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During WW2, my grandmother used to take me to every official event that was held to honour our fighting servicemen and women. That is what grandmothers did and I loved the excitement of a day out and the chance to see a dive bomber in flight and a day to see a Vultee Vengeance. 

I was 8 years old and it was 1943.

 

There was a big air display at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne Australia. One of the events was a Vultee Vengeance dive bomber passing at a very low altitude. This was a big American plane and it certainly made a big impression.

It did one pass down the straight, did a barrel roll then turned and came again but this time it was upside down. It roared down the straight in this inverted position and really stunned the crowd.

Next thing it disappeared in a cloud of smoke, crashed into some buildings just beyond the racecourse. The crowd, of course was stunned. I remember the discussion at the time that it crashed into the Velvet Soap factory and the theory was commonly put forward that the pilot blacked out from being upside down for so long and got disorientated.

A plaque was erected long after the war ended citing equipment malfunction as the cause of the crash but I doubt if the real cause was ever identified.

mempla

I don’t know the significance of this air show but I suspect it was to introduce the Vultee Vengence to the Australian public.

This aircraft was originally produced by the Vultee Aircraft Co of the USA for the French Air Force in 1940. France placed an order for 300 of them with deliveries to start in October, 1940. Production and delivery ceased when France capitulated to the Germans in June, 1940 and the production was then diverted to the RAF, RAAF and Indian Air Force. At that time the USA was not engaged in the war.

 

 

The Vengeance was not a plane well loved by pilots like the Spitfire and Mosquito were. It was functional but considered to be a bit of a dog by many who flew it. After America entered the war it was taken into the US Army Air Force (USAAF) as a trainer and target rug. It never went into battle for the US. At the outbreak of the Pacific war the RAAF placed an order for 400 of them. Deliveries did not start until May, 1942 and the main supply started in April, 1943. The air show I attended was held on 4th.September, 1943 to support a War Bond issue.

The plane was used effectively by the RAAF in New Guinea after the conclusion of the Kokoda campaign but by that time production of the B24 Liberator and changes in bombing technique had overtaken the Vengeance. Dive bombing had become the specialty of the US Navy with the carrier based Douglas Dauntless which decimated the Japanese carrier fleet at the Battle of Midway.

My grandmother (Nana) was very patriotic. She worked at the Swallow & Ariel biscuit factory in Port Melbourne packing biscuits for supply to the army. She used to bring home packets of Uneeda biscuits and Iron Rations.

 

 

 

The iron rations biscuits I refer to were a component of a more comprehensive ration kit issued to soldiers in the British armies for emergency use if they were cut off from their units. The ration consisted of tinned meat, cheese, the biscuits I refer to, plus salt, tea and sugar. Swallow & Ariel made the biscuits.

A 'hardtack' wholemeal biscuit made by the Swallow & Ariel Company, Melbourne (AWM REL23035)

Uneeda biscuits were a flakey light wafer type of biscuits which we kids loved with butter and vegemite. The Iron Rations were exactly as their name suggests. You would break your teeth on them. They were very filling and when I was in the army 10 years later we were still eating them.

You broke them up and mixed them with the other stuff cooking in your Dixie and they gradually softened up.

480002 mess kit aluminium copy

A Dixie

They were far from being a gourmet meal but they sure filled a few holes when you were hungry. Actually, I found iron rations to be very satisfying to eat while doing what we were supposed to do as long as you remembered not to break your teeth. You could pull out a biscuit and eat it while you were doing what you were doing and one biscuit was so filling it kept the worms away for a long time.

 

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 Nana took me to so many parades I don’t recall what they were all for but two stand out. The first was in 1941. I was seven, and I remember the gleaming bayonets of the soldiers as they passed by the saluting stand at Melbourne Town Hall with the band playing and the crowd cheering and a picture in the Argus the next day of the column as it passed by near where Nan and I were standing.

The parade that day in Melbourne in 1941. Image of little girl holding the flag and honouring our men and women who served.

 It was so exciting but at that time in my infantile youth I did not realise who they were. This was the 2/22nd Battalion, Lark Force, on the on way to Rabaul. It is safe to say none of them came back. Those who were not used for bayonet practice or blooding junior officers in the techniques of beheading by the Japanese were lost when the Montivedeo Maru was sunk by an American submarine and the troops imprisoned below deck were all drowned. This incident did not surface until a long time afterward and I never became aware of it until later when my interest in our military history developed.

 

The next one came later in 1942 but this time there were no brass bands or saluting stands. It was when the 7th Division arrived back from the Middle East and the Japs were on our doorstep. Again, at 8 years old I was unaware of the significance or the seriousness of the occasion. We were standing in Elizabeth Street and trucks, jeeps, bren-gun carries crammed with soldiers in their desert uniforms and trucks towing field guns were tearing through the city at high speed on their way out to Royal Park for re-organisation. I can remember the anti-tank guns because they had long barrels. When I think back about the scenario there is only one word to describe it- Panic. In those days, ships could come up the Yarra River quite close to the CBD. Victoria Dock was not that far away.

As a little boy it was exciting. Little did I know of the seriousness of the whole scenario.

Lest We Forget.

Or have we already forgotten? 

 

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