The War Years

I gained your private licence and then, shortly after that, the war started and I joined up. I'm not quite sure on this - I think I was second recruit into the Air Force at the start of war. A man named Connery stood in front of me; there were five of us in line and Connery was first man.

That was where I made the mistake, I should have gone in the navy. The tactics of the Navy were a little better than the Air Force; Air Force officers regard themselves as just one down from God. Navy Officers are not quite as bad; they’ve got a bit more sense; they realise they’ve got to have the backing of the lower God.

I consider flying with the Air Force, but you had a job to get out; once you were in you stayed there. I started off as a Fitter 2A, because I had the idea I would like to have an engineer's licence, what in the Air Force they called a Fitter 1. You could work on an airframe or you could work on the engine but they did away with that rating - I think they did away with it about a couple of months after the war started - because they needed to specialise. They even made people that worked on control surfaces and people that worked on hydraulics - which was essential, you had to have things very perfect - and they would work on an aircraft that was strange to them.

You see the Lockheed Hudson came while I was at Laverton. We worked on them. And Lockheed number hundred-and-sixteen - I saw it in a book the other day - I ground tested that; taxi it and test the brakes and control surfaces and all that. I didn't actually fly these planes. Hudson's were very, very touchy. You would need at least two hundred hours in a Lockheed Hudson to be considered you could go solo. They were touchy. When Fairburn got killed on the Canberra airport, he was killed because he was flying the plane. Palmer, the regular pilot, wasn't flying the plane. Fairburn had been coming and going for a fortnight doing circuits and landings and things like that. And then they went to Canberra. And if you put too much flap on, or not enough flap on - too much flap on you would slip into the deck when you were low down.

Most of my time with the RAAF was spent traveling and working on aircraft. Plenty of hydraulics and things like that were good for me because I knew about hydraulics from shipping days. But on aircraft they were much more complicated than on shipping. But we got by and many people didn't understand the hydraulics on a Fairey Battle, for instance; when they came here they had everybody bollixed up until we found out how, and we worked on them alright. But never any electrical business for me. You have a special electrician that does that. Even the electrics to the plane and the radio were separate; you'd have a radio bloke that does that. And the engine the same; you'd have a Fitter 2E; he does engines, you see. And a Fitter 2A is airframe; anything to do with control surfaces like ailerons or trim tabs or anything like that, that's a Fitter 2A's job and he does that. But I wouldn't think there'd be much in it today because I notice these people now, they sit for examinations and it takes them months and months of studying to pass 'em. See, things have got so complicated.

My first posting was to Laverton what you call rookie drill first, about three months on the parade ground because there was no gear, no aircraft to work on and so you do rifle drill, funeral drill. We did that funeral drill till you legs ache, you think they're gonna fall off; like when you're learning to ski. And when aircraft started to come, of course, we went on to them.

And I think I was posted to Laverton from Richmond in Sydney - I was never stationed in Richmond but I sat for the interview in Richmond. And then I got a - I think they called it a transfer order. I had a car, you see, and they give you a transfer order and away you go - or a transit order. Its cashable anywhere and you get the change and buy your petrol on the way down and arrive at Laverton.

And you'll get a palliasse - a long, hessian sack half full of straw - and a wire bed. And you move in. We moved into hut T-2, where people must've been in there with garden soil or something because every time you went in there, dust rose up in clouds off the floor. And then everybody has to take a turn at sweeping out the whole hut and its a big long hut. It was thirty beds in it - thirty beds or forty beds.

And roll out in the morning about six o'clock, freezing cold. Run down to the showers - open showers, cold water. Back to breakfast and not too bad. And on to the drill square straight away after breakfast. 'Course some theory of flight and all that sort of thing in classrooms. And then, by and by when you're out of all that - about three months out of that - we went to work when the Lockheeds arrived.

And the first time the Lockheeds came, they came on their wheels. I've got a picture of them coming off the ship. And the main planes had been taken off, but still with the fuselage and the butt of the main planes - they were too wide to go through the main gate at Laverton. Huge gatepost, brick square with a big iron gate on it. And Joe, the American, he saw a bulldozer standing up on the side there - they were doing some work - and there was nobody on it. And he started: 'Who owns that goddamn bulldozer there?' 'Oh, so-and-so.' And they went and got him. They took the gate off but pushed this post up and lay it down in there and they ploughed the lawn over it - big lawn there - and bulldozer shoved it over, leveled it out and in went the Lockheeds.

When we were taking them off the wharfies were on strike at Victoria Dock. And they called for people who had shipping experience and nobody answered because everybody had the message: 'Never volunteer for anything,' - you'd go in the shit. So, we said nothing and by and by they came along: 'You, you, you and you.' After dinner, I think, after we'd had lunch - yeah - and went back on parade, they came along and they detailed us, and those other blokes at dinner. They went back through our records, you see. And I'd been engineer on ship. 'Righto, you're it.' And so I was down there teaching blokes to drive ships' winches and driving one myself; picking these log heads up and swinging 'em over the side. We never smashed one and, when we got there, the wharfies were like this with their hands all clenched together and made a big chain across the wharf gates; wouldn't let us in. And there was a little bloke there who'd been a pug before - we found out later - but he planted one on one of those wharfies and the chain broke. There was a big scuffle and people pulling palings off some old bloke's fence who had a house on the opposite side of the road - pulling in the palings with the top like that - pulling them off and fighting with them. There was about eighteen people in hospital. And anybody who was in the fight that was seen by NCOs got put on a charge for fighting, but not much trouble about it.

I was at Laverton about another eight months. I was there until, I think, Lockheed forty-two; sixteen was the first one I had anything to do with. Then I went to Evans Heads. That was Bombing and Gunnery School. We worked sometimes six and seven days a week because they were bringing second-hand Fairey Battles out from England. They were really worn-out aircraft but that's all they had. They brought a hundred or more out and a lot of 'em had bullet holes through 'em. A lot had bullet-holes that'd been patched up, roughly. And they used them for gunnery practice, towing targets and all that sort of thing, you see. Our job was to keep 'em in order. I think I was there over twelve months, perhaps fourteen months.

And then to Number Two Bombing School in Port Pirie. It was a similar place, only much more active - better aircraft and bigger turnout. We had a lot of Fairey Battles and smaller aircraft - now, I've forgot the name of them, I tried to think of it the other day. They used them for towing targets. They were really a towing-target aircraft. Oh, we had a few Spitfires there too. A lot of those aircraft fell into St Vincent's Gulf, I think it was called; the gulf that Port Pirie's in. It wasn't a bad station but very hot in their summer.

At that time I'd got married and I used to be able to live in town. I got my wife across - a great struggle - and I thought I'd be there a long time so she might as well come across and she did. Came across. And I used to ride a bike to work. We had been married in Brisbane, but my wife Thelma Cecilia had been an Adagio dancer in Melbourne where she was born of Spanish extraction. A good athlete and a very fine figure. She was five years younger than me. She and her brother Yonga were both skilled acrobats. He was a strong man, the sort that pulled buses along roads by his teeth. I heard that he had toured Europe in 1937 and even done a command performance for Hitler. Her father was a foreman fitter for Mac Robertson Chocolate.

That was '42. And then I went to Bradfield Park, a transfer camp in Sydney, and we had a jungle training camp there. Everybody went through a jungle training camp. Even the cooks went through them in case you were ever at a base that was at the front line. Later I went through the Army one in Queensland - Kunundra, and it was tough. I don't know how many people - they had to jump off about from the roof down here into the water in a creek. And you didn't know the creek, you didn't know how deep it was, and you had your rifle on and your gas mask on your chest - and your rifle carried, with a strap here; a lot of people used to put it over their neck so they didn't drop it, which wasn't allowed. And, I think there was eleven people drowned in that creek. Yeah. They'd jump in and couldn't swim. But the thing is - it was gravelly bottom - the thing is to jump in and walk; soon as you struck the bottom walk because it wasn't far and it sloped up the other side. Maybe you only had to walk about five or six yards and your head would be out of the water. We had that from watching other people.

I got a stick in my eye and - little bit of a stick - and it caused some trouble that I used to see - double vision came out of it anyhow. And I had to go in every day to get this eye fixed. And this was about three weeks or a month, and the draft left and they went to Ambon. And I have an idea some of those people were the ones that the Japanese shot in the quarry; they rounded them all up and shot the lot, you know. But I wouldn't have waited for that. I'd've bolted - bush. It'd better be shot in the back running away than you were waiting for it, eh?

But in the meantime I was back in hospital with double vision in one eye which I still have a little bit, but not much. And then to Townsville, had a long time in Townsville. And then backwards and forwards towards the end of the war to Archerfield in Brisbane. That's where they have the civil 'drome - the small aircraft aerodrome now, not where the main airport used to be. It is where the main airport used to be, but its used for civil purposes now. They've got another one. At that time - I was up and down to Townsville, I think, three times. Stay there sometimes - Thirty-six Squadron.

And then during that time I came to Darwin East Arm once with a Catalina and to Batchelor once with a DC3 - they were called C47. Actually they were the aircraft that did all the cargo carrying you could say, that was done. Other aircraft did a bit. Each time we were to unload and go back next day; just stay the one day. Once while we were at the Catalina base in Darwin there was a pilot who was downed over on Cartier. We went over and brought him back. The crew also set a demolition charge and got into the dinghy and cleared out and a few minutes before it went off.

By now it was getting fairly close to the end of the war. You could see the war was tapering off because the plane’s camouflage paint was not maintained and they were bright shiny silver again; we didn’t need to hide them. I had quite a little time at Archerfield at the end. And I was there for about two months after the war finished, I think. Yeah, I was, about two months. Then when the war was over I was a bit of a cripple. I’d had a bit of time in hospital from injuries in a bit of a crash coming back from Morotai north of New Guinea. We spent a few months in Yurallah Hospital. While in hospital I used to do little bit of work repairing and sharpening things for the sake of getting myself working again instead of sitting in bed.

Then I couldn't get a job after I got out of the Air Force. A bloke said to me one day: 'What have you been doing?'. I told him about my pre-war days. 'What about since then?'. 'Oh, I was in the Air Force'. 'What were you doing in the Air Force?' "Oh, aircraft and things like that, you know.' He said: 'Be no good to me. I'm looking for turners, skilled turners.' This happened several times in a row. Well, a turner wasn't getting much money then; he was only getting about ten pound a week, maybe twelve if he was good. But I could turn with the best of them, but I had been off it for some years you see. Though in the Air Force, once I was sent to Geelong for a few months to make a very small a one-way valve thing to fix a Spitfire or a Fairey Battle or something undercarriage trouble. I don't remember how it was done but they needed that little thing, and it had about five different sizes on it, and its maximum diameter was about seven-sixty-fourths, I think it was, about as thick as a match. And on that you had to turn a perfect seat, and you had to have several other little steps in the thing that triggered it, had to be there. And then it had to have the perfectly centred point. And all this had to be done on one setting of the lathe, because if you didn't you would have concentric circles and you wouldn't be able to see them. You couldn't take it and put it out back, no matter how good the lathe was, because it would want to be a jeweler’s lathe to do it. Well, we were doing it in a little three-inch lathe, about three feet long. All this posting did to me was keep me back. I was promoted to a sergeant, and when I got there I was pulled back - made into a corporal again for a while, because my CO said I'd been out of my mustering too long - mustering means your trade, your particular branch of that trade. It's a bad thing to change mustering in the Air Force, it'll do you in promotion. If you've been stuck in one groove all your life, that's the thing; stay there. He was a horrible bastard that I'd clashed with before though, you see.

I have extracted the following summary from Sid’s RAAF records.
Next of Kin At enlistment Sid was single
James Thomas Hawks, Father,
Ben Lomond, New England District NSW
On 24 May 1941 he married Thelma Cecelia
Addresses include Brighton NSW,
Albert terrace Pt Pirie SA
Railway Hotel Palace Street Maryborough Qld
and 1 Gordon St Hawthorn Brisbane Qld
Postings Enlisted for 6 years 16 Oct 1939
Personnel Transit Centre, Laverton 16 Oct 1939
No. 1 Aircraft Depot Laverton 15 Jan 1940
No. 1 Bombing And Gunnery School
Maintenance Wing Evans Head 9 Aug 1940
2 Bombing And Gunnery School
Pt. Pirie 12 Feb 1942
No. 1 AP Geelong 9 Jan 1943
6 Aircraft Depot 8 Feb 1944
No. 2 Personnel Depot 13 Jan 1945
1 RPP date undecipherable
Brisbane MU N/E 21 May 1945
1 RPP 25 Apr 1945
Discharged ‘On demob’ 22 Feb 1946
Classifications and Promotions
Flight Rigger 16 Oct 1939
Fitter IIA 1 Apr 1940
T/LAC 1 Jul 1940
Cpl (Acting) 18 Dec 1940
Cpl (T) 1 Jan 1941
Sgt (T) 1 Jul 1942
Courses of instruction
Recruits Drill Course 17 Oct 1939 - 14 Nov 1939
No. 16 Flight Riggers Course 15 Nov 1939 - 3 Jan 1940
Anti Gas 1 Sep 1941 – 12 Sep 1941
3 RAAF Hosp N/E 23 Feb 1945 to 28 Mar 1945
War Medal 1939/45

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