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LAC Desmond Page

Squadron/s548 SQN RAF
Rank On Discharge/Death Leading Aircraftman (LAC)
Mustering / SpecialisationEngine Mechanic
Contributing Author/s Bruce Read, edited Geoff Litchfield
Updated Vince Conant, 2014
The Spitfire Association

Some confusion with records makes it difficult to obtain Des’ details.

As a foundation member of 548 Squadron, Desmond arrived at Strathpine railway station in Queensland, having been posted from No. 8 EFTS, Narrandera, NSW as an Engine Mechanic in the last quarter of 1943.

Stepping on to the platform, he was greeted by four or five airmen who had arrived a little earlier. They were discussing what action should be taken as neither the Stationmaster nor locals had any knowledge of a campsite or airstrip or any semblance of an Air Force Unit in the area.

A phone call was made to Amberley, advising their situation and later the same afternoon, a truck arrived with a Senior NCO and several tents. The latter were erected in mosquito-infested bush, between Strathpine railway station and the Strathpine River. Their evening meal was purchased from the local general store as well as citronella oil to keep the mosquitoes at bay.

The following day they received a field kitchen and cook. They remained in this camp for several weeks whilst an airstrip and campsite were being prepared a short distance away.

When both were completed, they moved to the new site with its long row of tents. At about this time, F/O Todd, the Adjutant, took temporary command and their numbers grew to full strength. They were kept busy receiving, sorting and repacking stores and spares in the larger marquee erected for this purpose,

Around March, they received the first of their Mk VIII Spitfires, which were flown in from Amberley. Their arrival caused much excitement as most of them had never seen a Spitfire before. When they had received their full complement of aircraft, they went through a familiarisation period, then crews were allocated an aircraft and its pilot.

A.G “Kelly” Gordon, an Airframe Mechanic and Desmond were detailed off to look after their new C.O’s aircraft. Squadron Leader Wright had flown in with the first delivery of the “Spits”.

In April, 1944, Squadron Leader Wright, Sergeant Chandler and another Sergeant Pilot, were involved in a mid-air collision just north of Strathpine, with fatal results to all. The three airmen were subsequently buried in a suburban cemetery close by and the funeral was attended by a large contingent of Squadron members.

Their replacement C.O. was Squadron Leader E.D. Glasser, who was replaced shortly after by Squadron Leader R.A. Watts who then commanded the Squadron until War’s end. His aircraft “TSV” was again serviced by Desmond and “Kelly” Gordon.

In mid-1944, the Squadron moved to Darwin – ground staff initially by train to Mt. Isa via Townsville, thence to Livingstone by army road train, via Adelaide River. This trip was taken in easy stages, stopping every hour on the hour for stretch periods. The transport vehicles were low-loaders with canvas canopies and fixed seats down either side and a back-to-back row down the centre; adequate and reasonably comfortable.

Transfer of the Squadron’s aircraft to the N.W. area was reported by Andrew Thomas in the September, 1996 issue of “Aviation News” in an article entitled “Lesser Known Squadrons – No. 548 Squadron Australian Poms”. He wrote as follows:

‘In June, 1944, the Squadron left Amberley for Townsville, accompanied by a B-25 Mitchell bomber to provide navigational assistance, but due to extremely bad weather conditions, the formation became separated. Running short of fuel, two aircraft came down on a beach south of Townsville. It appeared there was also a radio problem, as the Spitfires were fitted with H/F R/T”.

Desmond was not sure of the authenticity of that article, but it was his impression that the aircraft then proceeded to Livingstone in easy stages, to join 549 and 54 Squadrons, which had arrived earlier, the former at Strauss and the latter at Darwin civil strip to form No. 81 Wing.

They stayed at these locations for a couple of months and it was during that time the new glycol pipes were fitted to most aircraft due to a corrosion problem. Around October, 1944, 548 and 549 Squadrons moved to Darwin civil strip. This move was carried out so that the three squadrons could be in the same location.

Over Easter, 1945, a small detachment of four Spits and ten airmen was despatched to Truscott in the Kimberleys, WA. Desmond was a member of the party who flew by Dakota. They remained there for a short period. Around this time, two of their pilots, Flt. Lt. Cook and F/O Cannon lost their lives when the Liberator which was taking them south went missing, location unknown.

While in Darwin, they had two further unfortunate accidents. An Instrument Fitter was severely burned in an oxygen-related accident and had to be medically repatriated and a guard was accidentally shot at Civil Strip.

A little trivia…..

The aircraft emblem of their C.O., Squadron Leader Watts, was a Spanish Cavalier, dressed in knee-length boots, fancy jacket with the Cross of Lorraine embossed on the breast pocket, a wide-brimmed hat, complete with a huge white feather, a long sword in his right hand and a tankard of beer in the left. Desmond was not certain of the significance of the motif, but it was claimed that the Spanish outfit and Cross of Lorraine had family significance. The sword depicts the War and the tankard of beer represents the pub the family owned in England.

Within a month of V.P. day, the Squadrons were disbanded and the longest serving airmen flew home in Liberator aircraft to their respective States. Some airmen were left behind to keep the aircraft serviceable until, in October, 1945, they were flown to Oakey in Queensland for open storage. All the RAF pilots were presumed to have returned to the UK for demobilisation.

54 Squadron, Richmond December, 1944

Learn more about the squadron/s in which Desmond served.

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