In North Queensland in the late-1970s it seemed that there were precious few people interested in aviation heritage, or at least that’s how it appeared to this [then] teenage university student. Those few did manage nonetheless to find each other and spend long hours together exchanging tidbits concerning the region’s rich aeronautical heritage. As the youngest of this unlikely gathering I had the most to learn, and the least to offer. And so I hung off every word they uttered, scribbling down both fact and rumour.
At one such evening gathering, in December 1978, Neil Groves produced a blurry photograph of a Fairey Battle displayed – so he claimed – in front of All Souls’ School in Charters Towers. Thanks to the internet, I’ve recently been able to determine the likely identity (viz. K9411) of that particular aircraft. For decades this had eluded me, my notes from thirty-seven years ago indicating, misleadingly, that it may have been KB411.
Officially K9411 was sold in March 1947 by the Commonwealth Disposals Commission to the Townsville Grammar school for £5, the sale having been reported in the local paper the previous September 21st (p.2):
The trustees of the Townsville Grammar School have recently completed the purchase of a Fairey Battle fighter bomber from Commonwealth Disposals. On Friday morning the body and wings were delivered at the School, causing considerable excitement amongst the scholars. The plane will be mounted in an area facing Paxton Street. It is stated the ‘plane is equipped with a Rolls Royce engine, which has never been used, and was valued in war-time at about £3000. A similar machine has already been purchased by All Souls’ School at Charters Towers.
The same RAAF source (i.e. Form E/E.88) identifies this last aircraft as K9324. These official records however have to be regraded with some circumspection since, as on this occasion, they did not not record the actual turn of events – K9411’s sale to the Townsville Grammar School having never proceeded. As mentioned briefly in a report to City Council the following year concerning the Grammar School’s aeroplane, ‘it was regretted the offer could not [now] be accepted.’ (Townsville Daily Bulletin, 18 April 1947, p.8).
Being orphaned, and nearby, K9411 may have simply been substituted for K9324?
So whatever became of the North Queensland’s Fairey Battle? As explained by the School’s Principal in 1980…
The plane was purchased by the School for an aviation class conducted by Mr R L Mills (Headmaster) and Mr D J FitzGerald. The aircraft did not fly and was simply used to used to illustrate various principles.
My starry-eyed hopes of possibly rediscovering the Battle – or parts thereof – in a seldom-visited outbuilding were also dashed just a few years later by the following advice from Frank Millett (who taught at All Souls’ after the Second World War):
‘Bidge Mills’ was O.C. Air Cadets for the region so I suppose this was the reason the School was offered this aircraft. The plane was placed near the main entrance from the Townsville Road. It stood out in the open, was subjected to much pilfering, and soon deteriorated in appearance. Consequently Canon Hurst decided to get rid of it and it was sold to a wrecker who had a forge operating in Sam Hill’s old blacksmith’s shop near the corner of Bridge and Plant Streets.
This furnace ran non-stop for all of six months and was fed all the army and airforce junk which littered the landscape after the war. I think this happened in 1949 – 1950. It was a pity it had to go but it would have taken a lot of money to preserve it…The School just couldn’t afford the luxury.
C’est la vie