WONTHAGGI AIR OBSERVERS CORPS (RAAF)
WONTHAGGI, VIC, DURING WWII

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visits since 29 June 2010

 

Wonthaggi Schoolboy Memories during World War 2
This was the Wonthaggi RAAF Volunteer Air Observers Corps Tower
(Built at the top of McBride Avenue, on Edgar Street in 1943)
By Ken Langdon

Prior to this tower being built, the RAAF VAOC operated from the body of an old bus, on top of the Wonthaggi Reservoir, on the corner of Watt Street and McKenzie Street.

The purpose of this tower (during World War 2) was probably due to the fact that the Victorian Government of the day relied solely on the supply of black coal for the operation of all of the Victorian Railways steam locomotives. Without this supply of coal being maintained, the Victorian Railways would not have been able to transport people or goods outside of the Melbourne Metropolitan area.

I joined the RAAF VAOC while I was still a school boy at the Wonthaggi Technical School, and when the Second World War ended in 1945, I received a Certificate for Serving King and Country for Three Years.

Volunteer members were rostered for various times to maintain a 24/7/365 presence for the purpose of reporting to the RAAF every aircraft movement observed, which were mainly DC3 Australian National Airways aircraft operating between Melbourne and Launceston/Hobart, Tasmania. I was rostered for duty from 6.00 pm to 9.00 pm every Sunday night. We were supplied with a pair of binoculars, and we had been taught to indentify all then known types of friendly and enemy aircraft.

The only bits of excitement I can recall is the day Austin Skinner, son of the chemist in McBride Avenue, flew his RAAF Avro Anson, at what seemed like rooftop level, over Wonthaggi, on a training flight from the RAAF Base in Ballarat.

On one other occasion another RAAF pilot ‘crash’ landed his plane somewhere just north of Wonthaggi in a farmer’s paddock, without damage to himself or his plane.


Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria

RAAF aircraft after the post was opened by the Governor Sir Winston Dugan in 1943

 

I also belonged to the RAAF Air Training Corps for 2 years during World War Two. Cadets from all over Victoria marched through the City of Melbourne for a War Loan. We marched from Landsdowne Street in East Melbourne, along Wellington Parade into Spring Street, down Collins Street to King Street, and up to the Flagstaff Gardens where we ended our march (with very sore feet). Local solicitor Tom Rahilly was 'the officer in charge' of the Wonthaggi RAAF Air Training Corps with the honorary rank of Flying Officer. Local boy Austin Skinner, who I believe flew Mosquito bombers in the Pacific, came and visited us ATC guys once when home on leave.

We used to practice our marching in the grounds of the Wonthaggi Technical School (now Wonthaggi Secondary College) on Saturday afternoons. During these two years I learned Morse Code in anticipation of joining the RAAF if the war had not ended by the time I reached 18 years of age in 1946. I used to practice my Morse Code with Ken Last across the road; he later became a telegraphist with the PMG (Postmaster General’s Department).

Our Squadron Headquarters were in Yallourn, and we often went there picking up other cadets from Korumburra and Leongatha on the way. They had an anti-aircraft gun at Yallourn during World War 2 because the City of Melbourne electricity supply was generated in Yallourn.

During the two years I was in the RAAF Air Training Corps we visited RAAF bases at Point Cook, where we camped in huts, Laverton, and East Sale where we also camped (in tents) during the September school holidays, and air force personnel let down our tents; it was freezing cold, with snow observed on the Australian Alps north of the air base. I had a flight in a Beaufort bomber at East Sale. I had a flight in an Oxford Trainer at Point Cook.

Point Cook of course was where the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) commenced in Australia in 1921, preceded by the Australian Flying Corps at Point Cook in 1912 (see below).

By the standards of military aviation, the Royal Australian Air Force has an unusually long history. It is one of the world's oldest independent air forces, having been established in 1921, three years after the first, the (British) Royal Air Force.

Military aviation first took wing in Australia when Central Flying School was formed at Point Cook in 1912, only nine years after Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first successful controlled, powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. 

Central Flying School grew quickly into the Australian Flying Corps. 

By 1914 Australian pilots had been dispatched on active service to New Guinea, to help seize German colonies. One year later, the Australian Flying Corps was fighting in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq); and by the end of World War 1, four Australian squadrons were in action on the Western Front in France.

While officially the Australian Flying Corps' main role was army co-operation, its squadrons inevitably became involved in air to air combat and bombing attacks, as the full potential of the air weapon became apparent. Australian fighter pilot A.H. Cobby, for example, was credited with 29 kills, making him one of the war's leading aces.

Another perhaps less exciting schoolboy duty during the Second World War was the digging of air raid trenches outside the school grounds, along the entire length of the school yard on Baillieu Street, from McBride Avenue to McKenzie Street, opposite what was then St Joseph’s Church/School.

I am not now sure why, but, as I remember, the entire class of year 9 boys in 1942 failed their end of year exams, and had to repeat year 9 in 1943. I have always understood that this was due to the fact that we spent so much time, during school hours, digging those zig-zag air trenches, while the Battle of the Coral Sea was raging off the Queensland Coast between the Japanese Navy and the Australian and American Navies.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Ken Langdon for his kind assistance with this web page.

 

 

 

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This page first produced 29 June 2010

This page last updated 30 June 2010