An ex libris anecdote

It was early July 1930, and eleven-year-old Brisbane schoolboy, Jack Bell, had just been awarded a sixth edition copy of The Wonder Book of Aircraft for his entry in the City Hall Prize Essay competition.1Harry Golding (ed.), The Wonder Book of Aircraft (London: Ward, Lock & Co., Limited, 1927), Encountering this same bruised book, ninety years later, left me wondering what course Jack Bell’s life might have taken, and what influence—if any—this prize book might have had?

When officially opened in early April 1930 Brisbane’s newly completed City Hall became the state’s tallest building. Thousands visited the capital in the months following to see this imposing structure, the Lord Mayor also inviting schoolchildren to submit their written impressions to a council-funded prize essay competition.

Museum of Brisbane collection

The son of a Scottish carter, young Jack Hunter Bell was living with his parents and two younger siblings at 39 Gallway Street, Windsor when he received his essay prize. Like many other titles in the Wonder Book series, the cover of Jack’s book was consumed with a dramatic illustration calculated to reinforce the notion of British aerial leadership. The cover of Jack’s sixth edition featured a state-of-the-art airliner, an Armstrong Whitworth Argosy. Guided by a navigational light beam it is depicted hurtling through the night sky with its cargo of passengers, silhouetted by internal cabin lights, seemingly oblivious to the noise, the darkness, or the drama that surrounds them. What primary-school child would not have been captivated by such imagery, or the book’s 256 pages of ranging narrative (supplemented by 12 additional colour plates)?

This was aviation’s golden age, a time when the aerial exploits of Australians, and Queenslanders, were being routinely lauded both nationally, and internationally. Charles Kingsford Smith’s famous Southern Cross had flown the Atlantic in late June that same year, and a month earlier Amy Johnson had landed at Brisbane’s Eagle Farm airport—becoming the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia. For many however, the hardships wrought by the economic depression of the early 1930s would postpone, if not diminish their sanguine hopes of also taking to the skies.

(BELL JACK HUNTER : Service Number – 404390, NAA: A9300, BELL J H, ID 5380745).

While Jack Bell did eventually get to fly, it was probably not the career his younger self had imagined. After leaving school he began working in Brisbane as a despatch clerk and surgical instrument salesman with the Taylors Elliott Veterinary Company. In mid-August 1940 however, just seven months after Britain had declared war with Germany, he voluntarily enlisted for military service. Whereas his younger brother and father had both donned khaki (i.e., Army) uniforms, Jack elected instead to wear Air Force blues. Re-mustering as a Wireless Air Gunner, he was granted a commission in May 1941 at the same time he was posted overseas. Following seven months of initial training in Canada, flying in Fairey Battle (No.3 BAGS, Manitoba) and Noorduyn Norseman (No.2 WAGS, Calgary) aircraft, he received his first operational posting. This involved flying 9 Squadron (RAF) Wellington bombers from RAF Honington in Suffolk. Scarcely two months later, he received another posting, this time to No. 37 Squadron at RAF Shallufa in Egypt, just a short distance from the famous Suez Canal.

Jack’s war was fought mostly here, in the Middle East. During the following year he completed almost two operational tours, “consistently show[ing] the greatest devotion to duty and enthusiasm for his work,” during “many long distance operational sorties including attacks on targets in France, Germany, Italy, Cyrenaica, Create, Tripolitania, Sicily and the Dodecanese.”2BELL JACK HUNTER : Service Number – 404390, NAA: NAA: A9300, BELL J H, ID 5380745. His war was typical of that experienced by others flying combat missions then, not least because of the abruptness with which it ended. Paradoxically, it was a non-operational landing accident on 13 July 1942 which ended his shooting war, and also earned him a Distinguished Flying Medal.3The London Gazette, 19 January 1943, Supplement 35873, 438, Although injured along with several other crew members, he managed to escape after the aircraft he was aboard collided at Adir (Palestine) with another stationary Wellington. Both his pilot and co-pilot were killed in the ensuring conflagration.

Reference: AIR 81/16592, U.K. National Archives (Kew).

Ordered to return to Australia he spent the next two years instructing in both Queensland and South Australia. For a brief time though, in September 1943, he was attached to No. 71 Squadron (RAAF) flying coastal patrols along the east Australian seaboard in Avro Ansons.

Flying Officer Jack Bell left the RAAF in early September 1945 with 633 flying hours in his logbook, almost half that time accumulated during combat operations. He joined more than 160,000 Air Force personnel who also discharged in the months immediately following the war’s end. He left with “an impeccable” conduct record, his commanding officer having also described him then as “somewhat of a humourist.”4BELL JACK HUNTER. Aside from these few insights, little else has been learned of the personality that was Jack Hunter Bell. This outline has revealed only the sketchy outline of a man’s life, leaving us to speculate still if The Wonders of Aircraft might have had any influence. Perhaps it did help shape Jack’s decision to join the Air Force and perhaps too, like many of that generation, that experience proved more than enough. The war had caused a fundamental shift in how many regarded the aircraft:

People began to view the aeroplane not as a Messiah but rather as an ambivalent agent in human affairs, even as a menace … new tones of ambivalence, anxiety, and above all realism obtruded into the nation’s consciousness, replacing the tremendous optimism and hope [previously] invested in flight during the inter-war years.5Joseph J. Corn, The Winged Gospel: America’s Romance with Aviation, 1900-1950, 65,

We have yet to discover what post-war involvement he had with aviation, if any. Electoral roles reveal only that he worked as a commercial traveller after the war, he and his wife, Gwenyth, living for a short time in Townsville (1954), along with their three children. The family eventually returned to live in Brisbane but tragically Jack died on 11 November 1979, aged sixty. He was buried at Tuncurry (NSW). Remarkably though, his 1930 prize book somehow survived as a cherished family possession, long enough for it to eventually find its way back into the Museum of Brisbane (MoB) collection co-located within the Brisbane City Hall.

Within the next few years MoB staff will likely begin their initial planning for a major exhibition to mark the City Hall centenary in 2030. We should expect such an exhibition to highlight, amongst other things, the important contributions of sculptor Daphne Mayo, architect Emil Sodersten, and long-serving Lord Mayor Clem Jones. As this story reveals however, City Hall has also profoundly influenced the lives of its many rate-paying citizens, often in ways that are not always news-worthy or self-evident. Maybe, between now and 2030, a MoB curator will stumble across Jack’s dog-eared copy of The Wonder Book. And, just maybe, he or she will recognize the significance of its long and circuitous journey, enough to want to ensure that Jack’s story, and his prize essay book, are also guaranteed a place in that centenary exhibition.


“The best crash I ever had”

Flying on a cloudless night, with the landscape illuminated by an almost full moon, the crew of Avro Anson W1655 might well have felt some serenity. At least, until both engines suddenly stopped. It was 8.50 p.m. on a Monday, 30th March 1942.

The Anson was written off following its crash landing in Joseph Toft’s paddock. A hand-written inscription on the reverse side of this image – presumably written by Lasscock reads “The best crash I ever had.” (Lyn Mergard)

Flying the Anson was twenty-one year old Robert Bennett Lasscock of Perth (West Australia). Formerly a bank officer, he had joined the RAAF exactly one year earlier. Posted from Sydney to No.8 Service Flying Training School at Bundaberg in south-east Queensland,  Lasscock was completing a circuit of the aerodrome  at the time – after returning from a night training flight. Although he had rehearsed many times for such a predicament, no amount of training could have replicated the fear and apprehension he must have surely felt then.

Pilot Robert Bennett Lasscock of Perth suffered a second forced (daylight) landing  in late April 1943, when the Anson he was flying also suffered an “alleged engine failure” 10 miles north-west of Bundaberg (NAA (Canberra): A9845, 63, ID 7127535).

Having only arrived in Bundaberg five days earlier, he would have been aware at least that the sugar cane fields surrounding the aerodrome were relatively flat – increasing his chances of surviving the inevitable crash landing.1Lasscock Robert Bennett : Service Number – 406722, NAA (Canberra): A9300, LASSCOCK R B, ID 5250842,

Meanwhile, sugar cane farmer Colin Toft had been lying in bed at Avoca, two-and-a-half miles west of Bundaberg, when he noticed two planes flying some distance from the house, one of which “suddenly appeared to lose altitude” crashing nearby in his father’s paddock.2Bill Kerr, “Toft, Colin Bramwell (1921–1990),” Australian Dictionary of Biography, As Colin later recounted in his Police Statement, the plane’s engines “did not appear to be functioning properly.” He immediately raced by car for the ambulance and the police.

The dismantled Anson leaving Joseph Toft’s paddock at Avoca, west of Bundaberg. The Toft family played a lead role after the war in helping to mechanize the sugar cane industry. By the early 1970s, Bundaberg’s Toft Bros. held a large share of the world market in mechanized cane machinery. Subsequently renamed Austoft, their company continued to play a major role in the development of technology in the Australian sugar cane industry. (Lyn Mergard).

In a separate police statement, Colin’s father Joseph also reported having seen “the plane flying low and …heading in the direction of his house” when it “suddenly swerved and struck the ground.” While awaiting the ambulance’s arrival one of the plane’s crew had remarked to Joseph that “one of the controls [had] failed but we did the best we could.”3Sub-Inspector J Osborne (Bundaberg Station) to Queensland Police Commissioner, Report Ref.3013, 30 March 1942, Queensland State Archives: Agency Control Number
1861M, Item ID ITM320040,

Half an hour after the crash, Sub-Inspector James Osborne at the local Police Station answered a call from Bundaberg resident Frank Christensen, informing him that an Air Force aeroplane had just crashed in Toft’s paddock at Avoca—about three miles west of Bundaberg. Colin Toft also arrived at the same time, adding that he had already notified the Bundaberg Ambulance Brigade while on his way to the Police Station.

At twenty-three, Eric Baldock was the oldest of the three on board the Avoca Anson. An “unauthorised passenger” at the time of the crash, he appears to have escaped any disciplinary action (NAA: (Canberra): A9301, 43811, ID 4595541).

By the time the party of four policemen reached the crash scene, 100 yards from the Toft’s residence, the three crew were already being treated by ambulance personnel. All onboard the plane (viz. pilot, co-pilot and passenger) survived the crash, sustaining shock and laceration injuries.

In the Preliminary Report prepared the following day Lasscock (pilot) was charged with “Carelessness and disobedience of orders,” due to his “failure to change to full inner tanks when outer tanks became exhausted.”4Preliminary Report No.889 (1941-42), Avro Anson Accidents Part 12, NAA (Canberra): A9845, 70, ID 7127542, Also injured was the co-pilot nineteen year old LAC Frank Alexander (Alec) Badgery (412565), formerly a station manager from Cumnock in New South Wales.5Badgery Frank Alexander : Service Number – 412565, NAA: A9300, Badgery F A, ID 5380128, The Flying School’s daily log however, which would have been written up around the same time, makes no such adverse findings against the pilot, noting only that “the pilot lost control.”6 What this log does reveal however, is that Lasscock was carrying an “unauthorised” passenger at the time of the accident. Twenty-three year-old AC1 Eric Keith Baldock (43811), a Brisbane shoemaker, had discharged from the Army in mid-October 1941 before re-enlisting with the Air Force the following day. Although forbidden by Air Force regulations it was commonplace then, especially on training bases, for crews to occasionally risk the carriage non-flying personnel. Doing so at night, further diminished the chances of being caught out. There is nothing in Baldock’s Conduct Record to indicate however that he, or the pilot (Lasscock) were ever disciplined following this incident.7Baldock Eric Keith: Service Number – 43811, NAA (Canberra): A9301, 43811, ID 4595541,

Co-pilot Alec Badgery went on to served with a Canadian bomber squadron, being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in September 1944 (NAA (Canberra): A9300, Badgery F A, ID 5380128).

This in fact was the first of several lucky escapes for Lasscock who, a year later, survived another forced (daylight) landing when in late April 1943 the Anson he was flying also suffered an “alleged engine failure,” 10 miles north-west of Bundaberg.8Preliminary Report No.964 (1942-43), Avro Anson Accidents Part 5, NAA (Canberra): A9845, 63, ID 7127535, Lasscock later served operationally with 31 Squadron based at Morotai, Indonesia, and it was while he was taxying a Beaufighter (A19-181) there in late August 1944 that his brakes failed, causing the aircraft to collide with a pole and sustain major damage.9F/Lt. L. J. Joseph to Secretary, Air Board, Confirmatory Memorandum 000091, ? August 1944, NAA (Canberra): A9845, 21, ID, 6950475,

Alec Badgery’s flying career, on the other hand, couldn’t have been more different. He served operationally in Europe, flying Halifax bombers for much of 1944 with the Canadian Air Force’s No, 431 Squadron. In September 1944 he was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross, the citation mentioning that he’d flown numerous sorties to Berlin and the Ruhr, while displaying “coolness, courage and determination.”10Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 21 September 1944, Issue No.190, 2179,; Having survived their crash landing at Avoca, all three on board the Anson that night went on to survive the war.

Thanks to Lyn Mergard who generously shared her recollections and photographs, first published to the Facebook Group, Bundaberg: Remember When, on 28 January 2022: 10.22.

The Toft farm was at Avoca Road, near the end of what is now Aloha Drive. It backed onto the Burnett River. The Avoca Garden Centre at 171 Avoca Road is part of the original Toft property (the office) and the family home was moved further along Avoca Road towards town in the 1960’s (Lyn Mergard).

“daddy come out and have a look at this funny plane”

Fourteen year old Thomas Honor had been playing outside his house at Maroondan in Queensland’s Burnett region when he urgently beckoned his father. Walking to the back door David Honor, a widower, described seeing “a large aeroplane flying at a very low altitude Continue reading ““daddy come out and have a look at this funny plane””

Serial No. 1381, Bowen

The Australian Government had little expertise or interest in radar technology at the start of the Second World War. By 1942 however the continent’s coastline was dotted with scores of radar stations operated by locally-trained technicians using, in many instances, Australian-designed and built radar equipment. This is the story of one such unit – Bowen’s No.55 Radar Station (RAAF).

Built in anticipation of a possible Japanese aerial attack against Australian mainland targets, approval for development of the Bowen radar station (costing £9,700) was granted in early November 1942.1Encl. 27A, Air Force Headquarters – CAS [Chief of Air Staff] (Organisation) – Establishment – Radar Stations – General, NAA: Series A705, Control Symbol 231/9/1031, ID 3336324,  Land and buildings necessary for the development were then requisitioned via the National Security (General) Regulations). The site selected for the installation was an elevated sandstone plateau at Cape Edgecumbe, two miles north-east of the port. Continue reading “Serial No. 1381, Bowen”

Project 1381

Surrounded in every direction by sugar cane fields, the steel and concrete remnants atop Charlies Hill south of Home Hill (North Queensland) reveal little now of the anxieties that led to its construction, nor the secrecy that once surrounded the operations of this former wartime radar station. Continue reading “Project 1381”

bin saves

I cannot be sure when or where it was exactly that I retrieved these, but I am guessing this might have been around 1995 during the Maribyrnong Munitions Factory or RAAF Laverton closures. Whichever, I simply couldn’t let these Kodachrome slides get carted off for land-fill.

Dumpster-diving isn’t taught to museum studies students, and is never likely to be. That’s a shame because museum employees are often – as happened in this instance – given privileged access to important sites before they’re irrevocably altered, or lost.

Here we have a uncommon glimpse of an era when state-of-the-art fighter aircraft were locally hand-crafted under the one roof by tradesmen employed on the basis of their skills, rather than their age. Continue reading “bin saves”

Homefront Caldwell

Military aircraft crashes were not uncommon in wartime Queensland, local Police often the first responders.


By 1944 Queensland coastal communities had grown accustomed to the daily sight and sound of military aircraft transiting to and from forward bases in Papua New Guinea, and beyond. Monitoring the northbound progress of one such formation on the morning of Monday, 28th August 1944 was Caldwell resident Frank Jenkins who stared, fixedly, as something – which he took to be a flare – dropped from one of the planes…’at the same time it was losing height…and [he] saw that it came down very low North of Caldwell over the sea.’ [1]

Soon afterwards another single-engine plane flew very low over the tiny seaside community and dropped a message requesting assistance for their colleague who had force-landed in the sea about three miles north.

Another newly delivered P-40N Kittyhawk photographed in Townsville a few months after Warrant Officer Guy’s crash, while enroute to Noemfoor in what was then called Netherlands New Guinea (Garbutt, 1944 – Heyer Collection, Townsville City Library, LC PHOTO 994.36 CARR).

Military aircraft crashes were not uncommon then, another RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) aircraft having plunged into the sea near Townsville a few weeks earlier. [2]

On duty at the local Police Station that morning was thirty-nine year old Sergeant Francis West (No.2753) who, with his colleague Constable D Crowley, immediately set out in a motor launch owned by local man George Watkins.

On arrival there it was seen that the Aeroplane which was a Kittyhawk (R.A.A.F.) machine No.A.29-190 had landed on a mud flat about 200 yards from the beach, there does not appear to have been any extensive damage done to the plane, the principal damage being bent propeller blades.

The Pilot of the Aeroplane Warrant Officer, John James Guy No.431581 of Ferry Flight R.A.A.F. Bankstown was at the Plane ad he was not injured. There was no other person in the plane at the time.

Twenty-two-year-old Guy explained that he had been flying from Mackay to Port Moresby (via Cairns) when obliged to force land owing to engine trouble. [3] What Frank Jenkins had taken to be a falling flare was in fact an external fuel tank, these ‘belly’ tanks always being jettisoned before emergency landings (so as to minimize the risks of fire and explosion). His Kittyhawk aircraft was then still new, having only been delivered to Australia (from the North American factory) a few weeks earlier.

Guy was delivered back to Caldwell by mid-afternoon, in time to board the 4pm south-bound train for Townsville.

The matter of guarding the plane was taken in hand by the local Volunteer Defence Corps under Corporal G E Moller, and RAAF Headquarters in Townsville were duly notified. By the following day Sergeant Cunneen had also completed a type-written incident report for the Police Inspector in Cairns. [4]

Unfortunately however, the aircraft was submerged four times by tidal waters before a salvage crew eventually arrived from No. 6 Crash Recovery Depot at Breddan, 300 kilometres away. Not surprisingly the month-old Kittyhawk was condemned.

History Card for Warrant Officer Guy’s aircraft (National Archives of Australia, NAA: A10297, BLOCK 221, page 23)

[1] Sergeant Francis West (Report 372-44), 29th August 1944, Cardwell District – 28 Aug 1944 – RAAF Kitty Hawk aeroplane – RAAF Warrant Officer GUY, John James 431581 (Queensland State Archives, ID 2177768)


[3] National Archives of Australia, NAA: A9301, 413581.

[4] Ten months earlier Cunneen had attended another fatal plane crash (B-25 41-13091) west of Caldwell, involving eleven fatalities.