The last remaining hut at Camden Airfield from the Second World War is still standing. It is Hut No 72. It is located adjacent to the current carpark.
Huts were built at the airfield for the arrival of the RAAF Central Flying School in 1940. Other flying schools were built at Bradfield Park in Sydney and Narromine around the same time. In December 1941 the personnel at the school included 45 officers, 422 airmen, with 48 officers and 81 airmen in various training courses. There were around 35 huts on the airfield that were used to accommodate the personnel and a variety of other uses.
The huts were quite rudimentary with a timber frame, built on wooden stumps. They were unlined and reportedly quite cold on a frosty Camden winter’s morning. They were only ever meant to be temporary accommodation and were erected quite quickly to cope with the large number of personnel that were moved onto the airfield in 1940. Generally each hut was 80 feet long.
In 1942 there were 24 accommodation huts with 3 for officers, 6 for sergeants and remainder for airmen. Officers and sergeants had their own cubicles within the huts and each hut accommodated 16 men. Other ranks had huts that were dormitory style and accommodated 26 men. Other huts were used as latrines, kitchen, messes, canteen, lecture rooms, base headquarters, stores, guard house, laundry, boiler room, recreation rooms, post office, medical hut, dental clinic, chaplain hut, amongst other uses. Hut No 72 was used as a clothing store.
There were 5 rows of huts with two rows of 14 on either side of the parade ground running NE-SE in direction. The huts were built in a U-shape around the parade ground going up the hill towards the entrance of the airfield.
A careful examination of the open ground around the present buildings will reveal the site of the huts to the keen observer. As the ground rises up the hill from the present carpark it is possible to just make out the flat area that each hut occupied in 1942. It is possible to imagine how the airmen moved in and around the site, and how personnel would line up for the daily parade. The noise and hub-bub of the site will talk to the observer as the breeze blows gently through the trees. The ghosts of times past are easy to imagine as the base was part of the defence of Australia.
John Postlethwaite in his The Early History of Southern Cross Gliding Club(2005) has described that even as late as 1953 much of the wartime atmosphere of the airfield was still intact and very much alive. He has described the airfield in the following terms.
The gliding people saw in 1953 was an almost intact example of a WW2 Air Force training base. Near the top of the hill at the bend in the road was a sentry box with boom gate and khaki painted wooden huts stretched in rows right down the hill to the hangers which were full of unwanted aircraft, mainly Avro Ansons. There was a khaki wooden control tower built on tall crossed-braced poles on the high side of the intersection of the main strip and the taxiway (which was the original cross-strip). Hardy souls who climbed this rickety structure all said “Never again!” The sand hills to the south of the field were full of cannon and machine gun rounds where the aircraft guns had been tested. That so much should have remained in 1953 was remarkable. But no one else visited the place and it was like an old movie set of WW2. The gliding people were even given the use of a few wooden huts.
Dick Hutchinson recalls that from the 1950s Hut No 72 was used by the air cadets.
It was one of a number that were made available to them. They were used as barracks, mess and orderly rooms. From the late 1960s Hut No 72 was used as orderly rooms and a classroom. The air cadets moved out in late 1990s when a new building was erected at the airfield.
In 2007 a group of aviation enthusiasts formed the Camden Aerodrome History Hut Association. They aimed to preserve the last original hut on the site of the airfield.
Camden Airfield RAAF Central Flying School 1940-1942
Australia’s entry into the Second World War created a demand for trained pilots. In July 1940 the Commonwealth Government acquired 468 acres of land on the Nepean River floodplain at Macquarie Grove `for defence purposes’ for an airfield.1 The site had been inspected in January 1940 for the RAAF by Wing-commander EC Bates (RAF).2 He had found it eminently suitable for the establishment of a flying training school. The Air Board had taken control of the airfield in April with the initial expectation for the airfield to house 150 men and 50 aircraft.3 According to reports the airfield had an ideal location with a long runway (1100 feet), clear approaches, room for expansion and existing hangars.4 The site had the advantage of a good surface, reasonable weather throughout the year, and quiet rural surroundings.
Purpose of School
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Minister for Air, Mr JV Fairbairn had appointed Squadron-leader EC Bates as the commanding officer of the new Central Flying School and Flight-lieutenant GS Coleman as the Chief Flying Instructor. The purpose of the school was to train RAAF instructors.5 The Commonwealth Government also set up training schools at Bradfield Park in Sydney and at Narromine around the same time.6
According to the Sydney Morning Herald the full establishment of the school consisted of headquarters, a flying squadron of four flights and equipment, accounting and workshop sections, that would ultimately consist of 385 men. There was to be a permanent staff of 28 flying instructors. The regular intake of potential instructors when the school is in full swing would be 55, compromising 25 civil pilots and 30 service pilots. There would also be link trainer’s instructors course.7 One of the first training courses at the flying school involved 13 British Royal Air Force officers who arrived for training for an instructors conversion course in June 1940.
The purpose of the school was flying training and administrative duties for selected officers and airmen of the RAAF so that could be flying instructors at RAAF Service Flying Training Schools throughout the country. The programmes conducted included training pilots in courses that lasted 16 weeks, air observers courses of 12 weeks, wireless operator’s courses of 16 weeks, and air gunners courses of four weeks.8 There were four Flights – A,B,C,D. The commanding officer of C Flight was Flight-lieutenant LN Ford. He commanded 35 officers, NCO’s and other airmen. Flights A,B and D had similar numbers. The aircraft used for training included Avro-Ansons, Airspeed Oxford, Tiger Moths and Wirraways while the Avro-Cadets were seen as `ideal’ for flying.
Movement from Point Cook Victoria
The flying school shifted from Point Cook to Camden in March, 1940 using aircraft, motor transport section vehicles and private cars. `C’ Flight was the first to move and due to temporary lack of accommodation a number of airmen were put up for a two weeks at Podesta’s Hotel in Camden. The move from Point Cook to Camden involved 48 Avro-Ansons and 2 Wirraways. The personnel included Wing Commander EC Bates (RAF), Squadron-leader GS Coleman, seven Flight-lieutenants, 23 flying-officers, ten pilot-officers, 132 airmen.9 By December 1941 the personnel at the school included staff 45 officers, 422 airmen, with 48 officers and 81 airmen in various training courses. Bates was commanding officer from 18 May 1940 to 11 May 1941 and was replaced by Wing-commander DJ Eayrs (RAF).
The staff of the flying school consisted of RAAF instructors, as well as former commercial airline pilots and private instructors. For example, GS Coleman, was the chief flying instructor at the Royal Aero Club and the Kingsford Smith Air Service Co at Mascot before the war.
While the Department for Air had control of the airfield they lengthened the runway to 1000 feet, built huts for officers and the airmen, completed new hangers to house training aircraft, erected a control tower, Macquarie Grove house had been converted into the officers’ mess, a hospital was added and there had been the completion of a parade ground, roads and lawns. The Central Flying School was described by on aviation correspondent as ‘the nerve centre’ of the Empire Training Scheme in Australia.
Movie Shoot The Power and the Glory
In 1940 Camden airfield was the location for the film The Power and the Glory and some CFS personnel played at important part. The black and white film was directed and produced by Noel Monkman was made by Argosy Films. The cast included heart-throb Peter Finch, with Lou Vernon, Eric Bush and Katrin Rosselle. The plot was one where a Czech scientist accidentally discovers a new poison gas and he escapes to Australia rather than give the secret to the Nazis. In Australia he goes to work for the government, but is plagued by spies desperate to obtain the formula. Camden airmen were involved in a scene where there was enemy infiltration on the coast near Bulli, with the sighting of an enemy submarine. Five Avro-Anson aircraft from Camden airfield were directed to seek-and-bomb the submarine. Wirraway aircraft acted as fighters and the `pilots’ were the `good looking’ airmen who worked in the mess. During the filming a grassfire was accidentally started on the western side of the airfield along the Nepean River and was the cause of much confusion among the film crew. The base fire unit contained the fire and it eventually burnt itself out. The `bombing’ effect was achieved by digging a deep hole in the ground between the landing wheels of the Avro-Anson and a few bales of straw were placed at the bottom of the hole. The bombs were released and fell into the hole with the camera down at ground level to give the proper effect. All the personnel from the flying school were shown a special screening of the film at the Paramount Theatre so they could see themselves. There was much amusement from the crowd to see how effective faking can be in the movie business.10
In August 1940 the airfield and flying school was inspected by the Governor of New South Wales, Lord Wakehurst.11
Visit for Americans
In the last few weeks that the flying school operated at the airfield they were privileged by a short visit from a squadron of American Bell P-40 Aircobras. The first aircraft arrived at the end of March 1942 and by the 2nd April there 11 aircraft and 117 personnel. The number of American airmen peaked the following week when there was a total of 25 aircraft. Their stay was short lived and they soon departed, with all personnel leaving by the 15 April 1942.12
In 1942 the flying school the hospital had a dentist, RM Kavanaugh,13 as well the welfare of the base was looked after by the Rev. AA Adams, a Presbyterian minister.14
Security was always an issue. There was a guard post on the entry road to the airfield, although airmen who had been in Sydney had no trouble getting onto the base late on a Sunday night. There was a ban on the taking of photos in the vicinity of the airfield and in March 1941 someone was reportedly taking pictures around Macquarie Grove. The police investigated the matter and found that it was the `well known’ press photographer Mr SHE Young of Fairfield.15
Access to the town for most airmen was restricted in March 1942 when there was heavy rain and the Macquarie Grove bridge covered by 2½ feet of water.16
The Town of Camden
The town welcomed the airmen from the beginning and Camden was always seen as RAAF leave town. Soldiers from the Narellan Army Camp were always discouraged from coming into the town. In 1941 a contingent airmen from the flying school was present at the Anzac Day ceremony.17 Some officers lived in Camden, for example, Squadron Leader Ford lived in Elizabeth Street in the house next door to the station master.18
Time Off and Leave
Relaxation was always considered important by military authorities and the servicemen at the airfield were no exception. In 1940 the RAAF personnel at the school were made honorary members of the Kirkham Country Golf Club.19 On 9 January 1941 the RAAF A cricket team gained outright win over Campbelltown and was in second place behind Narellan in the Camden District Association first-grade competition. By 16 January 1940 the RAAF team were on top of district cricket.20 According to Claude Whitfield (1941-42) airmen who were wearing `cricket creams’ could leave the airfield without a leave pass, while other without passes could not leave.21
In January 1941 the Central Flying School Swimming Club used the swimming pool at the Nepean Picnic Reserve for training for the inter-station carnival at North Sydney Olympic Pool. In October 1941 the swimming club asked the council to clean out the swimming pool at River Reserve in Chellaston Street.22 An athletics sports meeting was held on Onslow Park on 16 April 194123 and the CFS Rugby Football and Recreation Club were using Onslow Park.24 The rugby union joined the local competition later that year, but despite local goodwill the Council objected to the RAAF playing football on Sundays at Onslow Park. After protests from the airmen the Council amended its regulations so that games could proceed.25 This was not the only time this occurred in Camden during the war.
Tea and Scones
In 1940 and 1941 correspondents recall with fondness Mrs FA (Sylvia) Macarthur-Onslow who lived in the old house next to Hassall Cottage. She gave tea and scones to airmen on a Friday, nights as well they would play cards, read a book, play bingo and singing around the piano. She was a `lovely old lady’ who provided some family touches to home sick young airmen. Only about ten to fifteen officers and airmen were selected at a time to visit the house. Local women from the district churches and CWA auxiliary also attended these functions. These evenings were organised by Squadron-leader Fred Huxley and were eagerly awaited by the airmen. CR Portch remembers that Mrs Macarthur-Onslow had a particularly large great dane that moved among the airmen as they had their sing-a-long.26
Soldiers’ Recreation Room in Camden
The Camden AH&I Society opened a ‘Soldier’s Recreation Room’ in the supper room in the hall at the showground in June 1940 for the airmen and soldiers based in the area. It was strongly supported by Dr Robert Crookston and George Sidman, a Methodist and owner of the Camden News. It was staffed by women from the Camden Women’s Voluntary Services, under the presidency of Crookston’s wife, Zoe. It had mixed patronage and could not compete with the local hotels. It was out of the way and was largely set up as an alcohol free venue for local airmen and soldiers. This might have suited the morality of some local townsfolk but not the more pragmatic men on active service at the military bases in the area. These military establishments included the airfield, the Eastern Command Training School at Studley Park and Narellan Military Camp. The Room was closed in March 1942 when the 11th Casualty Clearing Station, a mobile hospital unit, requisitioned the hall.
Move to West Tamworth in 1942
The whole flying school was transferred to Tamworth in mid April 1942. One corporal, four cooks and six officers departed on 17 April 1942, while 13 officers and 216 airmen travelled to Tamworth by rail and 11 officers and 19 airmen departed by road. The aircraft moved consisted of 14 CAC trainers, nine Wirraways, 18 Avro Trainers, and eight Oxfords.27
1 Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, No.134; National Trust of Australia (NSW), Listing Card, 19 January 1987
2 CR Portch, Letters to ICW, 17 November 1986, 10 January 1987, 4 May 1987
3 Camden News, 11 November 1940.
4 Camden News, 4 April 1940
5 Sydney Morning Herald 23 May 1940 p.11.
6 Sydney Morning Herald 23 May 1940 p.11.
7 Sydney Morning Herald 23 May 1940 p.11
8 Camden News, 4 April, 1940
9 Movement Order No 2, Movement Order No 1, Central Flying School, Point Cook, 14 May 1940; Nominal Roll of Staff, CFS,Camden, 1 June 1940;
10 CR Portch, Letter to ICW, 10 January 1987, 4 May 1987
11 Wakehurst visited the airfield on 13 August 1940.
12 Operations Record Book, CFS, Camden.
13 Register of Dentists, NSW Government Gazette 1942, p.619
14 Register of Ministers of Religion, NSW Government Gazette 1942, p200
15 Camden Advertiser, 6 March 1941
16 Operations Record Book, CFS, Camden, May, 1940 to April, 1942
17 Camden News, 3 April 1941
18 Claude Whitfield, Interview, 3 January 1988
19 Camden News, 6 June, 1940
20 Camden Advertiser, 9 January, 1941; 16 January, 1941
21 Claude Whitfield, Interview, 3 January 1988
22 Camden Municipal Council Minutes, 13 January 1941, Camden Advertiser, 23 January 1941; Camden Municipal Council Minutes, 13 October 1941, 24 November 1941;
23 Camden News, 3 April 1941
24 Camden Municipal Council Minutes, 28 April 1941
25 Camden Advertiser, 5 June 1941; Camden Municipal Council Minutes, 23 June 1941, 14June 1941;
26 Claude Whitfield, Interview, 3 January 1988; CR Portch, Letters to ICW, 17 November 1986, 10 January 1987, 4 May 1987;
27 Movement Orders
Image RAAF Central Flying School Camden 1941 (RAAF CFS)
Camden has hosted 32 Squadron RAAF since the time of the Second World War. The members of the squadron have developed a special relationship with the local community that has been marked by tragedy and celebrations. This is their story.
The members of 32 Squadron arrived in Camden in September 1942 after seven months of hazardous operational duties supporting Allied Forces in New Guinea and the surrounding area, including New Britain. The squadron had been ‘hastily formed in the field’ in February 1942 with personnel drawn from other units.1 Large scale air attacks on Rabaul in January 1942 had resulted in the virtual elimination of the 24 Squadron, and this was followed by the invasion of New Britain by the Japanese forces (23 January 1942). The war was not going particularly well for the Allied Forces. There was the loss of Singapore (15 February), the commencement of an air campaign against Darwin, the country’s major northern port city (19 February) and the Japanese invasion of Timor (20-23 February).2
These events led to the formation of 32 Squadron. It was drawn from the survivors of 24 Squadron, who had reformed at Port Moresby with a flight of Hudson bombers. Two more flights of Hudsons, one from 6 Squadron, Richmond (New South Wales) and 23 Squadron, Archerfield (Queensland) were flown in to add to the strength. At this point the squadron had a strength of 12 Hudsons and crews and 124 maintenance staff.3 The duties of the squadron included bombing and reconnaissance against Japanese bases at Rabaul and Gasmata bases, landings at Lae and Salamaua, the Gona-Buna and Milne Bay campaigns, the Coral Sea battle, as well as anti-submarine and convoy patrols and supply drops to ground forces. During the eight months of combat operations the squadron flew over 400 missions lost 10 aircraft, with 54 killed in action.4 Lyle Abraham claims that 32 Squadron was the only Australian squadron to be formed ‘in the field’.5
Tour of Duty in New Guinea
After their tour of duty in New Guinea the squadron was initially posted to Pokolbin, New South Wales, but were then moved to Camden in late 1942.6 DK Saxelby, an electrician from the Camden base maintenance group, recalled on their arrival that the squadron were
‘a much battered battered band of men. Their clothes were the worst for wear having literally rotted off their backs from the humid climate and replacements destroyed by the enemy. Their footwear was falling to pieces’.7
On their arrival the squadron was equipped with 4 Lockheed Hudsons and 6 Avro Ansons under the command of DW Kingwell. The Hudsons were a 5-crew medium bomber. They were the main Australian bomber in New Guinea until 1943. The aircraft were considered slow with a top speed of 246mph. They were a ‘relatively easy’ target for Japanese gunners and Zero fighters, but they were the only aircraft available at the time.8
Commanding Officers 32 Squadron RAAF
21 February 1942
W/C DW Kingwell
4 February 1943
W/C JF Lush
10 May 1943
W/C PA Parker
30 August 1943
W/C IH Smith
9 December 1943
S/L CA Loneragan (Temporary)
30 May 1944
S/L OF Barton
28 August 1944
W/C R Homes
28 February 1945
W/C DW Campbell
29 August 1945
F/L LG Brown
Source: WA Paull, 60th Anniverary 32 Squadron
Operational Duties at Camden Airfield
The squadron’s operational duties at Camden included reconnaissance and sea patrols off the east coast of Australia. The squadron did night patrols covering the east coast of Australia from Bundaberg to Mallacootta, Queensland. The Bristol Beauforts, which the squadron was using from March 1943, were fitted with radar and was a ‘very closely guarded at the time’. There were also detached flights at Coffs Harbour and Bundaberg.9 PJ Squires recalls that during his time at Camden between May and December 1943 the role of the squadron was anti-submarine protection for coastal convoys using depth charges. Air cover was given from Bega to Bundaberg by moving aircraft.10 Harry Simpson recalls that his Beaufort crew undertook anti-submarine patrols at night using radar protecting convoys sailing off the east coast. The crew escorted convoys off the east coast. His crew also took part in general training including ‘fighter cooperative attacks’ and high and low level bombing practice.11 The crews were constantly flying between Camden, Mascot, Bundaberg, Coffs Harbour, Amberly, Richmond, Williamtown, Evan’s Head and Moruya12 as well as Nabiac, Southport, Hervey Bay, Archerfield, Tocumwal and Canberra.13
The log book of John Murphy shows that on 26 February 1943 the squadron did anti-submarine patrol while convoying the Queen Mary, the Acquatania and the Ile de France.14 Another member of the squadron recalled that the squadron did convoy duty for the Queen Elizabeth when it brought he 6th Division back from Africa.15 Leo Reid recalls one mission undertaken by his crew that took place on 16 May 1943 (two nights after the Centaur hospital ship was sunk off Brisbane) when their Beaufort made contact with a submarine five miles off Coffs Harbour. The plane dropped 6 bombs on and around the submarine. They were credited with a ‘D’ assessment (damaged and possibly unable to reach base). The Beaufort was crewed by pilot F/S G Liddell, Navigator F Westphalen, WAGs E Shipley & L Reid.16 Jock Sharpe’s Beaufort crew was: F/O Harry Kemp, F/S Peter Bowers, F/S Colin Sinclair, F/O JM (Jock) Sharpe (WAG).17 Harry Simpson’s Beaufort crew was: F/L WJ (Bill) Hoddinott, Pilot, F/O Peter King, Navigator, F/O HB (Bill) Simpson, Gunnery Leader, Wireless and Radar Operator, F/O CJ (Chuck) Owens, Wireless Airgunner, Tail Gunner.18
While a part of B Flight at Coffs Harbour, Bill Paull recalls that the crew of a Beaufort, pilotted by F/L Harrison, while on night patrol disabled a Japanese submarine with depth charges. The crew returned to Coffs Harbour and asked for a 250lb anti-submarine bomb to sink the disabled submarine. They tried to skip the bomb into the submarine as they did in the Bay of Biscay. On inspection of the area the next morning they found the submarine had disappeared but there was an oil slick 1/2 mile wide and 3 miles long and the crew was credited with a possible sinking.19
Alan Wailes recalls training exercise with military units. One exercise with a searchlight company involved flying over Port Kembla at around 5000 feet so that the searchlight crews could practice homing in on an approaching aircraft. ‘We went back and forth for almost 2 hours with the searchlight beams tracking all over the sky but nowhere near us’. In the end the crew had to turn on their landing lights so that the searchlights could find them. Another exercise involved flying over Dover Heights and giving the ack-ack units some practice. ‘We spent 3 hours flying in from all directions to really keep these chaps on their toes’. Wailes claims that after a pre-dawn patrol ‘there was nothing more relaxing than to be coming in right over Sydney Harbour just on sunrise and to be able to take in the scenic wonders’.20
By the end of May 1943 the squadron was re-equipped with a total of seven Beaufort.21 PJ Squires recalls that eventually the squadron had 12 aircraft. The Beauforts were used for night cover using radar, while day cover was given by Avro Ansons.22 Lindsay Fromm notes that he wrote in his diary that an Airacobra landed at Camden in April 1943, and in May the CO (Lush) took the Boomerang out for a flight. A Spitfire squadron arrived at Camden in May 1943 and later in the month flew to out Darwin.23 By late 1943 Jock Sharpe recalls there were 24 Beaufort aircraft on the base.24
Accommodation at Camden Airfield
While stationed at Camden the squadron’s accommodation consisted of eight huts that were located on the rise on the eastern side of the current carpark, which was then the parade ground. There was also an operations rooms in the same area of the airfield. At the same time the Macarhur Onslow family, who lived in Hassall Cottage, had their small plane in a hanger located slightly north of the Bellman hangars. The squadron’s officer’s mess was in Macquarie Grove house, while the sergeant’s mess was located in a building on the rise east of the officer’s mess. The airfield tower was located west of the Bellman hangars on the grass verge adjacent to the taxi-ing areas.25 The huts were standard arrangements for RAAF personnel. The officers had individual rooms and the ranks were accommodated ‘barrack style’. There was a small hospital staffed by several male orderlies. Jock Sharpe does not recall any female personnel on the base during his posting at the airfield in 1943.26 Not everyone lived on the base, particularly the married men, and Leo Reid recalls that he and his wife lived in a flat in John opposite Dr Crookston’ house.27 (Letter, Reid, 30/12/86) Harry Simpson recalls that after his marriage to wife Marjorie that lived off the station when he was not flying. They lived in flat supplied by Matron Berry of Camden Hospital and then for many months with Mrs Dickenson, who lived at 10 Chellaston Street. His wife, Marjorie, worked with Yvonne Dickenson at the local dentist, Campbell Graham.28
Free Time and Recreation
Recreation provided a release from the constant stress of operations. Shortly after their arrival in Camden the squadron held a dinner in the big hanger and entertainment was provided by Chips Rafferty and a magician. Everyone enjoyed themselves and ‘a lot of beer was drunk’. In late in 1942 a number of the squadron assembled a Gypsy Minor, (FROMM, PHOTOGRAPH) while the Christmas dinner was held in camp. The officers and sergeants waited on the lower ranks and ‘helped us drink our Christmas cheer’.29 The men usually went to Sydney when they were given leave traivelling by train and staying at Air Force House in Sydney. Allan Diprose recalls that he went with other airmen to local dances and he attended the Presbyterian Church and the local Masonic Lodge.30 PJ Squires maintains that 70% of the squadron’s time was away from Camden consquently the men had little or no interaction with the local community. Any leave they were given they spent in Sydney.31 DK Saxelby recalls that he was given the duty of looking after the base switchboard at night. He slept beside the board and took messages that came in at night. He remembers that ‘this was good’ because in quiet periods he was to have a chat the girls at the telephone exchange in Camden.32 Harry Simpson recalls that he and his wife spent most of Harry’s leave in Sydney and on one occasion spent several weeks with Mrs King at Thirroul.33 Alan Wailes recalls that while he was at Camden he flew a Tiger Moth aircraft and had ‘an enjoyable time skithering around the sky’. (he was a WAG). They played golf, which according to Wailes, was ‘ a great way to relax as the course bordered the bushland countryside of the Macarthur-Onslow sheep property’. He took part in ‘organised clay pigeon shooting which, apart from being a sporting outing, enabled us gunners to keep our eye in with moving targets. Then when we felt a need to vary the Base menu we would venture into Camden town to enjoy a good steak followed by a dessert of honeydew melon, which they thought were green ‘rockies’.34
Many members of the squadron made friends with local people during the war years.35 Lyle Abraham claimed that Camden people ‘were so warm and friendly that we felt like being back at home’.36 Most airmen who corresponded with the author do not recall a great level of interaction with the local community. Alan Wailes maintains that this was not really the fault of the aircrews. Most airmen had little contact with local residents because of the varying flying times that most crews had to put up with, especially when undertaking night patrols.37
Flood at Camden
The weather always played an influential role in the conduct of operations. On 20 May 1943 the airfield was flooded and cut-off from the town for a week and no-one could get in or out of the camp.38 Reid remembered that their Beaufort became bogged after leaving the runway when taxi-ing to the hangers.39 Photographs of the flooded airfield show floodwater stretching from the bottom of Exeter Street across the river to the lower part of the airfield adjacent to the fuel dumps. The flood water also came up to the sentry boxes on the gravel entrance road to the airfield, which the constant rain had made almost impassible. (PHOTO, CHS) Bill Paul remembers the 1943 flood and how their way along Kirkham Lane to the station at Elderslie. They had to put their clothes over their heads and hold onto the fence wire to get to the station.40
The ‘peaceful and beautiful surroundings of the cowpasture country [sic]’ contrasted with the ‘grim’ days of aerial combat in New Guinea, and while at Camden a member of the squadron recalled that
it took a long time flying in the near serenity of Camden to diminish or erase in the squadron’s memory the desparation and frustration of those grim eight months in New Guinea – if ever they will be erased.41
But the tranquility ‘of this lovely area’ of rural countryside surrounding the town could be deceptive, and flying out of Camden airfield was not without its own risks.42 Three crews were lost in accidents while on operations at Camden and ten of the airmen were buried in the Camden war cemetery.
Loss of Aircraft
The first accident occurred on 3 November 1942 and resulted in the loss of all five crew. Two Hudsons had been despatched from Camden airfield to investigate a report of a Japanese submarine 480 km east of Sydney around 5pm. At the time there were atrocious weather conditions and the pilot of one aircraft abandoned the mission after a short search and landed safely at Mascot. The pilot of the second Hudson became disoriented and crossed the coastline near Port Kembla. It was sighted by personnel on duty at the Windang searchlight battery. They estimated the height of the aircraft at 250-300 metres. The aircraft proceeded across the Lake, and was spotted again, this time by the searchlight battery at Koonawarra Bay. The aircraft flew on and then crashed in to Bong Bong Mountain west of Dapto around 9.15pm. A number of local residents in the area heard the plane pass overhead and then heard the explosion of the crash. Local residents reached the crash site aroung midnight and found no survivors.43 Lindsay Fromm recalled that duty personnel from Camden left the base the following day and arrived early the next morning to Dapto and made their way to the crash sight after a long climb through through the rainforest. The bodies were removed that afternoon. The wings of the aircraft were slide down the mountain to be taken away by truck. ‘The rest of the place was piled on the four bombs and the army detonated them after notifying the wide area’. The loss of the crew was a ‘sad event’ for the squadron.44 An inquest was held in Wollongong four weeks later. The squadron’s commanding officer suggested at the inquest that in the bad weather the pilot may have become lost and confused Lake Illawarra with Botany Bay and hence not realised that he was headed toward the Illawarra Enscarpment at a low altitude.45
The second accident occurred on 26 January 1943 at Camden airfield. It involved the crash of a Hudson and the loss of all five crew members. The accident report stated that the aircraft crashed shortly after take off in wooded country south-west of Camden around the middle of the day. The aircraft was apparently in ‘an inverted position when it struck the ground’. The third accident occurred on 17 November 1943 with the crash of a Beaufort the death of all five crew members. The aircraft had crashed into the side of Saddleback Mountain, west of Kiama, around midnight while on a night cross-country training exercise.46
Other minor incidents also kept ground crews busy. A Hudson overshot the runway on 8 January 1943 hitting the bank and collapsing the undercarriage, another crashed on take off and was moved into the hangar by the Rescue and Salvage Unit, while another crashed into a gutter and was taken away by road. On 13 May 1943 a Beaufort crashed on take-off and hit a number of stumps on the hill at the end of the runway. The plane was a complete write-off, but the crew were able to walk away with minor scratches after getting out through a hole torn in the fuselage.47
Anxious Night Patrols
Alan Wailes remembers some anxious moments on a night patrol off the coast in bad weather. ‘We were making our way back to the coast at the conclusion of a patrol when we ran into an extremely heavy sea fog – perhaps we would be through it in a short while. I was on wireless/radar watch at the time and ‘glued’ myself to the radar screen hoping for a landfall recording at any time – the screen was blank, was it working alright? (In those early days the equipment was barely adequate and with limited range.) My thought momentarily wanded to a week or so earlier when one of our aircraft returning under similar circumstances, slammed into the coastal mountain range at Foxground near Gerrigong. Military secrecy at the time kept the public unaware of the crash until a timber cutter stumbled on the wreck days later. I was one of the pall bearers at the funeral of the crew of four’. Wailes laconically recalls that there was ‘a strange thing about many mainland bases we used (including Camden) there always seemed to be a cemetery just over the fence at the end of the runway’. He stated that ‘we didn’t really need a reminder of our ‘precarious occupation’.48
On another occasion their aircraft had a hydraulic failure. Their undercarriage would not come down, the wing flaps would not operate and there were no wheel brakes. After circling Camden airfield for an hour and trying a number of attempts to lower the undercarriage the pilot successfully put the aircraft on the runway, just clearing the fence and cruising to a stop at the end of the runway.49
In January 1944 Harry Simpson recalls that the squadron was relocated to Menangle Park, where they were involved in extensive training, before moving to Gould Airfield in the Northern Territory in February.50 By May the remainder of the squadron was transferred to Lowood, Queensland where the squadron was eventually disbanded in November 1945.51
Squadron Reunions at Camden
In the postwar period many airmen from the squadron got together for regular reunions, with a number were held in Camden. Postwar reunions have had an important social and theraputic event for members of the squadron. They would rekindled the camaraderie and ‘strong bonds forged by ordeal and comradeship’ between the men that made up the squadron.52
The reunions allowed the men to relive the glory days of the war. They also provided a theraputic role in that the veterans understood each other and did not have to explain or justify themselves to others. The war played a pivotal role in the lives of these airmen and its played an important focus for their memories which are played in their reunions. The reunsion allows the veterans to relive their unique experiences amongst who were there. They relived times and events in their lives that they often have not even spoken about to their families. Stephen Garton has maintained in The Cost of War that
the traditional war narrative of men is one of self-realisation. War represented the attainment of an ideal of manliness – in physical action, bravery, self-control, courage, and, more importantly for many, male comradeship.’53
According to Garten this ideal was fostered at school, in sport and in the boy scouts and as the homefront was constructed as ‘a feminised space’ the reunion allowed the airmen to relive their warrior days. Many veterans found that return to civilian life created feelings of restlessness and dissatisfaction, where they missed the ‘vibrancy of war’. They felt that those on the homefront did not ‘comprehend the enormity of their experiences’ and they craved the company of their former colleagues.54 The reunion provided this experience and rekindled bonds. For the airmen of the 32 Squadron their annual get together and five yearly reunions fulfilled these requirements.55 Keith Nelson felt that there was always ‘a lot to talk about’.56
The squadron held their 45th anniversary reunion in Camden in May 1987. Their program included a welcome by the Mayor, Dr Elizabeth Kernohan, on the Saturday, followed by a tour of Camden Airfield, a tour of the Camden Museum of Aviation at Narellan and a visit to Gledswood. On the Sunday there was a remembrance address at the Camden Cenotaph and an ecumenical service at St John’s Anglican Church. The organisers of the reunion stated that the Sunday program had been arranged as a special ‘thank you’ to Camden townsfolk.57
Around 70 squadron members and their families attended the 50th anniversary in Camden in February 1992. This was the largest and most successful reunion held in Camden. Reunion organiser Colin Butterworth stated that the celebrations commenced on the Friday with a civic reception followed by the reunion dinner. On Saturday the veterans marched along Argyle Street and took part in a flag-raising ceremony at the John Street intersection, with a fly-over by the RAAF Roulettes. Mayor Theresa Testoni granted the squadron membership of the muncipality and presented the squadron with a citation. Led by the Campbelltown-Camden band playing ‘The 32 Squadron March’ the party moved onto the Camden RSL Bowling Club for the squadron luncheon. Celebrations on Sunday commenced with an address at the Camden Cenotaph with a fly-over by four Hawker Siddley aircraft from the new No.32 Squadron (based at Sale, Victoria) and a tree planting. This was followed by an ecumenical service at St John’s Anglican Church. An editorial in the Camden Crier maintained that the squadron’s choice of Camden for its reunion was a ‘high compliment’. Colin Butterworth felt that members of squadron regarded themselves at the unofficial ‘City of Camden’ Squadron because of the close affiliation between the townsfolk and the squadron.
The squadron held its 55th anniversary in Camden in 1997 and was attended by 20 members. On the Sunday a remembrance ceremony was held at the Camden cenotaph in Macarthur Park. In 2002 the 60th anniversary of the squadron was remembered with a tree planting ceremony in Macarthur Park.58 It was the last anniversary to be held in Camden.
1 ’32 Squadron’, Online at here, Accessed on 28 October 2005.
2 Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought, The Encyclopaedia of Australia’s Battles, St Leonards: Allen & Unwin,1998, pp. 199, 202-207.
3 Camden Crier, 13 May 1987.
4 Macarthur Advertiser 13 May 1987; Camden Crier 12 February 1992; Camden-Wollondilly Advertiser 26 February 2002.
5 LJ Abraham, Correspondence, 22 June 1999
6 Macarthur Advertiser 13 May 1987
7 DK Saxelby, Correspondence, 5 May 1999
8 Peter Dennis, Jeffrey Grey, Evan Morris, Robin Prior & John Connor, The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 297.
9 L Reid, Correspondence, 30 December 1986; J Sharpe, Corresponence, 23 June 1999.
10 PJ Squires, Corresponence, 23 September 1999.
11 HB Simpson, Correspondence, 20 July 1999.
12 HB Simpson, Correspondence, 20 July 1999.
13 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 21 March 2002.
14 J Murphy, Correspondence, 30 September 1992.
15 Camden Crier 13 May 1987
16 L Reid, Correspondence, 30 December 1986.
17 J Sharpe, Correspondece, 23 June 1999.
18 HB Simpson, Correspondece, 20 July 1999.
19 W Paull, Correspondece, 20 September 1999.
20 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 3 March 2002.
21 Camden Crier 12 February 1992, 26 February 1992; F Ellem, Correspondence, 14 November 1986; LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999.
22 PJ Squires, Correspondence, 23 September 1999.
23 LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999.
24 J Sharpe, 23 June 1999.
25 L Reid, Correspondence, 30 December 1986.
26 J Sharpe, Correspondence, 23 June 1999.
27 L Reid, Correspondence, 30 December 1986.
28 HB Simpson, 20 July 1999.
29 LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999.
30 AR Diprose, Correspondence, 21 June 1999.
31 PJ Squires, Correspondence, 23 September 1999.
32 DK Saxelby, Correspondence, 5 May 1999.
33 HB Simpson, Correspondence, 20July 1999.
34 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 3 March 2002
35 Camden Crier 12 February 1992.
36 Camden – Wollondilly Advertiser 26 February 2002
37AF Wailes, Correspondence, 26 Septembe 1999.
38 LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999
39 L Reid, 30 December 1986.
40 WA Paull, Correspondence, 20 September 1999
41 Camden Crier 13 May 1987
42 Camden Crier 13 May 1987, 12 February 1992
43 B Tate, ‘Fire on the Mountain, Illawarra Mercury, 30 December 1995.
44 LG Fromm, 10 August 1999
45 B Tate, ‘Fire on the Mountain, Illawarra Mercury, 30 December 1995.
46 RAAF Historical, Canberra.
47 LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999
48 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 3 March 2002
49 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 3 March 2002
50 HB Simpson, Correspondence, 23 July 1999
51 Camden Crier 12 February 1992
52 Camden Crier 13 May 1987
53 Stephen Garton, The Cost of War, Australians Return, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 20
55 Camden Crier 12 February 1992
56 Macarthur Chronicle 18 February 1992
57 Macarthur Advertiser 13 May 1987
58 Camden Crier 12 February 1992, 19 February 1992, 26 February 1992, 19 February 1997; Camden – Wollondilly Advertiser 26 February 2002
First published in Camden History, Journal of the Camden Historical Society, September 2009