|Rank On Discharge/Death||Warrant Officer (WOFF)|
|Mustering / Specialisation||Pilot|
|Date of Birth||09 Aug 1923|
|Contributing Author/s||Edited by Karen Paterson, from a recorded interview provided by grandson Jeff Short|
In 2023 the President of the Spitfire Association Geoff Zuber, on behalf of the members and committee, wish Warrant Officer Shoesmith a very happy 100th birthday and a sincere thank you for his service during World War II. We are honoured to share John’s story.
This story is taken from an interview that took place with John Shoesmith in February 2020.
Warrant Officer John Walter Shoesmith flew with 79 Squadron and 452 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force, flying both Spitfires and Boomerangs during 1943, 1944 and 1945. John started flying the Spitfire Mark V with 85 Squadron in Western Australia and then converted to the Spitfire Mark VIII.
When asked was he excited when first flying a Spitfire, he responded with, “I was packin’ my shit. I’d never flown a Spitfire before, and it is a very different plane to a Boomerang. I got in without any instruction, but I had a handbook on the seat.”
This was not an unusual experience for many pilots during World War II, as planes needed to be taken to many operational aerodromes and there wasn’t always the time to train every pilot who delivered them.
John Shoesmith not only flew his aircraft to Borneo, Merauke and Morotai for the air war on Australia’s northern border, he was also involved in test flying Boomerangs and Spitfires.
On one occasion, John recounts a particularly harrowing test flight over Morotai, when he was asked to fly the Boomerang as high as possible to test a new engine and find out how high the fighter could be flown in the tropics. He remembers getting to 42,000 feet, at which point his breath was freezing in his mask and he started to get the ‘bends’. The outside air temperature was minus 54 degrees Centigrade.
John talks about how his flight training kicked in. He immediately descended to 25,000 feet and waited until the symptoms had passed before landing safely.
On another occasion, he remembers flying in a formation of four Boomerangs south from Exmouth to Perth, in Western Australia when suddenly the pilot in number three Boomerang reported he was going ‘to leave’ as he had smoke pouring out from behind his dash panel. John watched the pilot jump out before the plane crashed. They safely picked up the pilot, on land, later.
John never underestimated the perils of flying fighters in the tropics, and the impact of poor weather on operations. One time, when flying a formation of 24 Spitfires from Oakey to Morotai (escorted by a Beaufighter and Catalina flying boat) John recounts how heavy cloud enveloped the whole squadron within minutes of flying over the Stanley Ranges. The pilots had to abandon the formation. All descended to 3000 ft, away from the mountains. Three of the fighters in the formation were involved in an accident. Only one of the three returned to Merauke with a severely damaged wing, from a rapid 600-mile dive back to base. Sadly, two pilots and their planes did not return. John and some of the squadron went up the Merauke River looking for the crashed planes, but they were never found.
The unexpected didn’t only happen over the tropics. On two separate occasions John remembers having to make forced landings at Guildford.
The first was when he was testing flying a Boomerang shortly after its 240-hourly inspection. When he increased the throttle at 7,000 feet, he noticed the oil pressure drop to zero. He throttled back to land, but the engine seized up at 1,000 feet. Despite this setback, John kept calm and managed to land safely.
The second occasion was when he was test flying a Boomerang that had just had its airframe inspection. When he went to lower the undercarriage, it would not go down. Despite this, John again managed to land safely, without wheels. This time he came into land on a golf fairway, which must have been a surprise for the golfers!
Despite the terrors of war, Aussie camaraderie and humour often helped the men get through and do their duty. This, and the antics John and fellow pilots got up to, have cemented lifelong friendships and provided some lighter moments, during the dark days of war.
One example of the Aussie antics up north was when John was asked if it was true that he, and other pilots, smuggled Johnny Walker Red whisky up to Borneo in his fighter plane. He laughed and said, “yes, and a case of gin and 24 bottles of wine. I sold it to a naval captain at the officer club for 10,000 guilders, which is about $2,000 dollars.”
John lives in Brisbane and has an extended family including four sons and a daughter; thirteen grandchildren and nine greatgrandchildren who live in Brisbane, and overseas in Canada and USA. Thanks to Jeff Short (grandson) for his encouragement in preparing this profile.