9 September 1942

Bundaberg in south-eastern Queensland was a center for flying training during the Second World War. As a consequence, the surrounding Burnett Region is peppered with wartime crash sites.

Drury’s Anson being dismantled in Lutz’s cane field. Official records indicate it was never repaired, being struck off charge the following year. Military activities at that time were commonly photographed by civilian and military personnel (Bundaberg Library bun06577, Clifford Potter Collection).

A brick maker prior to enlisting, Flight Sergeant Thomas Peel Drury was one of many pilots who came to grief while undergoing advanced training at the RAAF’s No.8 Secondary Flying Training School (SFTS) in Bundaberg. Shortly after midday on September 9th, 1942 his twin engine Avro Anson trainer suffered engine failure causing him to crash (wheels retracted) in Albert Lutz’s cane farm near Clayton (south-east of the airfield). Also on board at the time was Leading Aircraftmen R. J. Langdon.

(National Archives of Australia: Series A9186, Control symbol 476, Item ID 1360155).

Barely two months earlier Drury, then twenty-five years old, had survived another crash landing in South Australia, his Avro Anson (A4-21) having also been forced down by mechanical failure on that occasion.

Aged 25 Drury was older than most other student pilots on his course. His wife and one year old son were also living in Bundaberg at that time (NAA: A9300, DRURY T P
Item ID 5375845).

Flying training accidents were commonplace then, another Anson (DJ188) having also crashed into a cane field that same month at Meadowvale north-west of Bundaberg. On that occasion it wasn’t mechanical failure that caused the crash – the pilot having struck a wireless pole while dive-bombing a farmhouse. Another two Ansons sustained extensive damage after colliding that same month. Such incidents were never reported by the local press, possibly because they were so commonplace.

Granted a commission the following year, Drury served initially as a flying instructor before receiving his first operational posting – with No.33 Squadron – in 1944. By war’s end he had logged more than 1,660 flying hours, almost half that time in Avro Ansons (the balance in C-47s, Catalinas, Walruses, Beauforts, Oxfords, as well as DH and CAC trainers).

Drury remained in the Air Force Reserve after the war until September 1960 when, having reached retirement age, he was compelled to resign.

This collection of unofficial images (below) from the Bundaberg Library collection, remarkable for their comprehensiveness and candour, reveal both the resourcefulness and challenges confronting air force salvage crews even when, as with Drury’s Anson seen here, they were barely a few miles from a major regional center.

Toy Story

Yesterday I visited – for the first time – both the historic Evans Head airfield in northern New South Wales, and the co-located museum run by the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome and Aviation Association. Although filled with heavy – and light – metal of the kind you’ll see replicated in similar museums throughout the continent, I was awestruck nonetheless that a small group of regional volunteers should have achieved so much, in such short time.

The highlight for me however was not the macho gas-guzzling production machinery but rather, a seemingly insignificant bespoke item encased in the gloomy shadows of a girder column, its all-too-brief caption revealing only that it had once belonged to an RAAF Aircraftwoman. Here possibly, at last, was a personal story – the real stuff of aviation.

Never before had I seen a more charming wooden model aeroplane, let alone a hand-carved RAAF Anson so finely detailed as to even include a serial number and a place of origin (viz. Cootamundra). But what most intrigued me was the suggestion that this curio had once been owned, possibly even carved, by an Aircraftwoman – so much of our military history and heritage having been written and shaped by men. Here’s some of the backstory to that model.

Born in Sydney on 7 August 1922, Joan Mary Stevenson was 19 years old when, on 29 September 1941, she presented at the No.2 Recruiting Centre (Sydney) and signed up for a twelve month stint with the Women’s Auxilliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) – serving initially as a W/T Operator, then later as a Telegraphist.

She commenced her initial training at Malvern, before being posted to No.1 S.T.T., subsequently serving at the Melboure W/T Station and Eastern Area H.Q (1942); RAAF Nowra (September 1943); then No.1 Air Observer’s School at Cootamundra (August 1943).

The following year – on 14 August 1943 – she married Sgt. John Strachan McCormack (VX80179) of the 1st Australian Parachute Training Regiment (Richmond), the WAAAF granting her four days leave – presumably for the wedding and honeymoon.

At just 5′ 4″, her youthful appearance and diminutive stature may have belied what the Air Force – fortunately – recognized as obvious leadership potential. Although she’d only had the benefit of an ‘intermediate’ education, and had only previously ever performed clerical duties at David Jones, her conduct assessments were consistently exemplary such that within five months of joining she’d been promoted to Corporal, receiving her sergeant stripes in August 1944. That future promise, however, was never realized.

At 0745 on 11 September 1944 a military aircraft crashed at Glen Innes (N.S.W.) – during a training flight – killing all five crew members, including newly promoted – and married – Sgt. Mary McCormack. It was a 1 AOS Avro Anson (LT781) from Cootamundra, just like the little model found later amongst her personal effects.

NAA. A9186, 380 Page 128

Eye-witnesses state that the plane had previously circled over the locality at a good height. When it was returning an explosion was heard. The plane then crashed into Eimer’s [unoccupied] house, a short distance ahead, and flames immediately shot into the air…The tragedy occurred within 150 yards of the home of Mr. and Mrs. John Noble, parents of the late Flight Sgt. Noble, one of the victims of the tragedy, and fragments of the fabric from the plane were scattered in their yard. (Glen Innes Examiner, 12 Sep 1944, Page 1)

A Court of Inquiry subsequently found that the aircraft may have suffered structural failure while pulling out of a low drive.

Joan’s husband, John, died in South Australia in 1990 aged 72, seemingly having never remarried.

NAA: Ah705, 166/12/100 Page 45 of 45

Anson agonies

By 1938 King Islanders had grown accustomed to the sight and sound of scheduled weekly airline services arriving and departing Bowling Aerodrome near the southern township of Currie. This reassuring routine was interrupted in September that year by a succession of dramatic arrivals and departures involving RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) training aircraft. 

The charred wreckage of A4-15 which was one of four RAAF Ansons forced to land on J G Haines’ property at Koreen on 11th September 1938. Having fallen into a ditch and broken a wing, it was later destroyed – that same evening – by a ‘mysterious’ fire (Gael Wilson collection).

A flight of five twin-engine 21 Squadron Avro Anson’s had arrived at Bowling Aerodrome on the afternoon of Tuesday, 23rd August 1938. Three of the flight had already taken off when a ‘fierce’ north-easterly wind forced one of the two remaining aircraft (A4-7 and A4-1) – then still on the runway – to collide. The latter’s undercarriage ‘gave way under the Impact and collapsed while the right wing of A4-7 was cut to ribbons by the left wing of the moving plane, the propeller of which caused considerable damage to the right engine and propeller of the stationary plane.’

In a brief statement a few days later the Defence Minister claimed, unhelpfully, that the accident had been caused by ‘an air current’. Media reports the following week mention that both crews were staying at the King King Hotel while they continued dismantling the damaged aircraft for return – by ship – to Melbourne. This work was expected to continue for at least another week.

‘ A4-1 [seen here overhead Laverton] was running upwind with the Intention of taking off the ground, having a slight downward slope, but the fierce north east wind blowing forced It on to the stationary plane.’ (The Age, 24 August 1938, page 13)

Within days of the accident the Civil Aviation Department had also despatched an inspector to the Island ‘to ascertain what immediate [runway] improvements and repairs can be effected.’ No amount of good intention – or action – on this front however could have helped the next airforce arrivals, all of which force-landed twenty miles north of the island’s only airstrip.

Within days of the accident the Civil Aviation Department had also despatched an inspector to the Island ‘to ascertain what immediate [runway] improvements and repairs can be effected.’ No amount of good intention – or action – on this front however could have helped the next airforce arrivals, all of which force-landed twenty miles north of the island’s only airstrip.

Losing direction in heavy weather and bad visibility over Bass Strait about 4 o’clock this afternoon, three pilots of a squadron of four Avro Anson bombers, unable to find the King Island aerodrome, made forced landings 20 miles from the aerodrome. 

One machine swept into a ditch, smashing the undercarriage and one of the wings. Another was bogged. No one was hurt. Under the command of Squadron Leader F. W. Thomas, the machines flown by crews of five from No. 21 (City of Melbourne) Squadron, left Laverton this morning. Encountering shocking weather conditions the pilots made for King Island, but could not find the aerodrome, where two planes were badly damaged and had to be dismantled nearly three weeks ago. 

Three of the machines attempted a landing at the north of the island, at Koreen. Two landed safely, but the third swept into a deep drain, breaking one of the wings and the undercarriage. One of the planes managed to take off, and flew on to Currie. It is expected that the second machine will be able to take off to-morrow morning. The damaged machine will be dismantled and returned to the mainland by boat. The work of dismantling the disabled plane will be carried out by a staff of eight mechanics, who are engaged clearing up the wreckage from the last crash. The fourth machine of the squadron returned safely to Laverton. (The Argus, 12 September 1938, page 1)

The Airforce and No.21 Squadron however were to suffer further ignominy and embarrassment in the coming days with newspapers around the country revealing how one of the Ansons at Koreen had subsequenly been completely destroyed by a ‘mysterious’ fire, while ‘temporarily unguarded.’

It  had been intended to dismantle the bomber, which was  valued at £12,000, and ship it to Melbourne on the Tambar.  The plane was lying in a ditch about 20 miles from the aerodrome at  Currie, where it made a forced landing on Sunday afternoon. Enquiries are being made by the  Air Board to ascertain whether the fire was caused by accident or design. It was stated today that a strict enquiry would be conducted and, if necessary, the police would be asked to take action.  Preliminary enquiries were made today by Senior-Constable McArthur, of Currie. It was ascertained that after the plane made a forced landing a civilian watchman was appointed to guard it. One theory advanced was that a piece of loose wire had been swung backwards and forwards by a strong wind, which was blowing last night, and the friction caused a spark to  ignite fumes from the petrol tank. (The Examiner, 14 September 1938, page 7). 

Whereas the Anson collisions at Bowling Aerodrome had aroused media and public interest, the forced landings and mysterious fire at Koreen had now led those same interests to openly question the standards of RAAF training and indeed, the Anson’s suitability as a general reconnaissance aircraft and advanced trainer. The Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age openly challenged the type’s ‘usefulness’, while the Hobart Mercury took a far more critical line…

With the Air Force so short of machines, that it must apparently accept second-hand bombers from Britain, it is regrettable that mishaps of this kind should continue to weaken it and further undermine public confidence in its efficiency. Without in any way associating this accident with the factors mentioned in the report of Sir Edward Ellington, we recall the British expert’s alarming pronouncement that some of the many Royal Australian Air Force mishaps had been caused by disobedience of orders.      

Wisely, the Defence Minister chose not to issue a statement concerning the events at Koreen.