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, https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/NAAMedia/ShowImage.aspx?B=3336324&T=P&S=107. 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”
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.’ 
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.
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. 
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.  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. 
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.
 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)
For more than a century official war artists have helped shape our understanding of Australian military history. Often selected on the basis of their pre-war reputations, the works produced by official war artists such as Sidney Nolan, Russell Drysdale, Arthur Streeton and Albert Tucker have become staple offerings for a nation now locked into a permanent cycle of military commemoration.
Far eclipsing the output of these official war artists however is the great body of work produced by Australia’s unofficial war artists. Despite its greater authenticity (much official war art having been produced by non-participants, after the event), this vast output remains largely undocumented, unstudied, and unappreciated.Continue reading “A camoufleur’s art”
In early June 1944 the RAAF’s No.457 Squadron, one of three Spitfire units recalled from Britain for homeland defence, began exchanging its near-obsolete Mk.V aircraft with more effective Mk.VIIIs. As deliveries of the latter began arriving in the Northen Territory, squadron pilots would ferry equal numbers of the former south for overhaul and re-assignment – typically to Operational Training Units or mainland fighter squadrons.
Originally from Emerald in Central Queensland, twenty-one year old Pilot Officer Alexander Henry Morton (405639) was one of ten 452 and 457 squadron pilots tasked mid-July 1944 with ferrying Mk.Vs south to No.6 Aircraft Deport at Oakie [sic] in south-east Queensland. Continue reading “Unplanned”
I just remember the biting cold thinking, all the while, that perhaps we shouldn’t have been traipsing – in winter – through bush-land in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, especially while it was sleeting. Thoughts of all that wasted organisational effort might have dissuaded me from postponing, along with the knowledge that any future date – that winter – could have been just as bleak. We were young, and the prospect of visiting a Lockheed Ventura crash site, so close to Canberra where we all lived, must have been incentive enough.