"Pat" was born in Townsville 1927. From Marist Brothers College he joined the Air Training Corps at the age of sixteen. He completed a Railways apprenticeship and joined the RAAF November 1947 and was posted to Iwakuni and thence 77 Squadron Kimpo in 1951. Following his Korean service he was posted to Point Cook and soon after was discharged to take up a family business appointment. He has retained his interest in service matters and is currently active in Legacy and the Korean Veterans Association.
Around the end of May, 1951, I departed for Japan from Sydney, being the only RAAF member on board a DC4 Skymaster which was loaded up with Oz Army blokes, most of them leaving Australia for the first time, as I was. It's difficult to remember accurately but I think we stopped at Darwin for dinner and at Labuan in Borneo for breakfast and a welcome shower. Before take-off, we saw a pair of DH Mosquitoes leaving and looking very impressive overhead on their way to somewhere. Our course took us close to Brunei and our attention was drawn to the armada of small boats and ships converging on Brunei, also the name of the capital, where the Sultan was about to be married. We were on our way to Hong Kong, landing there late in the afternoon. After a quick shower and shave at the International Hotel at Kowloon, most of us set off to have a look at the fabulous and famous island of HK. I had chummed up with a young soldier from Townsville and we went sight-seeing together. We decided to dine at an authentic Chinese restaurant and what we received was an abomination in the mouths of men and the sight of God so we moved on and ate the kind of Chinese food we were accustomed to getting at home at another place called the "California Cafe", which happened to be the name of the place in Sydney where I had a meal with "Bluey" Carr a couple of days earlier. We had been warned before leaving Sydney that we were not allowed to take more than five pounds of Oz currency out of the country so I had replaced some forty quid in my passbook account before I left. The inherent impulse to Do the Right Thing and my natural concern to avoid upsetting my country's economy made me stand out from all the others as the only one stupid enough to go abroad with nothing more than a fiver in his pocket. Everything was so comparatively cheap and my only purchase was a silver bracelet for Aileen. Somehow, my mate and I got friendly with a pair of Yank sailors in the "California Cafe" and they joined us in our wandering. Before leaving the soldiers at the Hotel in Kowloon, one of them, an ex RAN member oddly nicknamed "Sailor", suggested that we all meet for a drink at the Hotel Metropole which was easily found as it had a big neon sign on the roof. Eventually we stumbled upon it and went to the door marked "Entrance" and read the sign that beckoned the unwary (us!) to savour the high-class food and the music of famous American bands. The entrance was small but then, all lift doors are small. We were soon to discover that the Hotel Metropole was no more than a very large room at the top of the building, the fine food could be seen in preparation, being sandwiches hurriedly made by a pair of aged Chinese gents, while yet another was busy winding up a gramophone on which he played the classic music of the Dorseys, Glenn Miller, Kay Kayser etc. The patrons were about evenly divided between sailors of the US and Australian navies, most of them dancing with local girls on the crowded floor. We four sat at a table with our beers and not long after, for some reason undiscovered at the time, a brawl started between the two navies. My guess, as it is now, would be that it had something to do with one of the girls, all of whom quickly vacated the dance floor and so gave the seafarers ample manoeuvering space to release their new-found hostility. Our Yank table companions looked at us, we all four shrugged our shoulders and assumed the roles of spectators until the US Shore Patrol arrived. Time was moving on and we fare-welled the Yanks and set out for the Star Ferry and the short voyage back to Kowloon. We had already decided to return to the Hotel by rickshaw but my friend, with a problem that only access to a toilet would solve, opted for a taxi. I took the nearest rickshaw and informed the operator of my desired destination. We had not reached cruising speed before he asked me if I'd like to meet one of the local girls. Being a long, long way from home and freshly aware that 'you never know your luck (good or bad) in a big city' - the stern warning words of the Army captain in charge of the soldiers on the draft to Japan were still ringing in my ears - I politely declined. He assured me that the girls possessed all manner of charming attractions and this time I firmly declined. He persisted further, telling me that they were especially well disposed towards us lads from Oz and I felt obliged to show my disinterest by shouting at him, "I don't like girls!". This didn't have the deflating effect on him that I'd expected because the penny, so he thought, had dropped and he half-turned, leering with all the understanding that his one-track mind could contain, to offer the alternative invitation to "meet a nice boy". I could see that any further conversation with this operator would be a waste of time so I decided to give him a lecture on the system of apprentice training in Queensland and I was going quite well when we came to an intersection lit by one small bulb that would have been struggling to produce twenty-five watts. At the same time, a stream of rickshaws were about to cross the intersection at right angles to me and I heard a voice shout, "Is that you, Air Force?" which I acknowledged and was thereupon cordially invited to join the procession of Army-occupied rickshaws to a place where "some of our blokes are in a bit of strife". Within a couple of minutes, we arrived at another intersection where an argument between several of 'our blokes' and a group of the local heathens suddenly turned into a brawl. This was the manner of my initiation into the manly art of street-fighting which is something you have to pick up 'as you go along'. There's nowhere you can go to learn about it: they don't conduct courses at any of the sporting centres. As a beginner, two things struck me. The first was a Chinese fist to my forehead and the second was that the influence of the Marquis of Queensbury's famous Rules had not yet reached this dimly lit patch of the Asian continent. I had no idea whether I or any of us would finish up dead in the harbour or whether each of the combatant sides would emerge satisfied that the other side had received a well deserved thumping. Fortunately, it didn't last long enough to reach any conclusion because the Seventh Cavalry, in the form of eight Hong Kong policemen and a white officer, arrived in two jeeps and dispersed us in less than a minute. The Chinese dissolved into the darkness and we returned to our waiting rickshaws, where the operators were patiently hoping that they'd be paid eventually, and again sallied forth into the night. Naturally, I was putting up a bold front in spite of an uneasy feeling that I knew would not disappear until I reached that safe haven called the International Hotel.
Part of the process of going to a posting abroad is being inoculated and vaccinated and in my case, this was carried out at the Base hospital at RAAF Station Richmond, my point of departure. Loitering in the transit pool was a friend from Point Cook, a fellow airframe fitter named Keith Ballard who was also on his way to Japan. We both attended the required 'ceremony' in the hospital and in the event, my vaccination appeared unsatisfactory to the medical F/Sgt. and so it was repeated and declared a success two days later. This meant that I wasn't able to go to Japan with Keith and so had to wait for the next departure. Getting us there and back was in the safe hands of Qantas. It happened that one of the stewards on our DC4 was the brother of another airframe fitter at Point Cook who rejoiced in his locally awarded nickname of "Tozzer". On returning to the Hotel from our brief odyssey on the Island, I showed him the bracelet that I had bought for Aileen. He asked what I paid for it, I told him, he asked what the shopkeeper had asked for it and I told him that was what I paid. He was horrified at both my lack of sophistication and refreshing innocence in discovering that I didn't attempt to bargain with the man. I admitted my ignorance and was heartened by his offer to give me some tuition in this art when we went over to HK for a second look around next day. This was possible because we had a twenty-four hour delay to acknowledge and show our respect for a typhoon rampaging in the China Sea between us and Japan. Next day, on our way to the Star Ferry, we paused outside a shop which had both its display windows completely full of watches. He told me to pick a watch which I did and which had a value equivalent to forty pounds. He called the Indian shopkeeper to the door and asked what was the lowest price he'd take for it, just like that. The Indian, not slow to notice my companion's Qantas uniform, said whatever was the equivalent of twelve pounds. I could hardly believe my ears as we thanked him and went on our way. Our way took us past a barber shop where we had a shave, haircut , shampoo and scalp massage which set me back the princely sum of two shillings and sixpence Australian. Included in this was the cup of tea and the assorted cigarettes we enjoyed as we waited to be given the treatment.
By lunch time, we had parted company and I went for a stroll around the streets which were full of shops offering wide ranges of practically anything salable. In most cases, goods on display had marked prices and you could forget about buying from the shops where no prices were shown. I have a vivid memory of standing outside such a shop, staring at the goods displayed in the windows, when the reflection showed a big black car coming to a halt behind me, a Rolls-Royce, of course. The chauffeur opened the car door and out stepped an old Chinese lady, dressed to kill, followed by two beautiful daughter-type girls wearing the cheongsams that China is famous for. It was 'eyes front and single file' into the shop without even a glance at the foreign serviceman making the footpath look untidy. I also recall that there were a lot of touts for the money changers who operated out of narrow "hole in the wall" premises in surprisingly large numbers. I often wondered if the percentage of business failures among the locals was less than among their counterparts in other countries. On the evening of our arrival, a horde of tailors were measuring some of the soldiers for suits of English fabrics and ready for delivery next morning. I forget the cost but recall that it was very cheap by Oz standards.
Next day, we were off to Japan, arriving there during the afternoon and there was my friend, Keith Ballard, standing on the tarmac and functioning as a welcoming committee of one. As greetings were exchanged, I was becoming aware of a Bad Smell which just missed qualifying as a Stench. Keith told me that it came from the enormous acreage of paddyfields between the Base and the city of Iwakuni. These paddyfields were fertilized by the collected human excrement from the local area and that's just what it smelled like. I was not heartened by his assurance that the smell would no longer be noticed after two day's residence but mercifully he proved to be correct. In his kindness, Keith had found me a room in the Airmen's' Mess to share with three others whose living and behavioural standards were no worse than mine, so he said. These were Beck, Boyd and Miller and three more agreeable blokes it would be hard to find. Boyd was in Signals Section and was subject to shift work but it all fitted in nicely and created no problem. What was a problem was his incredible snoring. Few things are as likely to inspire men to remedy this problem by committing homicide upon the source of their nocturnal misery and Boyd was always genuinely contrite about his uncontrollable sin. So much so that he never expressed any sort of objection to our only recourse in restoring peace to our allotted space by throwing slightly heavy blunt objects at him and his bed. Generally, this was effective for a couple of hours and the reason we three kept oranges close at hand, these being Boyd's preferred missiles.
Getting cleared onto the base was a process that differed only to the extent of the requirement to be given stern lectures about the dangers lurking outside the Base that could cause grave harm to an airman's morals and health. These meant visits to the Padre and the Service Police. The padre was my old friend, S/L Dave Beyer, who was pleased to hear of my engagement and who very kindly spared me his lecture and took me into see the Service Police where, on his advice, they exempted me from theirs.
Life in the Airmens' Mess was going to be a new and pleasant experience. I discovered that our quarters were serviced by Japanese room-boys who carried out their duties efficiently. These included keeping our rooms and everything else in "Inspection" order daily, meaning polished floors and corridors, windows, brass doorknobs, showers and toilets to that level of perfection one would expect to find in the sort of hotel that none of us could ever afford to grace with our presence anyway. Here was an Air Force where Panic Night was a thing of the past - and there was more. The room-boys attended to our laundry and all of these amenities were provided by Japanese Reparations funds. For the average airman, it was just like having one foot in Paradise.
On arrival at Iwakuni, I found that a lot of old colleagues from Point Cook were there as were a number of pilots from Nos. 1 and 2 Courses with whom we were all well acquainted. Accordingly, a 'gathering of the Point Cook clan' was arranged in the Airmens' Bar on this, my first night on strength. Several sergeant pilots and a couple of officer pilots attended and a great talkfest ensued during which we exchanged all manner of relevant news about each other since our various last meetings. Dave Beyer was invited but a previous commitment prevented us from enjoying his excellent company and good humour. This was also the occasion of another discovery about an airman's sojourn in Iwakuni. I had arrived on June 1st and Summer in that hemisphere was well under way. Beer, in the Airmens' Mess, was cold to begin with and was served in frosted glasses by white-jacketed waiters. It was 'Asahi' beer and according to the label had been brewed especially for the British Occupation Forces with a very low alcohol content. For those who were unaccustomed to beer drinking as a hobby or pastime, this was good news because there was virtually no after-effect. Time, as usual, moved on and the dreaded hour of 10 PM crept up on us. The bar closed and as we were about to scurry off to our beds, Dick Bessell remembered that he had a 24-pack carton of American Pabst beer in his room in the Sergeants' Mess and invited us to help him drink some or all of it, provided we could invade that semi-hallowed place without making a noise. There were about a dozen of us who accepted and we were soon ensconced in Dick's room where the talkfest continued until some asked Dick to "get The Book". This turned out to be something like a loose-leaf folder in which Dick, over a period of years, had recorded the salient features of every Good Joke he ever heard. One of the sad things about really good jokes is that they are not always remembered and having learned this all-important Lesson of Life, he endeavoured to record such stories in precis form for future and ready reference. The Book was brought forth and Dick regaled us with some of the best stories we'd ever heard and our laughter, mixed inextricably with the merriment we had on board when we left the Airmens' Mess, was heard by the Chairman of the Mess Committee, an ageing Warrant Officer of the Meteorological Section who, clad in his dressing gown, knocked on Dick's door and soon peered at us over the glasses on his nose as he intoned, "Gentlemen, this is neither the time nor the place for a party" and shuffled back to his room. We decided that, having had a good innings so far, the time had come to disperse and so we went our various ways.
In April 1951, 77 Squadron commenced the conversion to Gloster Mk.8 Meteors and so ended its long association with the Mustangs. With my limited 'on the job' training on other aircraft, the Meteor was a whole new experience and I had the disadvantage of being a 'young in years and service' corporal when I reported for duty at 491(M) Squadron on the following day. More than a few of the airframe fitters in that unit were of LAC rank and with twice my service but the ensuing slight resentments vanished over the following months. The CO was a Squadron Leader whose path and mine had not yet crossed and who appeared on odd occasions in our hangar where the WO Engineer, Ken Fletcher, reigned supreme. The Meteor was not constructed for ease of repair and maintenance and learning its best and worst features was a difficult process. We worked six days a week with Sunday free for whatever recreation and relaxation we chose. Keith Ballard was already working as an evening announcer at the RAAF Auxiliary Radio Station and recruited me to the same job. I was able to do this as well as enroll in a short course of "College Algebra" with the American Information and Education Unit. This course ended a couple of days before I went to Korea. There, I discovered, the situation was tents!
To my great delight, my very good mate, Keith "Bluey" Carr, was posted to 491 Sqdn. from Richmond where I had his company for the few days I was there before coming to Japan. Keith was one of the originals on No. 1 Course but was dropped when an eyesight deficiency was detected. He chose to remain in the RAAF and, after training as an Instrument Repairer at Wagga, was posted back to Point Cook where we developed a friendship that has survived until this present day. He was wonderful company and when the evenings were free, we used to promenade around the streets of Iwakuni and take in the sights. There were two engine mechanics in 491 who possessed Rabbit motor scooters and who were anticipating being posted back to Wagga for a fitter's course. I had extracted a firm promise from them to sell the scooters to Keith and me when that time arrived and it came soon enough. I think we paid five pounds apiece for them. The next step was to get ourselves licensed to ride the scooters outside the base and this entailed the mere passing of an eye test at the Sick Quarters. The test was carried out by an RAF medical orderly of LAC rank whose very demeanour suggested that he hadn't been the brightest kid in the class. I was first up. The test was to cover one eye and read one side of a chart, then to cover the other eye and read the other side of the chart. The RAF LAC was satisfied and Carr stepped forward for his test. He covered his bad eye with his left hand, read the chart and then covered his bad eye, again, with his right hand and read the other side of the chart. We both received the necessary bits of paper from the none-too-bright LAC and went on our merry way to go Rabbiting.
The Rabbit scooter was a real asset on Sundays as one could go haring off in any reasonable direction for whatever reason and become a little better acquainted with the local country around Iwakuni. Keith and I went exploring and sightseeing on four or five occasions before my sudden move across the water to Kimpo, the base where our Meteors were situated. It was not a posting but a move known as an 'attachment' for a mere two weeks so I put enough gear in my kitbag and something like a short flight in a DC3 from 30 Transport Unit delivered me to the British Airhead at the airport of Seoul. It should be noted that the Rabbit was a simple machine to ride. There was no provision for a passenger as it was a comparatively small scooter. It was powered by a two-stroke engine and was equipped with a valve lifter on its single cylinder. To start, the rider depressed the lever on the handle-bars which lifted the valve and thus prevented the build-up of any pressure in the cylinder and holding it there, ran along for a few yards, then dropped the valve whereupon pressure built up in the cylinder and ignition occurred. The rider then hopped on, roared off to his destination, usually at the breakneck speed of twenty mph, with the Rabbit responding to the throttle or brake. To stop, it was only necessary to operate the valve lifter. Forward motion was governed by its Centrifugal Clutch.
77 Squadron Meteors were dispersed about two hundred yards west of the runway which ran North - South and standing on the steel matting so dear to the US Air Force. It was very good stuff, its only fault being that in severe winter conditions, and these prevailed in Korea, the steel surface would attract a coating of ice which could be a hazard to the movement of both man and machine. The CO was Wg. Cdr. Gordon Steege and my boss was Flight Lieutenant Ernie Kalucy, ably assisted by WO Bill Cavanaugh. Things went along fairly well and when my two weeks were close to their end, Cavanaugh noted that I had settled in nicely and asked if I'd like to stay on 'a bit longer'. I said that I would as I liked the unit and a lot of the people in it among the pilots and ground staff and the general atmosphere of the place. I asked for a day off to go back to Iwakuni to secure my gear and advise the Mess Secretary that I was moving out of my shared room. Here I must digress to tell a tale quite unconnected with Kimpo.
Well before I left Iwakuni, all members of the Airmens' Mess were called to a meeting and told that the Commonwealth governments had decided that Japan could now be excused from paying reparations and that this would mean that we would no longer enjoy the services of the room boys unless we agreed to pay Mess Fees, hitherto unheard of in their application to airmen. The choice was between paying these fees and having all the chores done for us or not paying fees and doing it all ourselves. Almost to a man, all Oz personnel agreed to pay the fees, the only refusals coming from a dozen or so RAF airmen. The fees, incidentally, amounted to ten shillings per month. What was really essential was the Base commander's stipulation that the agreement had to be totally unanimous and each day, we noticed the number of names of the 'blacklegs' disappearing from the large notice board where they had been displayed. Eventually, only one name remained, that of LAC Dane of the RAF. He was adamant in his refusal to conform and unshakable in his resolve to stick to his guns. He never failed to tell of how he had ransacked King's Regulations from cover to cover in a bid to discover any precedent or justification for payment of Mess fees by airmen. No doubt he had scanned the Atlantic Charter and had a quick look at the Magna Carta as well. For some now forgotten reason, I was talking to the Mess Secretary, Corporal Harry Gascoigne, in his room when the abominable Dane came in, having been summoned there by Harry. Dane said that he had not changed his mind which meant that the requirement of 'total unanimity' had not been met. I wondered if his uncompromising attitude was the result of his feeling possessed by an insane sense of power which this situation gave him and my musings were suddenly shocked by Harry's next move. This was to tell Dane that the Base Commander had reviewed the impasse and for the sake of morale among the troops, the fee paying deal could proceed but that Dane, the non-payer and therefore not entitled to be serviced in any way, would have to be allotted a room for his sole occupancy and care. Dane was delighted to the extent that I was horrified. Harry gave him the key to whatever the room number was and away he went. The short statured Dane waltzed off and I knew his rejoicing would be due in part to the rare boon of Privacy in that otherwise excellent Mess. Harry assured me that Dane would soon return and with ten shillings and this in fact was what happened. Years before, when the Mess was built, it was destined to be the Officers' Mess but because of the great number of rooms it contained, some wise head decided that it should go to the airmen, God bless him for that! The building is in the shape of a back-to-front letter 'E', the long arm at the end running East-West. The bottom floor of this wing contained the Airmens' Dining Room and Bar while the top floor was the Ballroom, which was the room Harry allotted to that malignant gnome, Dane, who paid his ten bob to Harry and departed with his receipt but this time, not rejoicing. Before I left him, Harry read to me the list of things Dane would have had to do every Monday night, how many double doors with brass doorknobs to be polished, the double windows to be cleaned and with curtains to be washed , to say nothing of the half-acre sized floor to be swept daily and polished weekly etc.etc. If there was a conspiracy between Harry and the Base Commander, I never heard about it.
Having returned to Kimpo for what was an indefinite period, indefinite because no future time of return to Japan had ever been mentioned to me, I found that I was looking at my situation from a different point of view because I was now a 'regular' and not a 'visitor' as before. Prior to this change of status, I had not been included in any of the rosters for getting troops out of their cots around 4 am to prepare four aircraft for the standby "Able Alert' which commenced an hour before dawn by which time the pilots would be in the cockpits, battery carts would be plugged into the aircraft and eight airmen of assorted trades would be standing by to assist the Meteors make a quick departure in the event of an order from the Controller, "Dentist", to scramble. It was customary for the leader pilot to be listening out on Dentist's frequency and in the event of a scramble order, he would immediately start up his engines, the sound of which would move other airmen to give a couple of hard bangs on the fuselage near the cockpits of the other aircraft. These pilots would usually have their radios on the American Armed Forces Radio Service and would change to Dentist as they commenced their startups. Once one engine was running, sufficient electric power would be generated to start the other engine and the battery cable would be disconnected and the socket cover locked by the nearest airman.
The purpose of all this was to provide first warning defence of the Base in the event of an air attack. Such scrambles were rare but the possibility was always there and in fact a backup of two aircraft, Baker Alert, relieved Able at the end of two hours and remained on standby for just one hour. On Able Alert, once the pilots were in place and all systems were ready to go, the corporal in charge would take four of the troops in a small truck called a "puddle jumper" to the American 'dining hall' for a quick breakfast and next take the other four to have their breakfasts. I had always imagined that all the people in 77 Squadron would have been living on 'hard rations' - bully beef, Army biscuits left over from WW 2 and mugs of luke-warm tea - but it was not like that with Uncle Sam's tucker. You were served a cereal, fried or scrambled eggs (these latter were delicious and infinitely superior to what our RAAF cooks gave us which were generally referred to as "yellow peril"), great slices of apple-cured Virginia ham, toast and coffee. As to the quantity served per person, there was always a prominent sign saying "You are welcome to seconds". The menus varied from day to day and the Yank food was always popular with the troops. The pancakes were superb. Somewhere along the way, a few of our blokes asked if tea was ever available and sure enough, a day or so later, a great urn of tea appeared beside the coffee. The urn was great but not the tea. For those who enjoyed a strong cup of tea, it was still far too strong. Wherever the cooks obtained the tea making formula, it was not the right place. But before the matter could be rectified, quite a few Yanks had become converts to the tea drinking fraternity and the strength of the tea remained as it was - tres formidable.
By September of 1951, Kimpo, the forward USAF base in Korea, was reasonably well set up but did not boast a PX, the American military name for what we would call a 'canteen' and a relic of the old Army term, Post Exchange. Having an acute awareness of the needs of the average GI, a variety of items normally purchased in a PX were issued free to all who came to the evening meal. Happily, this included the Australians and we were delighted to be given cigarettes or tobacco, the choice being for rolling cigarettes, smoking in a pipe or just plain chewing, plus candy, chewing gum and occasional issues of razor blades, socks and underwear, soap and toothpaste. In those faraway days, there was no realization of the damage that smoking caused to the health of the average keen smoker and I was one of these. There is no doubt that the ease with which we could get cigarettes contributed to my fondness of smoking and this situation prevailed for at least a few months. Added to this was the weekly issue of fifty first class English cigarettes in a sealed tin generously provided for every man in the Commonwealth forces by the late famous English philanthropist, Lord Nuffield. When the dreaded day arrived and the PX was a functioning fact of Kimpo life, we could still buy our cigarettes for one dollar per carton of two hundred, US dollars being much cheaper in those days.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Americans are, for the most part, compulsive givers and their generosity to us, as the only non-US unit on the base, was extensive. When the Americans discovered our winter gear, adequate for Australia but not for the extremes of the Korean winters, consisted of woolen vests and 'Long Johns' (two sets of each) they handed out their winter clothing to every man in the Squadron and this made all the difference. Furthermore, there were no strings like signatures for items issued: this stuff was gift stuff. Then there was the matter of hospitality and this was readily forthcoming also. The Yanks don't have Messes as we do but prefer to have counterparts called "Clubs" and because the USAF didn't have NCO pilots as we did, they made our non-commissioned pilots welcome in their Officers' Club and all manner of valuable contacts, both working and social, were made: flyers were mixing with flyers. Our unit had an Officers' Mess which, in Kimpo, catered for all ranks of sergeant and above. The airmen had what was grandly called a Mess which was really an enlarged wooden-framed double tent which had been constructed by our pilots in their off-duty hours. We had a bar with scrounged, stolen and donated chairs and tables and a stock of the usual canteen goods for sale. We, the corporals and below, were not overlooked by the Yanks who invited every airman to enjoy the amenities of their Top Three Club which catered for the three senior ranks of sergeant, Staff, Technical and Master. In the early days, their Club had modest beginnings but as time went by and the profits from the bar sales increased, so their premises grew in keeping with their prosperity. By the time my nine months at Kimpo had come to an end, the Top Three, sometimes called the "Honsho", Club had prospered to the stage where there were lots of tables and chairs, bought and paid for, and a juke box was just being unveiled. I heard later that it was a freebee and was rigged to play without the requirement of being fed with coins. The USAF 'other ranks' were in the Club business too and they were called "The Little Joes". The rules prevented them from having no alcoholic drinks but beer which was very mild in alcohol content. On the other hand, the Top Three could sell just about anything and I remember a brush I had in one of their earlier premises with whisky, Seagram's Canadian V.O. It was priced at seventy cents a shot but on Nickel Night, which was every Saturday, any drink that you ordered cost no more than a nickel, a mere five cents. It was explained to me that it was a good way to reward the faithful patrons of the Club and it also gave to the men who sent most of their pay home a cheap night out if they wanted to "tie one on". There was some kind of rule that didn't approve an accumulation of big profits.
As to the incident with the Seagram's, it was part of Life's Learning Process. There was this Yank S/Sgt. named Kovacs who had done a lot of favours for 77 Squadron and my frequent offers to buy him a drink in the Club were always politely refused but with a promise to accept my offer when he "got his orders", the almost holy phrase that meant 'going back to the States.' I saw him when I went into the Dining Hall that night and he called out that he had his orders and that he'd like to have the often promised drink. In due course, I went into the Club and saw Kovacs - was his name Charlie? - and a couple of other sergeants leaning on the bar and 'putting a few away'. I joined them and said that I'd have what they were having and that was Seagram's. I should explain here that my previous experience with whisky was confined to having a tentative taste of an early Oz attempt at whisky distilling called Corio Whisky and popularly known to drinkers by the unflattering name of COR Ten. (COR was the name of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries). My recollection is that it tasted like alcohol-enriched battery acid and it was my feeling that just one egg cup full would induce a state of collapse in a bull elephant. I have already referred to the low alcohol content of American beer and when I found that this Seagram's tasted so smoooooth and had no vicious bite to it, I presumed that it must be a low alcohol item like the beer. Another Yank friend of mine, a S/Sgt. named Tom Doolan, came over from his table and said, "Take care, Mulligan, these raunchy bastards are going to get you drunk'. I thanked him for his almost avuncular concern and hopefully put his mind at rest by my assurance that this Seagram's went down like mother's milk and therefore held no perils for me whatsoever. It wasn't long after that before I realized that my legs were not functioning and I grabbed at the bar to support myself, realising as I did so that I was about to give a memorable, if not superb, impersonation of a newt. This brings me to admit that I have no idea nor knowledge whatsoever of why the newt, a tiny, four legged and generally unremarkable reptile of carnivorous persuasion has been forever portrayed as the symbol of all that is alcoholically paralytic. Moreover, it does appear extraordinary that the newt's continually maligned character and sober reputation in the reptile community has not been vigorously defended by some caring zoologist. Perhaps a champion will emerge in time and so put an end to this unkind and unjustified metaphor. My friend Doolan came to my rescue and refusing any assistance from my erstwhile drinking mates, took it upon himself to get me back to my tent in our Squadron area. At this point, a confrontation took place between another patron of the Club and Doolan. I barely managed to focus upon a short, squat sergeant, slightly less shikkered than I, who was remonstrating with Doolan who, this interloper believed, was about to eject me from the Club for my failure to perform well in the Sobriety Stakes. Doolan explained his good intentions and the newcomer to our drama insisted on coming along to be assured that my treatment at Doolan's hands was all that I, were I able to indicate, would desire. The time of year must have been around March or April, whenever the thaw after the winter snows had taken place, because as we three staggered through the darkness with Doolan in the middle, supporting me and the other drunk, we never missed falling into most of the slit-trenches, by now half filled with the coldest water I can ever remember falling into. Eventually, we arrived at my tent where my fellow tent dwellers removed my wet overalls, boots and socks and tucked me under the blankets for a long, long sleep. To my considerable surprise when I woke up on the following morning, fully expecting to have a hangover such as Edgar Allan Poe might well have written several agonizing verses about, my head was as clear as a bell and completely pain-free.
KIMPO. Korea. 1952: For the second time in the post-war years, serving airmen were invited to apply for a commission. When this news was received from our parental No. 91 Composite Wing at Iwakuni in Japan, it was accompanied by the not entirely unwelcome tidings that all applicants would be interviewed by the Group Captain commanding the RAAF Base at Iwakuni. Here was a proposal that suggested that Air Board was again confirming its belief that among such airmen was a potential reservoir of candidates able to meet the stern and demanding criteria that would lead them to commissioned rank and the mutual benefit and satisfaction of all. Thus there was a discernible ripple of interest among some of the troops and non-commissioned pilots; several of the latter were not strangers to leading sections of eight and twelve Meteors with many of these being flown by their seniors in rank.
Ripples of interest notwithstanding, there were cresting waves of enthusiasm among that group of airmen who had been "deported" from Iwakuni and its many delights to the "Siberian" atmosphere of Kimpo and its complete lack of unrighteous temptations. These were the "deadbeats", many of whom proved redeemable, who were always in strife and never embarrassed by those sorry catalogues of their sins, their Conduct Sheets. Theirs was the Vision Splendid, an all expenses paid overnight visit to the brighter lights of Iwakuni and an inevitable rejection as "Unsuitable for promotion beyond the rank of Leading Aircraftsman" by a Group Captain who always had the best interests of the RAAF at heart. The Orderly Room clerk told of how the Adjutant recoiled in horror when he saw that eight of these outcasts submitted applications.
The previously notified order of events was changed suddenly and drastically. A signal was received from Iwakuni advising that the Group Captain would make a flying visit to the Squadron and conduct interviews "on site". This was followed by an untidy scurrying of the "deportees" to the Orderly Room to withdraw their applications. The Adjutant, now visibly relieved, regained his composure and dignity and decorum was restored for the period of the Group Captain's visit.
These musings relate to life as I knew it forty plus years ago, in what is to me the distant past. Someone once said "The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there" and this is true. Our memories were much better then and we could more easily place events in something of an accurate sequence in time. While many of my memories of the Kimpo days are easily accessed and as fresh as if certain incidents occurred only last week, putting many of them in correct sequence proves difficult. Right now, I am thinking about some American friends I had in the reconnaissance Wing next to us and these were the blokes who lived in what was virtually one of the local landmarks known as "Keesling's Tent". On the outside, it looked like any other tent but inside, the visitor was struck by the work of a demonic but good-humoured architect who had divided the interior into a walled-off Sleep Salon in the rear containing six bunks while the front section was converted into a 'social area' boasting an alcove for four at left and assorted seating furniture opposite. The 'guiding light' of the establishment was Ray Keesling and it would not be an exaggeration to say that he presided over all that took place there in a benign but firm manner. Noise was always at minimum level, sobriety was expected and usually received from 'inmates' and visitors, and good-natured camaraderie prevailed. On a shelf near the alcove, there was a boldly marked "Swear Box", profanity being an offence punishable by fines placed in the said box. The resulting accumulations were checked from time to time and when a predetermined amount had been reached, the total expiations on hand were exchanged for a carton of Pabst beer which would then be used by the 'inmates' and their close friends to practise the periodic Sobriety Exercises.
One important amenity that should be mentioned was the camp stove in the left rear of the social area. Anniversaries were occasionally celebrated to coincide with the Exercises above; two that I remember were the Opening of the Panama Canal and Flood Control in Nevada. These evening events were usually enhanced by a supper of sorts, the food being organised by the Mess Sergeant called Tex Farrabee. It required no more than an invitation to Tex who would arrive with bread for toasting, butter, an appropriate number of "Minute Steaks" and anything else suitable for human consumption. These were great occasions. Everyone had a good time and nobody got stoned. Anything tamer than that would be close to a YMCA atmosphere. I cannot recall how I came to be acquainted with Ray but, whenever it was, it had to be one of my luckier days. Furthermore, he had a connection with the Supply Section and gave me a surplus single size, very comfortable air mattress. Later, after I had bought a disgracefully oil and paint stained GI greatcoat from one of our blokes posted home, Ray swapped it for a new one which has served me well over these intervening years and which I have now given to my son who has more use for it than I. In this same period, I struck up a friendship with another Yank named Dick Johnson. When my time came to leave Korea, Ray was absent on R and R leave and I missed saying my good-byes but Dick was keen to keep in touch by correspondence which is still in place these forty-three years later. In 1992, when I was going to the USA to attend "Oshkosh", I managed, by the greatest fluke, to find where Ray was in Yuba City, CA, and had the great pleasure of having a week with him and his wife, Carole.
The daily routine of ground staff during the operations out of Kimpo was based on a seven day week and when an airman had completed seven such weeks of duty, he was given seven days leave in Japan which could be spent in a manner and at a destination of his own choosing. Traveling by air, courtesy of King George and under the indifferent auspices of No. 30 Transport Unit, the airman settled into the Spartan interior of a DC3 for the short trip back to Iwakuni, planning the means by which he would derive the maximum pleasure and benefit from the Rest and Relaxation period awaiting him. Occasional brave souls of independent mind would disappear for a week into the boondocks of Japan and return with glowing reports of how their time was well and satisfactorily spent. A few more would opt for a week at the Ebisu Army Leave Centre in Tokyo while most would choose the Australian Army conducted Leave Hotel at Kawana on the north side of Tokyo. This was as close to an airman's dream of Paradise as was possible, more so if he were visiting from Kimpo where the living was not so gracious and relaxed. The train trip from Iwakuni to Kawana lasted about four hours and all ranks on leave from the three Services were then taken to the hotel by a bus in the charge of an Army sergeant nicknamed "Plonky" to match his surname of Penfold. Escorting the returning personnel to the train and collecting the incoming batch from the train was half of "Plonky's" duties. The other was in operating the projector in the Hotel's indoor cinema on two nights per week.
It would be safe to say that the Big Attraction at Kawana was Golf. The hotel had two eighteen hole courses, one being for the 'mugs' and those in need of practice and the other for the serious players. The set-up for the Golf Addict was near perfect. After enjoying a splendid breakfast in bed, delivered at the time he specified, the bedside phone was used to talk to the Clubhouse and shoes of the correct size plus clubs, also of a size appropriate to the player's height - left handers' clubs were also available - were ordered for an appointed time. New balls could be purchased but most players were content to play with 'repaints' at one shilling each. Caddies were on hand to assist in every possible way, which included winkling misdirected balls out of the surrounding woods, and their remuneration was set at one hundred yen for eighteen holes. A good caddie earned more. These caddies were Japanese girls, generally aged from thirteen to sixteen years and were always neatly attired in immaculate whites, cap, shirt, slacks and sneakers. On the occasions when players were in short supply, these kids would practice the game of Golf and became very competent. On the day that I agreed to play a round with Col Horne and "Mac" Mc Lintock - I don't think he had a Christian name either - it became obvious that because I had never played golf before, I would have done better to have come equipped with a billiards cue and prodded the cantankerous ball around the course. My shots were consistently bad with my caddie valiantly searching the scrub and always managing to do a good retrieval. While she remained aloof and maintained a perfectly inscrutable expression, my tally of strokes at the second hole would have earned me a life-ban from any half decent bush golf course in Oz. Very obviously, continuing to play could only contribute to the tremendous humiliation that I was feeling, so I bowed to the inevitable and salvaged the tattered remnants of my honour by inviting my caddie to change places with me. I doubt if anyone could have agreed with greater speed. The game proceeded but it lacked any feature that would have made an impression on my memory.
Kawana Hotel was just one of the Imperial chain of hotels and had been taken over by the Oz Army as a leave and recreation centre. It did not lack any civilized amenities. As well as its indoor cinema theatre, it had two spacious dining rooms, a library, a gymnasium, barber shop with masseur, an Olympic pool, a tennis court and a wonderful kitchen staff with great chefs. On my first visit to Kawana, the tariff per guest was one shilling and threepence (13 cents) per day which, by the time of my second visit, had been savagely increased to one shilling and ninepence (19 cents) per day. I had my first leave from Kimpo in November 1951 and this second leave, because I had only had one leave of seven days in a total of nine months, had been increased to two weeks by my Squadron's Engineer Officer, Flt.Lt. Kalucy. Two of the sergeant pilots from 77 were there at the same time, Colin King and Kevin Smith, who were still enjoying a mateship that began on No.5 Course at Point Cook. We three had become very well acquainted at Kimpo and their company at Kawana was most welcome. Both Colin and I were keen on photography and one of our local strollings took us into the nearby village from which our hotel took its name. We had a short but interesting chat with an ageing Japanese man who was a priest of the local Eel Worshippers' Temple and who felt it necessary to give an occasional short tap on the wooden 'gong' he carried with him. If I ever discovered the reason for this, it has been well and truly lost in the mists of the last forty years.
Their leave completed, Colin and Ken returned to the Squadron and resumed flying duties. On my return to Iwakuni, I reported to No.30 Transport Unit to which I had been posted "on paper " some two months earlier while I was still with 77. I was told to report to Sqn.Ldr. Carl Leopold, the top dog in the Maintenance world, and found that I had innocently incurred his considerable displeasure. I was on the carpet because I had not reported to him before I went on leave to obtain his approval for my two weeks absence. I was able to produce my leave authorization from F/L Kalucy on the spot but that wasn't sufficient to mollify his anger and I had to absorb his unjustified tirade in silence. This was surely good grounds for applying to the Base CO for a "Redress of Grievance" but prudence indicated that whether or not I received it, I would have made an enemy for the rest of my Air Force life and so I let it go at that. A few days later, one of the sergeants from 491 Sqn. told me that my name was brought up at a NCOs' meeting by Leopold who suggested that I was a smart-arse and that no opportunity should be missed for "putting me in my place". For the rest of my time at Iwakuni, I walked as if on eggs.
Because of the nature of my duties for most of my time with 77 Squadron, I was very familiar with the numbers of each Meteor and the name of the pilot to whom any aircraft "belonged". So it was that I had something of a mixture of shock and sadness when I heard that a Meteor had been lost on Ops. and the number was that of Colin's aircraft. Wherever possible, a pilot usually flew his allotted aircraft but there were many times that it was flown by others but the odds were that Colin was in it. As it happened, another pilot who was a newcomer to 77 signed for Colin's Meteor as they were preparing for a mission so Colin signed for the one that would normally be flown by the new man. Colin's Meteor failed to develop full power on take-off and went over the far end of the strip, the new man being killed in the crash. Earlier on, Kevin Smith, flying on a ground attack mission with Colin and two others, found the "disputed barricade" that would end his life. In the final analysis, we lost forty pilots out of 77 Squadron and seven others were made prisoners of war, all being repatriated in September 1953.
Our pilots belonged to a mixture of age groups. Some were experienced war-time pilots who stayed in the Air Force, some were war-time air gunners and navigators who were post war trained pilots and many were complete newcomers to the pilot trade. Two who had been WW2 navigators were Ken Murray and the Kiwi, Vance Drummond, both of No.4 Course and close friends. Vance was shot down and became a prisoner in December 1951. While still a trainee, Ken had helped me celebrate my corporal stripes, modestly and with decorum, in the Riverside Inn in Richmond. I was already in 77 when he and Vance arrived. The time came when Ken was about to go on his hundredth Meteor mission. I had ample knowledge of this coming up in the afternoon and asked Ray Keesling if he could locate sufficient remnant type parachute silk to turn into a scarf for Ken, the arrangement being made by telephone. Ray said it could be done and even offered to stencil something appropriate on it. I suggested "Black Murray" as he was commonly called, with the day's date and it was given to Ken when he came down to get into his A77-446. Standing on the side of the aircraft, I had just finished helping him strap into the ejection seat when a jeep, with horn blaring, came to a stop at the edge of the steel-matted tarmac. The driver, another pilot named Val who was the Bar Officer, hurried over to the aircraft and handed me a small pad to pass to Ken for his signature. The note simply said, "4 cases of beer" and carried that day's date. All pilots observed a traditional procedure of signing a bar chit for 4 cases of Asahi beer when their hundred missions figure had been reached. Two of these went to the Airmens' bar and two to the other Mess bar frequented by sergeants and above. "A bit rude, isn't it?" said Ken after signing. Val just grinned and said," We look forward to your safe return but do take care. It can be dangerous out there". Ken did come back. In fact, he came back 330 times including his second tour and among his Service souvenirs are the DFC, AFC and the DFM.
There was a period when we were without a formally appointed CO and during this time, the Squadron was in the care of Sqn. Ldr. Bill Bennett who had a spell as a POW in Germany after being shot down while flying a Spitfire in WW2. He bailed out and then discovered his parachute had failed to open. His return to earth was not direct, in fact, he had to come down via the pine fir that he had landed in but this took only a few seconds. After his unorthodox entry into the tree, he proceeded earthwards by having his pre-entry velocity very effectively reduced as each branch he hit on his way down broke, slowing his rate of descent sufficiently to reduce his injuries to a broken leg and scratches. It seems that his fall was witnessed by the enemy who extricated him from the snowdrift he came to rest in and their officer gave Bill a letter to certify that he had found his way back to the planet without benefit of a serviceable parachute. The German doctors put a plate in his leg using a technique not known at that time to the Brits. I can recall many nights when some of us were working late, often by torch-light, at the strip when he would arrive in his jeep and invite us to his tent "whenever you finish" for a bite of supper before bed. He'd do a headcount and drive off to find a Yank messing officer whom he would inveigle into parting with the required number of "Minute" steaks plus bread and butter for toasting. Anything from four to eight of us would arrive at his tent where his camp stove would be in readiness to cook the goods while we downed cans of Yank beer. I doubt if his predecessor ever knew the first name of any of the troops who worked on the Meteors whereas Bill - we all called him 'Sir' when he was promoted - and most of the other pilots knew us by our Christian names and we theirs. I had six years in the RAAF and the nine months I spent with the Meteors and the blokes who flew and maintained them was the Prime Time of it all. Happily, most of the friendships I made in the Air Force are still intact and most of those relate to 77 Squadron. It was a great Unit.
When I first arrived at Iwakuni, I was told about a place called "The Double Seven Club" which was run by the Oz Army and offered a quiet atmosphere (daytime only), chairs and tables where you could read or write letters undisturbed. I think it also boasted a billiards table and most importantly a snack bar and a grog bar (beer only) at going prices. I gave it a small measure of patronage and only just in time to see the above-ground evidence of what was, at that time, a Famous Incident. The essential details of the story run like this: there was some sort of a party going on and one bloke had a feeling that he'd had enough and so he headed back to the Airmens' Mess and his bed. Some twenty yards or so from the front door of the Club, there was a slit trench, one of many dug at a time when it was believed that the Iwakuni Composite Wing would be bombed by North Korean or Chinese aircraft. Of course, this never happened. In the darkness, he failed to see the slit trench, fell into it, breaking an arm and knocking himself out. Minutes later, another of his party mates who had imbibed recklessly and was now experiencing the unmistakable feeling of Imminent Chunder and who, remembering the location of the slit trench, immediately decided that it would be the ideal repository for that of which he wished to divest himself. Perhaps what followed was written in the stars and so it happened, player No.2 stood at the edge of the trench and chundered mightily, completely unaware of his mate's unconscious condition and painful distress in the darkness of the trench. Now entered Players 3 and 4, departing Club patrons, one of whom had a torch and both of whom heard the agonized groans of a man in pain in the trench. What followed next was described by one of the on-looking pair as reminiscent of a graveyard scene from an old Boris Karloff movie as a mixture of profanity and groans heralded the appearance of the now upright and injured drunk held fast in the torch-light and festooned with the generous Technicolor deposits from Player No. 2. News of the incident was widely spread around the Base and probably would have enjoyed no more than a couple of days currency had it not been for the secretive nocturnal erection of a well made sign on the side of the slit trench containing only two words, "Brady's Leap".
In pre-Korea days, one of the COs was Group Captain Brian Eaton - his nickname was "Moth" - and in the process of his deploring the number of poorly conducted and illegal two-up games being played in unsuitable venues around the Base, put it all in order by permitting an Official Game to be played in the garden area beside the Airmens' Mess on Pay Nights only. The game, in my time, was conducted by a dental orderly known as "Francois, the Fangsnatcher's Offsider". His word was law and the CO backed him completely.
In my account of Ken Murray's hundredth mission, I mention a Yank named Ray Keesling who became a very good friend from the time of our first meeting. When I was posted back to Japan, Ray was on leave in Japan and I never had an opportunity to say a final "Goodbye" to him. This was in 1952.
I always maintained a vow that if ever I went to the US, I'd try to find him. When the time came and I was going there to attend the Aviation Convention at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in 1992, and not even being sure that Ray was still alive, I looked for him in the White Pages for Denver, a city he used to speak about quite a lot. I found only one surname the same but it was an 'Alan'. I wrote and asked him if he knew Ray and a few weeks later, I had a letter back saying that he only knew OF Ray, a distant relation and that in the process of chasing around the family, had located Ray in Yuba City, California, and had sent him my letter. The upshot was that Ray and his wife, Carol, (she was the Denver connection) collected me from the SF airport on my way back and took me home to their place for a week that I shall never forget.
Ray had stayed on in the USAF and retired as a Chief Master Sergeant* in 1984. At that time, I was half bald, weighed about three stone more than forty years earlier. Ray had all his hair and I guessed he was half a stone heavier. That's what clean living does to you.
*Eight stripes! Five on top and three below.
There were many times that I wished that I'd been with 77 when they had Mustangs, such wishes being prompted by hearing the stories told by those airmen who serviced and moved around with them in the early part of the Korean war. Irrespective of what the generals and future historians may have believed, the Mustangs' ground staff awarded the real Battle Honours to the events surrounding the hurried and undignified departure of the Squadron from a place called Hamhung, that being the general picture drawn by those who participated in the withdrawal to Pusan in the south. For months later, whenever an airman was recounting any kind of 'hairy' incident involving himself and the Korean hostilities, his story would invariably be down-graded by someone with an earlier claim to fame with the expression, "You were never there, mate. If you weren't at Hamhung, you were never there! ". There was a corporal engine fitter who was, but only for this present purpose, named Tom who had become notorious for his ability to acquire, scrounge and frequently misappropriate aircraft parts for immediate or likely future use. It was said of him that he would take possession of any useful item below the telephone wires which was not nailed nor screwed down. To me, his most memorable exploit was on the occasion when one of our Mustangs required an engine change arising from battle damage. Tom visited a nearby USAF Mustang squadron and was able to scrounge an engine which the kindly Yanks even delivered. The next problem to be overcome was to get a Fowler crane to lift the old engine out and the new one in and Tom knew where there was such a crane in an unguarded location. For some reason, Tom had been refused permission to use it by its owners so, at last light, he and his helpers drove to the location of the crane, hitched it to the "puddle jumper" they had borrowed, towed it to where the engine change was then carried out and returned it to its usual place of abode before dawn. He was also credited with more than the usual amount of bargaining skill with the Yanks, targeting a variety of 'well worth having' items, usually clothing. Yanks were paid once a month and at the end of the month, when all the spending money was gone and Tom had a bottle of whisky to trade, the Yanks were at his mercy.
On the subject of Pay Days and the nights thereof, there was always a dice game behind the Top Three Club. As with the two-up at Iwakuni, this was an Officially Approved game, conducted and supervised by sergeants of blameless and impeccable character. It was played in a small building but big enough to accommodate about fifty or sixty players and spectators standing around a 'billiards size' table where it all happened. What was a revelation to me was the manner in which certain players caressed and talked to the dice before a throw, actually giving those inanimate little cubes, those brainless little objects, instructions, as though they were intelligent beings. Of one player, I heard the comment "He could throw them bones through a cement mixer and get a seven". There was a "House Rule' that was very strictly observed and that was that the Duty Sergeant had to extract ten per cent of all the cash that changed hands which was then put into an enormous glass jar with a lid. This was changed into US 'greenbacks' and given to the Catholic Orphanage in the nearby capital, Seoul. The US currency was a special item which was used by US forces for internal use in foreign countries to prevent black marketers and various other undesirables from accumulating US dollars. The next time I saw the big glass jars was at the entrance to the Dining Hall. Back in those days, when you went to the movies, it was common enough to see, as part of the programme, a short feature called "The March of Time". In the US, there was an ongoing problem with poliomyelitis and in order to raise funds for research and the costs of hospitalizing its victims, an annual month-long campaign was introduced called "The March of Dimes" in the hope of getting everyone to contribute a dime, ten cents, to the fund. This was in the month of March. The big glass jar stood on a table and was marked "March of Dimes", holding a lot of the 'internal' currency, called "scrip". Next day, as a reminder of the mild rivalry that has existed between the North and the South since the Civil War, there was a second jar with a label attached saying "Rebels" and that also was holding a lot of scrip. The original jar, now labelled "Yankees", was soon joined by a third with yet another label, "Texans". One night, watching the Crap Game, as they like to call it, I saw a Yank friend raking it in and stuffing it into his opened overalls. This was Willie Brister and later I met him in the Top Three where he told me that he'd had a good night and was now about four thousand dollars richer and that he'd cable it to his wife next day with instructions to get a new Ford. After allowing for the orphans' ten per cent, he certainly did have a good night. Willie had a perpetual moan about having to pay Income Tax while he was outside the US. He asked me how tough the Income Tax was in Oz and I told him that we didn't have to pay it anymore because it was very unpopular with the people in Oz and the government no longer bothered about it. "So where do you get the money to run your country?" he wanted to know and I told him that we were getting Marshall Aid. I thought poor Willie was going to have one of those 'conniption fits' that I'd heard about but had never seen and so I put his mind at ease before he did in fact blow a fuse.
Quite a few of us had never seen snow before we went to Korea and when the first snowfall came early one morning, we did what came naturally and had a snowball fight. The time was not far off before we became heartily sick of the sight of snow and all the inconveniences that attended it. It was at its worst at 4 am when metal aircraft had to be prepared for pilot occupancy by thawing as much as possible of the cockpit area in which everything possible was frozen solid. The pilot's parachute was an essential part of the Ejection Seat and there was attached to the 'chute a survival pack which included a rubber container full of water, now frozen solid, which was not very thoughtfully placed on top of the 'chute right where the hapless pilot had to rest his temperature-sensitive derriere. We, the duty ground crew, had nothing to do except 'stand by' and so were able to move or run about or do anything likely to keep our circulation system functioning. We also had the further advantage of getting away for some breakfast and I often wonder now why somebody didn't think of giving the pilots electric flying suits such as those used by the RAF bomber crews in WW2. Had the Air Member for Supply been required to deposit his venerable bottom on such a block of ice on a deep winter's morning, no doubt there would have been a surge of requisitions burning up the cables to the UK. Hindsight rarely registers more than two out of ten on the Satisfaction Scale.
Ron Mitchell, ex-2 Course, and an RAF pilot, Reg Lamb, collided while turning on base at Kimpo and were killed I was one of the Burial Party flown over to Pusan for their interment in the UN cemetery there. We used an Australian Flag and a Union Jack.
One evening, just as daylight was ending, I was in my tent getting ready to go across to the Yanks for my dinner when I had a visitor. He was one of a group of engine fitters and mechanics who had been sent to stay with us for as long as it would take them to repair a sick engine on a RAAF DC3 sitting at the airport in Seoul. Unexpected 'visitors were usually directed by our Adjutant, Jack Carolyn, to the NCO or airman nominally in charge of a tent having a currently unoccupied camp stretcher. The visitors had been delivered to and abandoned at the Flight Hut down at the tarmac area and my 'guest' had trudged through the snow with his kitbag on his shoulder and carrying another smaller overnight bag. He was shivering in the cold and was fairly grubby when he came in after some hours of work on the Dak in Seoul and introduced himself as George Hoey as he headed for the oil stove. "George Bluddy Hoey!", I said to myself. Flight Sergeant George Bluddy Hoey in the flesh and at my mercy, the same bastard who blighted my life and buggered up my date with the teacher from Townsville some four years earlier when I was a new recruit at Amberley. I was already relishing the thought of hiding his boots and socks in the deep snow outside when I realized that the intervening four years of growing up had expunged the hostility I felt towards him at Amberley and that I should extend to him the sort of hospitality I would expect if I were in his place. Accordingly, I lent him a towel, escorted him to our greatest amenity, a hot shower, and later to dinner with the Yanks. Back in my tent, we chatted amicably with the other tent-dwellers until day was declared at an end. Next day, the offending engine having been restored to air-worthiness, he spent a final night in our tent after a less edifying evening with his fellow sergeants and we parted good friends.
I believe that, in 'now and then' terms, each of us devotes a measure of time, large or small, to the contemplation of Life and Death. How often have we said or thought, when we hear the news of a friend's death, why did it have to be him at this time? Can it be that each of us has been created to live out a span of years, pre-determined by our Creator, in which to perform a specific function for our own benefit or that of others ? Are we, in fact, parts of a carefully designed Plan which gives us the wherewithal for the opportunities of living through a share of the entire catalogue of human experiences, so many and so varied, that give substance, and perhaps some meaning, to the greater and more valuable experience of Learning about whatever may be essential and relevant in any one, or more than one, life or lifetime? Obviously, we, as individuals, leave our fingerprints, consciously and unconsciously, on other lives around us. These may well be our contributions to the Final Reckoning which will surely take place when this planet and its last inhabitant come to The End. The casualties of war, whose names were once known to many but are now remembered by just a few, are a part of the process, their loss the price we have to pay for indulging that dark side of our human nature. And on which altar do the survivors lay their gratitude, that of Luck or Destiny? Contemplate the worth of a human life and determine wherein its value lies. Is the owner of that life one who is a contributor of his special gifts and talents to the population as a whole or simply to his near and dear ones who will weep at his departure for their personal or selfish reasons? If he lacks specific gifts and talents, does he make the world a better place simply because he is a part of it? Who knows? I know the questions but not the answers.
There was always one, possibly two, battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment "up in the line", meaning the Front Line where the fighting took place when animosity and hostility had reached the point where the people in the higher echelons decided that a skirmish of one sort or another would produce an improvement in 'their' side's position, being a positive result for one side and hard luck for the other. It was not unusual for the Diggers to find their way to Kimpo seeking overnight hospitality and transport to the Seoul airport to catch a ride to Japan for their leave when they departed next day. This choice was the better of two alternatives, the other being lodged in the Transit Section at the British Airhead at Seoul airport where they would be fed exotic delights such as fried bread for dinner and porridge for breakfast after spending the night in a bug-infested camp stretcher. These chaps frequently spent long periods in foxholes within sniping distance of the enemy and this must have been a severe test of endurance during the winter. One such Army visitor was a corporal from West Australia, a carpenter who did his bit in a rear echelon and was grateful for the small mercy of exemption from seeing the sights of Central Korea from a foxhole. At that time, I was the smug possessor of a bottle of the demon grog, Seagram's VO, which was snuggling contentedly in the safety of my kitbag. Listening to the accounts of the foxhole frolics, I felt that retaining this whisky while some poor Army sods were freezing and probably wishing that they were in a nice warmed tent would constitute a sin against Nature and Humanity. The whisky was a gift from Tom Doolan who acquired it on his last R and R leave in Japan. This was after the episode of my Newt Impersonation and meeting with the Son of Sitting Bull - the other drunk was a Navajo Injun - and Tom's gift was not for drinking but for trading with his craving countrymen around month's end. And so the bottle of Seagram's went to war and became an early casualty. About two weeks later, I had a note delivered to me by someone else's Army visitor from the bloke who received the whisky expressing his considerable gratitude. For just a few seconds, I felt very noble hoping that I'd never have to tell Doolan about it and recalling those lines of W.S. "How far that little candle throws its beams, so shines a good deed in a naughty world".
I remember an occasion at Kimpo when I was returning to my tent well after dark, in the course of which I would pass a number of parked fuel tankers which were always guarded by at least one USAF sentry. The sentry on duty this night was Private Nervous himself. My mind was a million miles away when a not very confident voice stopped me in my tracks and the conversation that followed went something like this:
"Stop!" which I did. "Who are you?"
"An Australian far from home and striving mightily for the United Nations in defence of the principles of the Atlantic Charter." I felt certain that this would assure the unseen voice in the darkness of my goodwill and bona fides.
"Where are you going?"
"Up there", I replied, pointing in the direction of our tent lines.
"Up where?", he queried Very obviously, this chap wasn't about to allow just anybody to wander casually and nocturnally around his precincts.
"Up there", I said and to add a touch of whimsy to our encounter by snatching a couple of lines from Oliver Goldsmith's "The Deserted Village" which the good Brothers required me to learn about fifteen years earlier, I added, "where once a garden smiled and still where many a garden flower grows wild".
"What's your name?"
"Oliver Goldsmith", I lied cheerfully. Some few seconds later, having decided that I didn't sound like some North Korean saboteur intent on demolishing the tankers in his care, he called out, "OK .Pass, Oliver"
The Squadron's Engineer Officer, Flt. Lt. Kalucy, was my immediate boss and for some months before I returned to Japan, I worked in his close proximity. In what we called the flight hut close to the tarmac and the aircraft, he sat at his desk at the end of a larger and higher desk about eight feet long on which it was the practice for pilots and ground crew to make their appropriate entries in the Maintenance Schedules. This was the area over which I presided with the vigilant eyes of a hungry bird of prey. Whether large or small, every item of unserviceability of an aircraft had to be entered in the Form E/E 77, the M/S above, so that it would be noted by the appropriate trade group and, where possible, rectified with a confirming signature added. Any adverse comment by a pilot on the aircraft's behaviour or performance was similarly entered and noted. Thus, when a '77' was placed on the desk indicating its serviceability and availability for duty, I would have already checked that all trade groups had signed off the aircraft as fit to fly. Most pilots would scrutinize prior entries of unserviceability and check that these had been fixed or rectified and would then turn to the front of the '77' to see that the daily inspection had been carried out and that the aircraft had been refueled since its last flight. A thorough pre-flight inspection of the aircraft, as well as the '77', put the pilot a little closer to the peace of mind he would enjoy, however temporarily, when he returned from his mission.
Next to the Engineer Officer was the Warrant Officer Engineer whose duties were more 'hands on' than those of the EO. When I first went to 77, it was on the offer of the WOE, Bill Cavanagh, a man who had the happy knack of getting the best out of people. We got on well together as was the case with his eventual replacement, WO "Paddy" Field. Two of the most important people in the Kimpo 77 community were civilians whose surnames, if I ever knew them, are long forgotten. Ted was the expert from Rolls-Royce for anything to do with the Meteor's Derwent engines and Jock, from the Gloster Company, who knew everything about the Meteor airframe. On those days when the weather prevented operations and serviceability was at the highest possible 'local' level, we would be assembled to get a lecture from Jock who was as Scottish as a barrow-load of haggis and who was reputed to wear a sporran with his pyjamas. As each oft-repeated lecture was ending and before he rolled up the diagrams, he would always ask, "Any questions?" and one day, an airframe corporal (not I!) calmly answered, "Yes, Jock. Can you get VD off a goat?", this being the most irrelevant question he could think of. There were a few chuckles and Jock, straight faced and unsmiling, went along with it and said, "It's not within my competency to give you a correct answer so I suggest that you put the question to Mr. Bentley (our RAF medical officer at the time) who will be better able to acquaint you with the likely consequences of your quaint habit". The corporal solemnly thanked him for the advice and with no further questions, the lecture ended.
There were a few occasions when Australian pilots who had been shot down or forced down over North Korean territory were rescued by American helicopters. Two of these were from 77 Squadron and the other was a Navy pilot who trained at Point Cook on No.2 Course, Neil Macmillan, with whom I was mildly acquainted. He came into Kimpo on two occasions while I was there. The first time was when he just appeared out of the blue and taxied his Firefly onto our 'hard standing' after having sighted the Meteors on his landing run. I walked over to find out why it had come to Kimpo and recognised him as he was leaving the cockpit. He told me that the reason for his visit was to have a bomb removed from his aircraft which had 'hung up', its non-release having been advised to him by another Firefly on the same mission. His flight commander had told him to have it removed because he could not be permitted to land back onto the carrier with a live bomb. At the time, the USAF base at Suwon was the nearest likely place to get the bomb removed but when he told the tower there why he wanted to land, they said he'd have to go elsewhere because they had a lot of returning aircraft on the way back and they would be put at risk if his live bomb were to be dislodged in the landing and maybe create a large hole in the runway plus a great deal of demolished Firefly wreckage which would compromise the chances of uneventful landings. Neil was very understanding and headed for Kimpo where he told the tower that he had an armament problem to attend to. I can still remember the look of horror on his face when I asked him, "What bomb?". I could see no bomb and neither could he. By this time, his observer-navigator mate was out on the tarmac and both of them got to work on their map to see just where they had been since making landfall. Neil needed access to a phone so I took them down to Stan Bromhead, our Ops. Officer, with an invitation to come to the Airmens' Bar for a drink after they'd been fed. When he arrived later in the evening, we had another minor Point Cook reunion as quite a few of the ground staff he knew from his training days were then in 77. Neil had a small problem which I was able to bring to a happy ending. He had managed to become the owner of a US issue .45 automatic but didn't have a holster for it so I volunteered to go over to the Yank lines and scrounge one for him. This was easy as I knew a Yank who had all manner of bits and pieces that could be used for trading and in the parlance of the business of favours, he "owed me one". I should explain that Neil had told me that he'd have to get back to the carrier if his departure would get him back for arrival in a "Landing On" period but that wasn't possible at that time. All told, we had a 'good night'. His next visit was per courtesy of a Yank chopper which extracted him and his observer from imminent capture when they were shot down during a ground attack mission. The other aircraft on the mission provided cover and fire at the enemy until the chopper was able to pick them up while under enemy fire. Some years later, after he had left the Navy, he was killed when the chopper he was flying hit power lines at Lake Eildon.
The two RAAF pilots who were pulled out by choppers were Cec Fry and Keith Meggs in the Mustang days. I have no knowledge of the details. There were quite a few times when 77 was called on to provide a Cover Air Patrol to protect downed US pilots as they waited for rescue by choppers. As Val Turner said, it could be dangerous out there.
Leaving 77 Squadron and going to No. 30 Transport Unit to work on yet another strange (to me!) aircraft, the DC3 Dakota, was the beginning of the last phase of my time in this, my only overseas posting. Fortunately, there was another corporal airframe-fitter there who had been in 77 for a while, Nick Robinson, and we were on very good terms. He helped me to ease myself into the new Unit and contrived to get us working together with a view to teaching me something about Dakotas. I had never worked on an American designed aircraft before this and I was agreeably surprised to discover that this was a machine that had been built to provide ease of maintenance whereas everything else I'd had to work on was comparatively awkward or downright difficult. Among the many Japanese employed by the RAAF at Iwakuni was a large proportion of ex-Japanese Air Force tradesmen who, while their status was split between "heavy and light" laborers, they did in fact do a lot of the inspection and servicing work on the aircraft, ostensibly under a RAAF airman's supervision. The Dakotas did most of their flying between Iwakuni and Seoul, two or three aircraft each making a daily trip. I believe Seoul was the destination chosen because it was where they could collect any Australian soldiers on the sick or wounded list. On return, the med-evac. aircraft would be met by a RAAF ambulance, usually driven by a Japanese, and with a RAAF nurse and Medical Officer on board. Some patients would be lodged in the RAAF hospital on the Base and the more serious would be taken by ambulance to the British General Hospital at Kure. This place had the reputation of a prison camp. Patients were not allowed to sit up in bed or on the edge of a bed without permission and the drill for the morning inspection by the MOs was that patients must "lie to attention".
One of the first things I did after reporting to this Unit was to discover that I had a nagging pain in my stomach and went to the hospital where I threw myself on the mercy of a young RAF doctor, David Hill, who had spent a couple of months with 77 and who had 'doctored' me at Kimpo when I was flattened by some weird Asian virus that was becoming fashionable at the time which happened to be in the depths of winter when the snow was more than a foot deep outside my tent. I remember it so well. I woke up in pain, feeling as though a small hungry crocodile was inside my stomach and gnawing at every organ within snapping distance. Seconds later, I was stumbling out of my camp stretcher into the pitch darkness outside the tent to embark on a 'chunder-fest' before plodding down to grace the six-holer with my pained presence. I don't think I've ever been so sick or depressed , before or since. After about three of these circuits, I crawled into the Medical tent where I roused Corporal Miller who, in turn, roused David Hill who looked after me for the next four days and kept me alive by feeding me some sort of sulpha tablets and the promise of a decent funeral if he erred on the dosage. So there I was, describing my stomach pain to David who told me that it could be a duodenal ulcer and that I'd have to go to the Hospital at Kure for diagnosis by a specialist there. Having heard the horror stories about that place, I was in a state of fear when he said that I might have to stay there 'for a while'. He was very sympathetic and agreed to give me a letter explaining that I was a rare kind of electronics specialist whose skills were urgently needed at Iwakuni. In the event, this worked as planned, and as fervently hoped, and I was sent back to Iwakuni with instructions to have all my meals at the Base hospital where I would be given the 'correct' diet. My problem was diagnosed as a duodenal ulcer.
The prospect of eating all my meals at the hospital gave me little joy, especially after I became acquainted with the regimen of diet. The operative word was "bland" and after nine months of first-class food with the Yanks at Kimpo and a fortnight of the same at Kawana during my leave, the contemplation of an ongoing diet was an anathema of the worst kind. Having regard to my new-found Epicurean tastes and long-time discriminating palate, "bland" was something of an obscene word and I was stuck with it. In fairness, I should point out that the food in the Airmens' Mess at Iwakuni was very good and of a standard never achieved by the "bait layers" masquerading as cooks in the Mess at Point Cook. The hospital cooks did their best to make the meals they gave me as attractive as their instructions would allow and I can remember only one occasion when I was considerably less than thrilled with what I was given for lunch. One of the RAAF nurses, Sister Wilson, in an effusion of sympathy for my deprivations, told me that she had made a special lunch item for me and proudly produced a stuffed, baked tomato. She even sat down with me to witness my delectation of what was, to me, the ultimate culinary obscenity. It has always been my contention that the tomato was truly one of our Creator's choicest gifts and that if it had been part of His plan to have it abused and vandalized by any sort of cooking process, then surely He would have made this clear through the words of the OT prophets or the saints of the NT. So there I was, with every hypocritical bone in my shameless body pretending to enjoy it and I'm sure that Sister Wilson was enjoying the The Moment as well.
There was quite a large number of Japanese men and women employed at Iwakuni by the RAAF. Cooks, guards, drivers, clerks and a variety of others all lumped together under the banner of "labourers". On the Dakota unit, there was a group whose job was to clean the returned aircraft, inside and out, in readiness for the next day's flying. Not long after I came back to Japan, there was some sort of industrial strife involving all "Native staff" as they were known which was centred, so I was told, on the conditions and terms of employment received from the Americans. It was therefore incumbent upon all such employees to go on strike for the sake of solidarity and the showing of at least a bit of muscle. The "senior" Japanese on our payroll was the ex-Army Finance Branch colonel who virtually "controlled" Base Squadron's Orderly Room where he had been employed since the early days of the Occupation. It was he who organised the strike. He prepared a list of "essential" staff who would be exempted from the strike, such as ambulance drivers, cooks and the patrolling night-time guards, leaving the burden of fighting for victory to those whose absence would not cause any serious inconvenience to the RAAF. The gang whose job it was to clean the Dakotas were "out" with the others but they told us that they would be on the job at 4 a.m. on the day after the strike to get the aircraft cleaned and ready to go. They were as good as their words. What was surprising was that they didn't think anything was wrong with that.
The RAAF operated the BCOF Auxiliary Radio Station at Iwakuni and I was at the bottom of the announcers' ladder when I went to Korea but just before I came back, most of the announcers had been posted back to Oz and suddenly, I was seized upon because of my previous experience and was given the 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift on alternate nights. The Signals Officer monitored our broadcasts and any departure from formality in our presentations would incur his displeasure. Before I left Kimpo, the Iwakuni Jeep Club ceased to exist and 'they' sold my Rabbit and gave me what I paid for it - five pounds.
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