrons, whose aircrew were predominantly Australian. Air Commodore DEL Wilson was to command RAF station Wyton, but after some operational flights he was shot down and became a POW. I was to command the Wellington OTU [27 Operational Training Unit RAF] where most of the Australians were crewed up. Wing Commander Balmer, Forsyth and McCormack were to command various squadrons.

I was taking part in a “Bullseye” which was a miniature bomber raid in which OTU crews took part before going on real ops. There were about 70 Wellingtons in this stream and were at 17000. Just as I was about to alter course over the last turning point, I looked down to reset the compass and as I looked up another Wellington appeared right in front of me and I skewered my aircraft on his port wing. I was knocked out and when I came too I found the aircraft in a steep dive as the controls had been jammed forward in the impact. Half the nose was ripped away and my bomb aimer had disappeared. I tried to contact the rest of the crew but the intercom was out and yelling down through the cabin door did not get any results, so I assumed that they, on possibly seeing me unconscious, had bailed out. I opened the top escape hatch and when I went to stand up, found that my right leg was broken. So, I hooked my finger in the loop of my flying boot and managed to kick my way out. I hit the mainplane and missed the tail. The chute opened OK and within a few seconds I hit the ground with a wallop.

It was a very dark night and after my eyes became used to the darkness I could see a white gate some 150 yards away, so thought I could crawl to it, but as soon as I put weight on my leg I passed out again. When I came to, I realised the futility of my attempts, so wrapped myself in the chute and tried to settle in for the night. It was now 22:30 on 6.11.1943. When it became daylight, I sat up and watched for any movement and about 08:00 I saw a chap riding a bike so yelled out and he came over. I told him my story and he went off to get an ambulance. He came back with a thermos of hot tea and a bottle of Red Label. I can assure you that a mix of 4 parts Red Label to 1 of tea was very welcome. The ambulance arrived and I went to Ely hospital where I remained for the next 14 months. It was found that I had broken my leg in 3 places, also had 3 broken ribs and a broken radius in my right arm. All these injuries were caused when the other chap’s wing came into the cockpit.

NOW, here’s the amazing part of the story. Usually in a Wellington the pilot wore a chute harness and the pack was stowed in the nose so when an emergency arose the bomb aimer passed the pack up. That night BOTH the other pilot and myself went to collect our chutes and were told they were being folded so BOTH of us asked for a seat type which we wore. In my case I would have had no chance of getting the pack because of my injuries and when the other aircraft broke away it went into an inverted spin, so that the moment the pilot released his aircraft harness, he was thrown out of the aircraft. Had he been wearing only a chute harness (no pack) he would have been a dead duck, but only damaged his knee on landing. So BOTH of us were very lucky, as we were the only survivors of both aircraft. Being in an inverted spin, his crew would have had little chance of getting out; I cannot understand why my crew failed to get out and can only assume that they were knocked out by the impact of the collision. The other pilot was Canadian and was not in the “Bullseye” but was doing a night cross country flight and his track crossed the “Bullseye” stream and that is why we almost hit at right angles.”

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England circa February 1945. Air Vice Marshal Wrigley at a luncheon at the Irvin Air Chute factory pinning a caterpillar pin on Group Captain P. G. Heffernan AFC, Royal Australian Air Force, as member number 16000 of the European Division of the Caterpillar Club. The delay between the date of the incident and presentation of the award is most likely because of Heffernan’s lengthy 14 month recovery in Ely hospital and helps to explain the presence of the walking stick. Australian War Memorial Image Accession Number: SUK13845

Patrick Heffernan, O.B.E., A.F.C continued to serve at various RAAF Headquarter establishments after the war and in 1953 was awarded an O.B.E. for his service. He retired as an Air Commodore on the 15th of September 1956 and died in 1994.

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WW2 and 1950’s era RAAF pilot’s wings, Caterpillar Club badge and Returned From Active Service badge numbered AF 113893 belonging to 0318 Air Commodore Patrick George Heffernan O.B.E., A.F.C. Collection: Julian Tennant

Related: The Winged Boot

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The RAAF Museum Point Cook, Victoria, Australia

The RAAF Museum Point Cook, Victoria, Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant
The RAAF Museum Point Cook, Victoria, Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

Situated approximately 30km west of Melbourne at Point Cook, the RAAF Museum was established in 1952 as a repository for the preservation of aircraft, documents and memorabilia associated with the AFC and RAAF. The location is apt as Point Cook is also the birthplace of both the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) and its successor, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).  In 1972 the museum opened to the public and the collection has subsequently grown to over 100,000 items. I first visited the museum back in 1981 and have returned several times to see it evolve and grow. Smaller items such as heraldry and ephemera are changed reasonably regularly and some of the things I saw on my previous trip were no longer on display, so for this week’s post I have again included a lot of pictures. Note that as with all my weekly posts, when the pictures are laid out as a mosaic pattern, you can click on them to see a larger view with the caption.

My last visit to the museum had been back in 2014 when I spent some time in the Research Centre trawling through the records relating to the insignia worn by the Australian Flying Corps as part of my research and contribution to Bob Pandis’ book Flight Badges of the Allied Nations 1914-1918, Volume II, but I have been wanting to visit again and reacquaint myself with the exhibits. The opportunity presented itself this past week when I made a trip to Melbourne to visit my ageing parents and I am glad that I was able take a few hours out of my schedule to take another look.

The museum consists of several parts including external displays of aircraft and a Bristol Bloodhound missile launcher. However, most of the aircraft are housed in the various hangar displays which are divided into different sections across the complex. These are descriptively named the Technology Hangar, Training Hangar, Aircraft Display Hangar 180, Strike Reconnaissance Hangar 178 and the Restoration Hangar 187 where one can watch the conservators restore various aircraft including a de Havilland Mosquito (A52-600).

The aircraft collection is no doubt fascinating for the plane buffs, but as an insignia collector for me the really interesting stuff is housed in the Heritage Galleries which are situated in the main building. These galleries feature objects tracing a chronological the history of the AFC and RAAF from its birth as the Central Flying School on the 7th of March 1913 up until the present day. My main aviator collecting interest is focused on wings of the Australian Flying Corps up until the formation of the RAAF in March 1921 and the museum has some incredibly rare pieces on display including the very first set of wings (known as the AMF Pilots Badge) awarded.

First pattern Australian Flying Corps pilots badge, authorised by M.O. 801/1915 on 21st December 1915 and often referred to as the AMF (Australian Military Forces) wing. Photo: Julian Tennant
First pattern Australian Flying Corps pilots badge, authorised by M.O. 801/1915 on 21st December 1915 and often referred to as the AMF (Australian Military Forces) wing. Photo: Julian Tennant

Third pattern Australian Flying Corps brevet, authorised by M.O. 68/1918 on 16th February 1918. It should be noted that despite these wings only being authorised in February 1918, this style of wing were unofficially worn as far back as November 1916. This particular example is the issue variation that became commonplace after formal authorisation. Photo: Julian Tennant
Third pattern Australian Flying Corps brevet, authorised by M.O. 68/1918 on 16th February 1918. It should be noted that despite these wings only being authorised in February 1918, this style of wing were unofficially worn as far back as November 1916. This particular example is the issue variation that became commonplace after formal authorisation. Photo: Julian Tennant

The First World War gallery also includes items such as the maternity jacket with RFC wings worn by Captain Douglas Rutherford (1 Sqn AFC) who was rescued by Lieutenant Frank McNamara V.C. after being shot down behind enemy lines in Palestine in 1917. It was this rescue that resulted in McNamara being awarded the Victoria Cross, the first for an Australian aviator.

Maternity jacket of Captain Douglas Wallace Rutherford, 1 Squadron Australian Flying Corps. Note the use of the RFC pilot's brevet. Photo: Julian Tennant
Maternity jacket of Captain Douglas Wallace Rutherford, 1 Squadron Australian Flying Corps. Note the use of the RFC pilot’s brevet. Photo: Julian Tennant

'A Dangerous Life!' Oil painting by Norman Clifford completed in 1969. This painting shows Captain Les Holden, in his red SE5A Fighting Scout, in mock combat with two pupils of No 6 (Training) Squadron, Australian Flying Corps over Minchinhampton, Gloucester, England in 1918. For Holden and other 'fighting instructors' life was hardly less dangerous than a combat pilot since they had to contend with pupils enthusiastic but unpredictable and inexperienced manoeuvres. Photo: Julian Tennant
‘A Dangerous Life!’ Oil painting by Norman Clifford completed in 1969. This painting shows Captain Les Holden, in his red SE5A Fighting Scout, in mock combat with two pupils of No 6 (Training) Squadron, Australian Flying Corps over Minchinhampton, Gloucester, England in 1918. For the ‘fighting instructors’ life was hardly less dangerous than a combat pilot since they had to contend with pupils enthusiastic but unpredictable and inexperienced manoeuvres. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

In addition to exhibits relating to Australia’s air power contributions in the world wars, post war conflicts including Korea, Malaya, Borneo, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq plus the various Peacekeeping deployments and Civil Aid Operations, the galleries also feature exhibits about specific branches such as Chaplains, the RAAF Medical Service and Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (later Women’s Royal Australian Air Force). There are also displays that cover aspects such as basic training, life at postings such as the RAAF Base Butterworth in Malaysia and the RAAF Marine Section.

Vietnam War souvenir RAAF Zippo and Vulcan lighters. Photo: Julian Tennant
Vietnam War souvenir RAAF Zippo and Vulcan lighters. Photo: Julian Tennant

Ugly Club badge retrieved from crash site of last Aust MIA's during Vietnam war. On the night of 3 November 1970, RAAF Canberra bomber A84-231, Call Sign 'Magpie 91' flew a bombing mission from coastal Phan Rang to the Ho Chi Minh trail near the Vietnam-Laos border. A typical mission for the Canberra bomber crews of No 2 Sqn RAAF. The two man crew (Flying Officer Michael Herbert and Pilot Officer Robert Carver) reported a successful bombing run and turned back for the coast. Shortly thereafter, the aircraft disappeared from radar and the crew were never heard from again. Both crew were listed missing in action (MIA) until the crash site was discovered in the highlands of Quang Nam province in 2008 and repatriation of the last two Australian MIA's from Vietnam began. The "Ugly Club" was a club formed by members of No. 2 Squadron (RAAF) in Vietnam. Members were expected to be able to present their badge upon request at any time. The badge on left was retrieved from the crash site and belonged to the pilot, Flying Officer Michael Herbert. The badge on the right is an example of the badge and is on loan from Rodney (Curley) Pearce a former mechanic with 2 Sqn. Photo: Julian Tennant
Ugly Club badge retrieved from crash site of the last Aust MIA’s during Vietnam war. On the night of 3 November 1970, RAAF Canberra bomber A84-231, Call Sign ‘Magpie 91’ flew a bombing mission from coastal Phan Rang to the Ho Chi Minh trail near the Vietnam-Laos border. A typical mission for the Canberra bomber crews of No 2 Sqn RAAF. The two man crew (Flying Officer Michael Herbert and Pilot Officer Robert Carver) reported a successful bombing run and turned back for the coast. Shortly thereafter, the aircraft disappeared from radar and the crew were never heard from again. Both crew were listed missing in action (MIA) until the crash site was discovered in the highlands of Quang Nam province in 2008 and repatriation of the last two Australian MIA’s from Vietnam began. The “Ugly Club” was a club formed by members of No. 2 Squadron (RAAF) in Vietnam. Members were expected to be able to present their badge upon request at any time. The badge on left was retrieved from the crash site and belonged to the pilot, Flying Officer Michael Herbert. The badge on the right is an example of the badge and is on loan from Rodney (Curley) Pearce a former mechanic with 2 Sqn. Photo: Julian Tennant

Bell UH-1B helicopter (A2-1020) and Supermarine Seagull V 'Walrus' (HD-874) on display in the Technology Hangar. Photo: Julian Tennant
Bell UH-1B helicopter (A2-1020) and Supermarine Seagull V ‘Walrus’ (HD-874) on display in the Technology Hangar. Photo: Julian Tennant

UH-1H 'Bushranger' gunship, A2-377, was one of four helicopters initially converted to a gunship after being delivered to No 9 Squadron in 1968. It flew a large number of fire support missions during the Vietnam War. Upon return to Australia the aircraft continued to serve with No 9 Squadron and was part of the Multinational Force & Observers (MFO) peacekeeping mission in the Sinai Peninsular in the mid-1980's. In 1989 it was transferred to the army and served with 171 Sqn, Australian Army Aviation Training Centre, Aircraft Research & Development Unit (ARDU) and A Sqn, 5 Aviation Regiment until June 2007. Photo: Julian Tennant
UH-1H ‘Bushranger’ gunship, A2-377, was one of four helicopters initially converted to a gunship after being delivered to No 9 Squadron in 1968. It flew a large number of fire support missions during the Vietnam War. Upon return to Australia the aircraft continued to serve with No 9 Squadron and was part of the Multinational Force & Observers (MFO) peacekeeping mission in the Sinai Peninsular in the mid-1980’s. In 1989 it was transferred to the army and served with 171 Sqn, Australian Army Aviation Training Centre, Aircraft Research & Development Unit (ARDU) and A Sqn, 5 Aviation Regiment until June 2007. Photo: Julian Tennant

There is also a small gift shop which includes books, souvenir items and a comprehensive selection of Squadron patches for purchase. As far as I am aware, these are the same patches that are used by the squadrons, originating from the same manufacturer, the only difference being the lack of Velcro backing. In addition the shop sells some REPRO aviator brevets and collectors should not confuse those with the issue wings.

Reproduction/fake RAAF pilot's brevet sold with the souvenirs in the RAAF Museum gift shop. Photo: Julian Tennant
Reproduction/fake RAAF pilot’s brevet sold with the souvenirs in the RAAF Museum gift shop. Photo: Julian Tennant

Every-time I visit this museum I find something new to look at and this visit was no exception as there were pieces on display including some items from recent deployments to the Middle East which had not yet been displayed during my previous trip. There were also some things such as the rare Roo and Caterpillar Club pins that resonated with my parachuting/special forces collecting interests.  For a visitor to Melbourne it can be a bit difficult to get to as it is located on the RAAF base about 25 minutes’ drive from Melbourne although there is also a bus service, the Werribee Park Shuttle, which stops at the RAAF Museum on flying days (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays). However, despite its location, the RAAF Museum should be on the agenda for anybody visiting Melbourne with an interest in aviation or military history.

RAAF Museum
RAAF Base Point Cook
Point Cook Road
Victoria 3030
Australia

View location on Google Maps 

Phone: 03) 8348 6040

Email: RAAF.MuseumInfo@defence.gov.au

Website: https://www.airforce.gov.au/raaf-museum

Opening hours

Tuesday to Friday: 10am-3pm

Weekends and public holidays: 10am-5pm

The Museum is closed on Mondays (except public holidays), Good Friday, and Christmas Day.

Entry

Admission to the RAAF Museum is free, however, donations are gratefully accepted.

Note that as the museum is located within the grounds of the RAAF Base, all visitors over the age of 16 will need to bring photo identification to enter the Base.

Note that this site has NEW content posted every Sunday! If you like what you see here, please follow this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right. Knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to go through my archives and collection to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

 

Merredin Military Museum, Western Australia

 

Situated approximately 256 km (159 miles) east of Perth and roughly halfway to the goldfields surrounding Kalgoorlie, the town of Merredin was established as a rest stop for travellers making their way to the goldfield region. Being so far from the coast the town also became an important military base during World War 2 when military planners were establishing a defensive line in the event of a Japanese invasion. Merredin was considered distant enough from the coast to be out of range of carrier borne aircraft, close to major road and rail supply routes and in an area where there were good food and water supplies. As a result the town and surrounding district was home to several military bases during the war and since the early 1990’s, home to the Merredin Military Museum.

I had been wanting to visit this museum for some time and after giving the curator, Rob Endersbee a call to confirm that it would be open, I left Perth early on Friday morning for the three-hour drive. Because of its history during WW2, there are a number of military related sites around the area, so the plan was to stay in town overnight and make a leisurely drive back to Perth on Saturday or Sunday, checking out anything that took my fancy on the way.

Despite leaving quite early, I did get a little distracted on the drive when I passed an old service station in the town of Meckering, just over an hour outside of Perth. The gas station had been redecorated to look like a huge SLR camera and was now The Big Camera – Museum of Photography, a private collection of hundreds, if not thousands, of old cameras and photographic equipment that made for a nice little rest stop.

Arriving at the Merredin Military Museum shortly after 11am, I was met by Bill Beer, one of the volunteers and a little later, Rob the curator, both of whom were happy to talk about the exhibits and provide additional information about the pieces on display. The museum was established in the early 1990’s after three local collectors accepted an offer from the Merredin army cadet unit to pool their collections and set up a display in one of their sheds.

By 1998 and with support from the local shire the collections had been relocated to a new home, the old railway communications building less than 200m away from the train station and tourist information centre making it very convenient for any visitor arriving from Perth. The current location houses the three private collections as well as the museum’s own growing collection, so it is rather eclectic and as a result quite fascinating, including items that I had not expected to encounter in a regional town.

Very rare Australian 'Folboot' collapsible canoe used by Australian Special Forces operatives from Z Special Unit during World War Two. Photo: Julian Tennant
An extremely rare Australian Mk III ‘Folbot’ collapsible canoe used by Australian Special Forces operatives from Z Special Unit during World War Two. Photo: Julian Tennant

The first of these is in the main display room where an extremely rare Folbot (folding boat) canoe used by the Australian Services Reconnaissance Department’s “Z” Special Unit operators is suspended from the ceiling. This was the same type of canoe used by the two-man teams during OPERATION JAYWICK to paddle into Singapore harbour and attach limpet mines to the Japanese shipping. There is also a small display of other “Z” Special Unit items, including a detonator timer and a very rare Australian Army Stiletto (AAS) which is the Australian made dagger based on the famed Fairbairn Sykes design.

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Sten gun magazines with magazine filler and a very rare Australian Army Stiletto (AAS) issued to “Z” Special Unit operatives and members of the 2/6th Independent (Commando) Company. Looking at the detail of the knife, I believe that this is the pattern made by Gregory Steel Products in Melbourne. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

Newspaper and Type 95 Japanese NCO's sword brought back to Australia by Signalman Harold Hardy after the surrender of Japanese forces on Morotai Island. Photo: Julian Tennant.
Newspaper and Type 95 Japanese NCO’s sword brought back to Australia by Signalman Harold Hardy after the surrender of Japanese forces on Morotai Island. Photo: Julian Tennant.

Other rooms in the building feature an extensive selection of models and communications equipment, including an interesting display relating to one of Australia’s first surveillance units, the 2/1st Northern Australia Observation Unit, whose role was to carry out horse mounted patrols in the arid north watching for signs of Japanese invasion. There are also spaces dedicated to the local military history including several uniforms related RAAF personnel and the nurses who served with the 2/1st Australian General Hospital that was based at Merredin in 1942-3, as well as the Vietnam war, a weapons display and the WW1 Honour Rolls room. This last room reminds us that of the approximately 375 local men who left to serve in WW1, 70 were killed in action. A significant number for any small rural community of the time.

2/1st North Australia Observation Unit (NAOU) display. Nicknamed the “Nackeroos” or “Curtin’s Cowboys”, was created in mid-March 1942 and were given the task of patrolling northern Australia to look for signs of enemy activity. They operated in small groups, and most of their patrols were on horseback. The men made use of the knowledge of local Aboriginals and maintained coastwatching outposts. They were disbanded in 1945 after the risk of invasion had passed. Their traditions are carried on today by the Regional Force Surveillance Units. Photo: Julian Tennant
2/1st North Australia Observation Unit (NAOU) display. Nicknamed the “Nackeroos” or “Curtin’s Cowboys”, the unit was created in mid-March 1942 and given the task of patrolling northern Australia to look for signs of enemy activity. They operated in small groups, with most of their patrols were on horseback, taking advantage of the knowledge of local Aboriginals and maintaining isolated coastwatching outposts. They were disbanded in 1945 after the risk of invasion had passed. Their traditions are carried on today by the Regional Force Surveillance Units of the Pilbarra Regiment, Norforce and 51 FNQR. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

A very rarely seen RAAF Search & Rescue patch from the RAAF Base Pearce near Perth. Photo: Julian Tennant
A very rarely seen RAAF Search & Rescue patch from the RAAF Base Pearce near Perth. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

 

 

Outside and in the vehicle shed are a several military vehicles plus aircraft, some of which are undergoing restoration, including a working Mk III Valentine tank, an CAC Aermacchi MB-326H (Macchi) training jet built under license by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, a 1980’s era Toyota station wagon (something that for some reason I never expected to see in a museum) and an interesting Bren Gun carrier, officially designated the Universal Carrier MG, Local Pattern No. 2 (LP2),  that had been converted to carry a QF 2 Pounder anti-tank gun. Designated the Carrier, Anti-tank, 2-pdr, (Aust) or Carrier, 2-pdr Tank Attack, it is a heavily modified and lengthened LP2 carrier with a fully traversable QF 2 pounder anti-tank gun mounted on a platform at the rear and the engine moved to the front left of the vehicle. Stowage was provided for 112 rounds of 2pdr ammunition. Bill said that around 200 were produced and were used for training but he did not think that they saw operational service.

One of the more unusual vehicles undergoing restoration at the Merredin Military Museum. This is a modified Bren Gun Carrier which has been converted to carry a 2 Pounder Anti-Tank gun manufactured by General Motors in South Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant
One of the more unusual vehicles undergoing restoration at the Merredin Military Museum. This is a modified Bren Gun Carrier (Universal Carrier MG, Local Pattern No. 2) which has been converted to carry a QF 2 Pounder Anti-Tank gun manufactured by General Motors in South Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

Chatting with Rob and Bill towards the end of my visit, it was quite interesting to hear some of stories surrounding the exhibits, but it also reinforced my respect for the people who keep places like the Merredin Military Museum open to the public. This is a private museum, running on a very tight budget, relying on donations and the goodwill of the public, plus its dedicated volunteers to stay afloat. When Rob heard that I was coming up from Perth for the visit, he told Bill, who actually turned up before the 10am opening time to make sure that somebody would be there when I arrived… which kinda made me feel bad for taking the break at The Big Camera in Meckering.

Rob also told me that despite a lot of information still stating that the museum is only open from Monday to Friday, it is NOW OPEN 7 DAYS PER WEEK from 10:00 until 15:00, but if you’re passing through Merredin and want to visit outside of those hours, give him a call and he will try to arrange to have it opened so that you can get in. That shows real dedication and I definitely recommend a visit the Merredin Military Museum as a day or overnight trip from Perth or if you’re making a trip to visit the goldfields around Kalgoorlie. Finally, if you are interested in exploring more of the sites related to the war history of Merredin and the wheatbelt region this RAC magazine article and this guide from the Merredin Tourist Visitors Centre are also worth reading.

The Merredin Military Museum

Great Eastern Highway
Merredin
Western Australia 6415

Phone: +61 (0) 429 411 204 (Rob Endersbee – Curator)

https://www.australiasgoldenoutback.com/business/attractions/merredin-military-museum

Opening Times                                                                                                               

Everyday 10:00 – 15:00  Or call Rob to arrange a visit

 

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‘Dutchy’ Holland’s Para Smock

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On loan from 2 Commando Company and the Australian Commando Association – Victoria , this Dennison parachute smock was part of the recent From the Shadows: Australian Special Forces exhibition at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

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RAAF Base Williamtown Parachute Training Flight Staff 1959. ‘Dutchy’ Holland and his distinctive bushy moustache is second from the left. L to R: WO2 Clivelly, WO Holland (Dutchy), SQN LDR Neilson, MAJ John Church and WO2 M Wright

The smock was worn by WO1 Douglas “Dutchy” Holland during his time as a PJI at the Parachute Training School at Williamtown. ‘Dutchy’, served in the RAF from 1940 until 1948 before joining the RAAF. He qualified as PJI number 6 at the first Parachute Jump Instructors course run by Parachute Training Wing (PTW) in 1954.  A legend in the history of Australian parachute training, he was awarded the MBE for his services to military parachuting in 1958 and in 1959 became the first person in Australia to achieve 500 jumps. When “Dutchy” retired in 1962 he had completed 663 descents including 60 at night and 29 water jumps. He decorated this Dennison jump smock with various Australian and foreign parachute badges, including some (now) very rare and desirable insignia.

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The shield patch is a rare Australian made variant of the WW2 USMC Para-marine shoulder sleeve insignia (SSI). The patch to the right looks like the WW2 era USAAF 85th Fighter Squadron insignia.

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British SAS Sky Divers club patch. This patch probably dates from a visit made by a four man free-fall team from 22 SAS regiment to Parachute Training Flight (PTF) in early 1962.

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Canadian parachutist and an unusual, almost triangular shaped, variation of the British SAS wing

 

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A unique and personalised para patch named to a ‘McKenzie’ on the crutch flap of the Dutchy Holland’s Dennison smock. There’s got to be a story behind the decision to place it there…

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Rear of ‘Dutchy’ Holland’s smock featuring various insignia including the Newcastle Skydivers Club patch (bottom left near the kidney area). The Newcastle Skydivers Club was a joint Army/Air Force club at RAAF Base Williamtown.

Douglas 'Dutchy' Holland wearing his distinctive 'patched-up' Dennison parachutist smock checking the parachute of trainee parachutist Sergeant John Cousins in October 1958. Photograph courtesy of the Australian War Memorial. Accession number P02997.001.
Douglas ‘Dutchy’ Holland wearing his distinctive ‘patched-up’ Dennison parachutist smock checking the parachute of trainee parachutist Sergeant John Cousins in October 1958. Photograph courtesy of the Australian War Memorial. Accession number P02997.001.

Exhibition: From the Shadows – Australia’s Special Forces

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From the Shadows: Australian Special Forces exhibition at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra is open until 8 September 2018.

Australia’s special forces trace their history back to World War 2, with the operations conducted by the Independent Commando companies, Navy Beach Commando, the Services Reconnaissance Department SRD (Z Special Unit) and the Allied Intelligence Bureau (M Special Unit). Post war, the skills and traditions were maintained by the commando companies which later evolved into 1 Commando Regiment and then in 1957 by the raising of a Special Air Service Company which became the Special Air Service Regiment in 1964. 2 Commando Regiment evolved out of the re-tasking of the 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, to take on the commando role becoming 4 RAR (Cdo) in 1997 and then 2 Commando Regiment in 2009.

Command and control for Australian special operations units was initially maintained by the Directorate Special Action Forces – Army (DSAF) which was formed in 1979 and underwent several changes, becoming Headquarters Special Forces (1990), Headquarters Special Operations (1997) and in 2003 Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Commanded by a Major General, SOCOM also brings other special operations support units under its control, namely the Special Operations Logistic Squadron (SOLS), Special Operations Engineer Regiment (SOER), Special Operations Training and Education Centre (SOTEC) and Parachute Training School (PTS).

In keeping with the requirements of special forces operations, the activities of many of Australia’s special operations units have, largely, been kept out of the public domain despite a gruelling tempo of operational commitments that has barely let up since the INTERFET deployment to East Timor in 1999. Public interest in the units has grown markedly and this temporary exhibition at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra provides a rare insight into the activities of the Australian special forces in recent years.

Developed in partnership with SOCOM, this exhibition features items held behind closed doors in the Special Air Service Historical Collection, Commando Regiment collection and other sources as well as some artifacts from the AWM’s collections. The displays provide some historical insights into the development of the units along with uniforms, equipment and artifacts related to its various roles, tasks and operations with an emphasis recent operational deployments.

It had been several years since I was last able to visit the AWM, so I recently took advantage of an opportunity to visit Canberra and spend a few solid days checking out this exhibition and the other displays. As previously mentioned, From the Shadows draws on objects held in the unit collections and not available for public viewing. There are over 600 artifacts on display and I was surprised to find that many of the SF related items that are held in the AWM collection such as SAS trooper Don Barnby’s uniform from Vietnam or objects relating to Z Special Unit’s operations against the Japanese, remained in their respective exhibition areas which further helps to contextualise these units roles in the conflicts represented.

The photos that I have included here are just a taste of what is on offer in the From the Shadows exhibition and I’ll leave my other photos from the AWM collection for another post. From the Shadows runs until the 8th of September 2018. If you can make the trip to Canberra to check it out, I strongly recommend that you do, it is an excellent exhibition. More details about the exhibition can be found at the Australian War Memorial website. The ABC also did a piece about it when the exhibition first opened in 2017 and it is worth taking a look at. You can find a link to their article here.

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WW2 period Australian parachutist wing worn by a member of Z Special Unit, Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD). This is a locally made variation of the Australian parachutist qualification. The standard issue Australian wings were generally not available for issue at the posting locations of Z Special (SRD) personnel, so locally procured variations, often hand made, such as this one were procured by operatives for use.
WW2 British No. 2 Commando beret
WW2 British No. 2 Commando beret on loan from the 1 Commando Regiment Historical Collection. This is an interesting inclusion as it was not worn by Australian commandos, but I could find no explanatory caption to give more information. The British commando unit that used this beret was disbanded in 1946 and the Australian commando companies were formed in 1955. Whilst there must be some connection and I can only assume it was donated to the unit museum by a former member of the British 2 Commando I wonder what the curators rationale was for including this item in the display?
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Early 1950’s period flag of 1 Commando Company (CMF).
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A unique and very early Commando Company beret which features the first 1955 issue pattern commando company beret badge that was produced with vertical striations at the centre of the boomerang. Also attached is an early basic parachutist wing, which is possibly of WW2 British vintage. The headband of this beret has also been modified by removing the bottom half to show the sherwood green of the beret beneath the black band (the regimental colours). I suspect that this beret has been modified by a veteran after his service in the commando companies as it is unlikely these modifications would have been permitted during service.
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On loan from 2 Commando Company, this parachute smock was worn by WO1 Douglas “Dutchy” Holland during his time as a PJI at the Parachute Training School at Williamstown. ‘Dutchy’, who had served in the RAF from 1940 until 1948, qualified as a (RAAF) PJI in 1954 and retired in 1962. He decorated this dennison jump smock with various Australian and foreign parachute insignia. For more photos go to this link.
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Australian Special Air Service Regiment HALO parachutist.
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Artifacts related to the Tactical Assault Group (TAG) counter terrorist teams.
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TAG Assaulter
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During the 1970s and into the 1980s, terrorist hijacking of commercial aircraft were not uncommon. Members of SASR used aircraft models such as this example, during counter-terrorism training for planning an assault on an aircraft and to discuss tactics for recovering hostages.
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Detail of the Members of an aircraft model used by SASR in the 1980’s, during counter-terrorism training for planning an assault on an aircraft and to discuss tactics for recovering hostages. Note the Airfix SAS toy soldiers which were released after the British SAS conducted the now famous assault to free hostages held by terrorists in the Iranian Embassy in London in 1980.
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Pong Su life buoy. The skills and experience of the Tactical Assault Groups (TAGs) in boarding vessels moving at sea have enabled them to contribute to a number of ADF operations conducted with other government agencies such as the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Customs. On 20 April 2001 members of the SAS with the TAG provided force elements that boarded the suspected drug smuggling vessel MV Pong Su off the coast of New South Wales. The SAS boarded the vessel by Seahawk helicopter and Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB). Once the vessel was secured, officers from the AFP and Australian Customs Service boarded the Pon Su to gather evidence and make arrests. They discovered 40 kilograms of heroin and the victim of an alleged homicide. MV Pong Su was thought to have smuggled almost 125 kilograms of heroin.
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Maritime counter-terrorism assaulter. A maritime counter-terrorism assaulter of Tactical Assault Group (East). During the 1980s and 1990s Royal Australian Navy (RAN) clearance divers served with the Special Air Service Regiment and today they work with TAG-East to conduct maritime counter-terrorism duties. In addition to providing a Clearance Diver Assault Platoon, the RAN’s support of TAG-East has included a team of clearance diver snipers and underwater medics.
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Uniform of Private Matthew Martin, 1 Commando Regiment. Private Martin wore this uniform in Timor-Leste during Operation Astute in 2006-7. In the early hours of 4 March 2007 he was among Australian forces that assaulted rebel leader Alfredo Reinado’s compound in the village of Same, about 50 kilometers south of Dili. The rebels were killed, but Reinado escaped. He was shot dead leading an attack against the Timorese president and prime minister on 11 February 2008.

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Australian Special Forces uniform worn during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Australian Special Forces uniform worn during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

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Sig Sean McCarthy KIA 8 July 08
Headrest from the seat used by Signaller Sean McCarthy, 152 Signal Squadron, SASR. KIA Afghanistan 8 July 2008. Signaller Sean McCarthy was on his second rotation to Afghanistan when his vehicle “Derelicte” was hit by a roadside bomb. He was killed in the blast. This vehicle headrest inscribed with the details of the incident commemorates McCarthy and is on loan to the Australian War Memorial from the Special Air Service Historical Foundation. McCarthy had received a commendation for his courage, skills and mission focus during his deployments with the Special Operations Task Group.
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JTAC Combat Control Team items from B Flight, No. 4 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force.
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The Special Air Service constructed this ‘storyboard’ collage in Afghanistan to display the weapons and equipment found on the body of a Taliban insurgent they had killed. Code-named ‘Depth-charger’, the insurgent carried a diverse range of equipment: a Soviet AK-47 dating from the early 1950’s, a Soviet Makarov pistol, locally manufactured binoculars and ammunition pouch, and an American radio. Much of his equipment was personalised with bright fabric and reflective tape additions.
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Detail from an Australian Special Forces operator display showing a ‘Punisher’ patch. I suspect that this may be a generic patch as the symbolism has become popular with several allied Special Operations units including one of the companies within 2 Commando Regiment. But I don’t think that this is one of the company specific patches.

From the Shadows: Australia’s Special Forces – The Operators’ video that was featured in the gallery during the exhibition

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Frank McNamara: The first Australian aviator to win the Victoria Cross

Lt Frank H McNamara outside his tent at the Central Flying School (CFS) at Point Cook, Victoria, shortly after graduating as a pilot in October 1915.
Lt Frank H McNamara outside his tent at the Central Flying School (CFS) at Point Cook, Victoria, shortly after graduating as a pilot in October 1915

The first pattern Australian Military Forces (AMF) wings of the type issued to Frank McNamara upon graduation and as seen in the photograph above. The later issue Australian Flying Corps (AFC) pilot wings are below.
The first pattern Australian Military Forces (AMF) pilot’s wings of the type issued to Frank McNamara upon graduation and as seen in the photograph above. The later issue Australian Flying Corps (AFC) pilot wings are below.

On the 20th of March 1917, Lt. Frank H McNamara became the first Australian aviator to be awarded the Victoria Cross after landing his aircraft behind enemy lines to rescue a downed comrade, whilst serving with No. 1 Squadron Australian Flying Corps in Palestine. The citation for the Victoria Cross reads,

“most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during an aerial bomb attack upon a hostile construction train, when one of our pilots was forced to land behind the enemy’s lines. Lieutenant McNamara, observing the pilots predicament and the fact that hostile cavalry were approaching, descended to his rescue. He did this under heavy rifle fire and in spite of the fact that he himself had been severely wounded in the thigh. He landed about 200 yards from the damaged machine, the pilot of which climbed on to Lieutenant McNamara’s machine, and an attempt was made to rise. Owing, however, to his disabled leg, Lieutenant McNamara was unable to keep his machine straight, and it turned over. The two officers, having extricated themselves, immediately set fire to the machine and made their way across to the damaged machine, which they succeeded in starting. Finally, Lieutenant McNamara, although weak from loss of blood. flew this machine back to the aerodrome, a distance of seventy miles, and thus completed his comrade’s rescue.”

Frank Hubert McNamara was born at Rushworth, Victoria, on 4 April 1894. After completing secondary schooling in Shepparton, he studied teaching at the Teachers Training College and the University of Melbourne and went on to teach at a number of Victorian Schools where he joined the senior cadet units. In 1912 he transferred to the Brighton Rifles and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in July 1913. After the outbreak of the First World War he served at Queenscliff and then Point Nepean before attending the Officers Training School at Broadmeadows, then between February and May 1915, instructed at the AIF Training Depot at Broadmeadows.

In August 1915 McNamara was selected to attend the Point Cook Flying School, graduating as a pilot in October that year. In January 1916 he was posted as an adjutant to No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps and sailed for Egypt. In May 1916 he was seconded to No. 42 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps to attend the Central Flying School at Upavon, England. Following this he was attached as an instructor to No. 22 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps in Egypt before returning to duty with No. 1 Squadron.

C flight No. 1 Squadron, Captain Richard (Dickie) Williams (later Air Marshal Sir Richard) the OC, is seen in the centre. From left the other officers are; Frank Hubert McNamara (the only AFC winner of the Victoria Cross (VC) in the first world war), L W Heathcote, S K Muir, E G Roberts and L J Wackett, in front of a Martinsyde aircraft. (Wing Commander E G Roberts collection). Photograph courtesy of the Australian War Memorial. Image No. A05340
C flight No. 1 Squadron, Captain Richard (Dickie) Williams (later Air Marshal Sir Richard) the OC, is seen in the centre. From left the other officers are; Frank Hubert McNamara (the only AFC winner of the Victoria Cross (VC) in the first world war), L W Heathcote, S K Muir, E G Roberts and L J Wackett, in front of a Martinsyde aircraft. (Wing Commander E G Roberts collection).
Photograph courtesy of the Australian War Memorial. Image No. A05340

On 20 March 1917 McNamara, flying on a bombing mission in Gaza, saw a fellow squadron member, Captain D. W. Rutherford, shot down. Although having just suffered a serious leg wound, McNamara landed near the stricken Rutherford who climbed aboard, but his wound prevented McNamara from taking off and the aircraft crashed. The two men returned to Rutherford’s plane, which they succeeded in starting and, with McNamara at the controls, they took off just as enemy cavalry arrived. For this action McNamara was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Portrait, maternity jacket and items belonging to Douglas Wallace Rutherford, No. 1 Sqn AFC, who was rescued by Frank McNamara in the action for which he was awarded the VC. These items all comprise part of the collection held at the RAAF Museum at Point Cook in Victoria. Note that despite being an AFC pilot, Wallace's jacket features the pilot wings of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), whilst the portrait shows him with the Observers brevet for which he originally qualified.
Portrait, maternity jacket and items belonging to Douglas Wallace Rutherford, No. 1 Sqn AFC, who was rescued by Frank McNamara in the action for which he was awarded the VC. These items all comprise part of the collection held at the RAAF Museum at Point Cook in Victoria. Note that despite being an AFC pilot, Wallace’s jacket features the pilot wings of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), whilst the portrait shows him with the Observers brevet for which he originally qualified. Douglas Wallace Rutherford was born in Rockhampton, Queensland on 29 September 1890. He joined 5 Light Horse Regiment on 7 December 1914 and departed Australia later that month with the second contingent destined for Gallipoli. He went into action in May 1915 and was wounded on 28 June. After receiving medical attention in Alexandria, Egypt and London, UK, he returned to the 5th Light Horse in April 1916 and soon transferred to the Australian Flying Corps, qualifying as an Observer in August 1916. After promotion to Captain in November 1916, Rutherford commenced pilot training with the 5th School of Military Aeronautics at Aboukir, Egypt and by 1917 had returned to No. 1 Squadron AFC as a qualified pilot. Rutherford undertook operations against Turkish forces with No. 1 Squadron until being forced down in the Amman area and was captured by the Turks. He was imprisoned in Constantinople for six months before being returned to Australia in December 1918.

In April 1917McNamara was promoted to captain and appointed Flight Commander, but his wound prevented further flying and he was invalided to Australia in August. His appointment with the AFC ended in January 1918 but he was reappointed in September and became an aviation instructor. In 1921 he transferred to the newly established Royal Australian Air Force as a flight lieutenant and held a number of senior RAAF appointments between the wars, including two years on exchange to the RAF in the mid-1920s.

Cigarette card showing a portrait of Captain Frank Hubert McNamara VC. Part of a series of cards depicting Australian VCs printed by Sniders and Abrahams.
Cigarette card showing a portrait of Captain Frank Hubert McNamara VC. These cigarette cards were produced by the company Sniders and Abrahams  Pty Ltd and featured Australia’s Victoria Cross winners of the First World War.

At the outbreak of the World War Two, McNamara was promoted to air commodore and then an air vice marshal in 1942. From 1942 until 1945 he served as Air Officer Commanding British Forces in Aden before returning to London as the RAAF’s representative at Britain’s Ministry of Defence. In July 1946 he became Director of Education at the headquarters of the British Occupation Administration in Germany. He remained in the UK after retiring and died in London on 2nd November 1961.

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