The Family

This story was based on the experiences of Cryill Collins from Deniliquin. The Passing Out Parade was supported by the Australian Government’s Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund and was coordinated by South West Arts in partnership with South West Music Regional Conservatorium and Outback Theatre for Young People.

By Sally-Ann Dillon

"There are many hundreds of members of 'The Family' and I sit on the viewing deck waiting anxiously for my family to return, my chest is tightening with every minute that passes.

I stare at the sky where they will come into view and sometimes I think I see something. I realise that the aircraft are some five hundred miles away over Mandalay, "You should be home soon - in time for tea" I say under my breath.

I break my gaze and look around the bomber station. It is always quieter at the end of a mission, when I'm sitting here waiting for their return. The pilot's absences give an eerie feel. I stand up and pace the length of the veranda, stopping at the briefing room window and peer inside. Forms are strewn at angles where they were pushed away and left and on the wall, is a mosaic map pinpointing targets.

Prior to joining the Air Force my knowledge of fighting planes and pilots came from The Chronicles of World War 1 Biggles Adventures for curious boys. I longed to fly a Vickers Vandal and read most of the 100 novels.

Our raid by Liberators of the Strategic Air force, Eastern Air Force Command is the largest to date and the first on Mandalay itself. This operation is in direct support of our ground troops advancing toward Mandalay and is aimed at smashing Japanese troops and concentrations.

Myself, a Polish engineer, the Medical Officer, the Chaplin, the Intelligence Officer and just a few others are waiting anxiously for the family to come home. The Intelligence Officer looks at his watch and said comfortingly "shouldn't be too -2-long now, they'll be back about four". We all check our watches. No one is working now as the anticipation is too great. Then we hear something. I stand up and see a tiny dot above the horizon. We whoop and clap and punch the sky as the sound gets louder and the first aircraft comes into view. The rest of the squadron are flying around the horizon in a straight line waiting their turn to land. There is an audible sound of relief when all the planes are seen.

As they land and taxi past the control tower, the pilots slide their hoods wide open, pop their heads out, wave cheerily and stick their thumbs up. The crew, sitting by the open door in the side of the Liberators, are quick to stick up their thumbs too. They have done another job and boast it was the biggest and best to date.

The trucks picked them up and took them into the debriefing room. They report to the Intelligence Officer what they had seen and achieved. Opposition was moderate, and they hit one or two ships and saw a few enemy crews with stuff bursting around them.

It probably doesn't sound like much unless, like all of us, you have seen the machine parked in a corner of the airfield, which came home the other day pretty well shot up with a dead gunner. The family all felt the crushing loss and knew the gunner's heroism will only be known to a few at home. The tragic loss continued to trickle through the bomber station. The younger inexperienced pilots who had eyes shining with the prospect of battle quickly changed their expressions.

All members of "the family" are back except one, a straggler who has been circling around for an hour and a quarter because the nose wheel won't come down. The captain will be forced to bring her in as she is.

Our squadron leader shows an unwillingness to suffer inefficiency and we have respect and confidence in his ability to ensure the crews safety.

I bet the Aircraft engineer inside the Liberator is working frantically to get the main wheels lowered manually but alarmingly it looks like the nose wheel will not come down. The fire engine and ambulance are already out by the strip with their motors running. Now the last Liberator is coming in slowly and getting lower and lower and we know it is going to be an anxious sweaty moment for the crew.

As they slid to a stop and the crew tumbled out, one Sergeant turned to his skipper and said"That is the way to do it". Many of these airmen on this station are from your own street this is a diary entry of only one operation in the Pacific conflict, which happened to be the biggest, but the pilots and crew are always at it and soon 'the family' will be out again at first light.

In the dimly lit quarters, as I re-read over the diary entry, I keep remembering the warning from my senior officers "The veil of anonymity must never be lifted." My life now is not a chapter in a novel, but a daily life-threatening experience with real spies and incredibly brave pilots and crews.

The real families back home will never know of the risks, the crews unwavering bravery or our palpable fear. Unlike the Biggles novels all of us involved know 'the veil of anonymity must never be lifted.'