ww2

Lest We Forget

Anzacday_2013_webheaderIt’s 4.20am.  No sign yet of first light.  The birds haven’t even given their first hint of welcome to a new day.  But Maddy (9), Ashley (7) and Kellan (4) are greeting it with gusto  – they’re enthusiastically getting ready for an early start.

It’s ANZAC day, that one day of the year, where 2 young nations get a day out to honour those who fought and sacrificed that we might be free.Ashley with Grandpa Conroy's medal and Madelyn with Grandpa Wights.

And the great thing is, that 98 years after that military blunder that squandered young lives and impoverished us of talent for a generation, we forget the blunder, and honour those sacrifices that gave the 2 young Antipodean nations identity.  Maddy, Ashley and Kellan wanted to go to the Dawn Service to remember.

Bert astride his US Air Force Indian motor cycle.

Bert astride his US Air Force Indian motor cycle.

Maddy got up and carefully pinned on Great Great Grandpa Bert Wight’s replica medals.  She’s honouring Bert who served in the RAAF.

He joined the air force in 1942 after working in the Australian Air Force Factory.  Bert was seconded to the US Air Force.  They had a major base at Batchelor in the NT.

Bert carried intelligence, wore black arms, packed a pistol and was able to go through all checkpoints without being stopped.

One of his jobs was to get the film for the photos taken during bombing raids.  He took the film directly from the aircraft to take them to HQ, so that nobody could interfere with them.  This was for intelligence purposes for effectiveness of the mission but also to ensure that bombs weren’t dropped over the sea instead of on the targets.

Bert told stories of going out to retrieve planes that crash-landed and his most graphic story was of seeing a tail-gunner’s remains hosed out of the rear gun turret of the  plane.

He admitted to soiling his britches when he was an observer on a raid over Indonesia.  Fortunately Bert didn’t actually sustain any physical  injuries during the war.

Keith with his daughter Valerie taken in Hyde Park in 1943 whilst he was on leave.

Keith with his daughter Valerie taken in Hyde Park in 1943 whilst he was on leave.

Ashley carefully pinned on Great Great Grandpa Keith Conroy’s replica medals.  She’s honouring Keith who served in the Army in the supply and resupply area.

Even Teddies get tired at ANZAC.

Even Teddies get tired at ANZAC.

He mainly served around Sydney, which also took him to Muswellbrook and Holsworthy.

He actually did sustain 2 injury’s whilst serving his country.  He was in the back of a truck which  lurched forward and he was thrown to the ground and broke his wrist.  Friendly fire?

After 6 weeks, he returned to service and found an army horse tangled in wire.   As he tried to free it, the horse kicked out and broke the other wrist.  Unfriendly fire?

Our intrepid little patriots headed off toward the Cenotaph at Redlands RSL at 0450 hours, after being dropped off by Nana.  They were amongst thousands who wanted to snare a close spot, but not even 4.50am was early enough to get a place where you could see everything.  But all things considered our spot wasn’t too bad.  We were right beside the Air Force Cadets and saw them begin their march.

Everybody held together really well, but the Teddies did tire at one stage.

 

Ashley and Maddy standing next a WW2 motor cycle like Bert Wight used to ride.

Ashley and Maddy standing next a WW2 motor cycle like Bert Wight used to ride.

After the service, we looked at the tributes on the cenotaph and then had a look around and saw some old equipment from WW2.  Some of which reminded us of some of Grandpa Wight’s experiences.

This is like the WW2 Willy Jeeps that Bert Wight repaired during the war.

This is like the WW2 Willy Jeeps that Bert Wight repaired during the war.

Bert really ingratiated himself to his Yankee boss by getting his Jeep going.  Bert was a motor mechanic by trade.

The Jeep hadn’t started straight off the boat.  It turned out that grease had been placed in the distributor to prevent rust during the sea voyage to Australia and as a result it had no spark.  Bert had it figured in no time flat.

Bert made this favour count for all it was worth!

So Bert was able to make 2 things from his civvy life work for him.  He was a mechanic and used his skills to get in sweet with the boss.  He raced motorbikes and got to ride one as one of his main jobs.

Tears at ANZAC as Kellan strives to reclaim favourite snuggling place next to Mum.

Tears at ANZAC as Kellan strives to reclaim favourite snuggling place next to Mum.

There were some tears from our smallest intrepid patriot.  Kellan was all happy while he was snuggled up to Mum (Kylie).  But when he stood up during a little lapse in concentration, Maddy jumped into the vacant spot and he was out!

Kellan wasn’t happy and neither was Teddy.  Eventually, being the baby, he prevailed and sweated Maddy out to reclaimed home base.

Poppies for Maddy, AShley and Kellan at the Dawn Service.

Poppies for Maddy, Ashley and Kellan at the Dawn Service.

To add a really nice touch to ANZAC 2013, an official from the RSL noticed a Mum and 3 children (plus 3 teddies) leaving the ceremony and called them over.  He had a poppy for each  child.  Something to top off the Dawn Service experience.

 

As we walked over and waited for Nana to pick us up, we walked by the entrance to the RSL precinct, which spelled out the message that we came to hear.  LEST WE FORGET.

The message we really came to hear.

The message we really came to hear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Transport to Heartbreak Corner

Heartbreak Corner Theme Pic

On our  return to Heartbreak Corner, we zoomed along in veritable lounge chairs, on bitumen road in a vehicle manufactured in Japan.

We listen to stereo music of choice – John Williamson’s Warragul – probably not everybody’s choice, but ours.

Every now and again we tweak the air-conditioning to maintain that perfect level of ambiance for travelling comfort.

 

4 door Plymouth Belvedere

4 door Plymouth Belvedere like Bill and Val purchased in 1957, expect that theirs was a very nice green and didn’t have the chrome to create the different coloured area on the bottom portion.

A lifetime ago, Val wallowed along the corrugated dusty road to the outback in an overstated Yank Tank.

Dash of Belvedere

Steering Wheel and Dash of the Plymouth Belvedere. Apart from being left-hand drive this is the right look.

The windows were open, quarter-glass directing wind to the cool the driver and front passenger. If they passed a vehicle from the other direction, that had to quickly roll the up windows to avoid being smothered in dust. And they followed at a very respectable distance to avoid the dust cloud kicked up by the vehicle in front.

There was the radio for entertainment, when a station was close enough. The radio if it was going to prevail had complete with the roar of wind from open windows. And the seats, their 1957 Plymouth Belvedere had a lounge chair in the front and a lounge chair in the back.

Bill loved American big and beautiful and when he received the first tranche of money from their mineral sands lease being taken up, he paid the deposit to finance a beautiful green version of this car.  Have a listen to how it didn’t run. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8yB0aNbxh0

Plymouth Belvedere 2 door

Plymouth Belvedere 2 door. Bill and Val had the 4 door version of the car. It was a big green and beautiful. Bill licked the steam off it.

After the rest of the money failed to materialise, Bill and Val were stuck with the big Yank Tank and the payments that went with it. Job prospects in Maryborough were poor and so this beauty had to go west for Bill to earn its keep. That’s what set them on the road to Heartbreak Corner.

The trek to Heartbreak Corner was taken just 12 years after WW2 had finished and the US was Australia’s new friend. The general populace were still learning more of the horrors of the Japanese treatment of Australian POW’s in Changai, on the Burma Railway and in other places. A wallowing Yank Tank was in perfect keeping with the times.

 

54 years later, we returned to Heartbreak Corner in a Mitsubishi Pajero.

Mitsubishi Pajero 4WD

The Mitsubishi Pajero in which Bill and Val travelled on the Return to Heartbreak. The sturdy 4WD was much better suited to the 1957 roads than the flashy Plymouth.

300px-A6M3_Zero_N712Z_1

Mitsubishi Zero Fighter from WW2. The Allies couldn’t match it for speed or manoeuvrability until well into the war. This image is of one used in the making the movie Pearl Harbour.

It was Mitsubishi that made the Zero which had a 12 to 1 kill rate against the allies. It was a faster, more maneuverable fighter plane that the allied aircraft could not compete with until 1942.

How times have changed.  It would have been unthinkable to drive a Mitsubishi in 1957.   And now, I wouldn’t even think about buying a American Motor Vehicle.  Although, in Spain, where Pajero means ‘wanker’, I would be driving a Montero.

Madelyn’s Special Bond with the Anzacs Fastest Hog

Bert Wight’s time in the RAAF in WW2 was absolutely energised by his association with Americans.  In his first week at Bachelor Airbase, Leading Aircraftsman Wight struck up a great relationship with his Yankee boss by rendering him a great service.

Bert Wight with his Yankee Boss after getting his car going for him.

The Adjutant was certainly impressed by Bert taming the killer Hog, but Bert made him a real friend by rendering a service by being the brilliant mechanic that he was.  Bert discovered from a discussion that a number of jeeps had been delivered to the base and they just wouldn’t start.

“Let me have a look.  I worked as a mechanic before the war.” he enthused.  Bert was an A grade mechanic.  It was with good reason that he never lacked confidence and relished solving tough problems.

“If you can get this one going,’ his boss stated, ‘it’s mine.’

It didn’t take long for Bert to diagnose that the problem was electrical, as there was no spark at the business end of the spark plug leads.

‘Strange’, Bert thought, ‘these are new vehicles with new batteries.’  ‘And the batteries have plenty of charge,’ he reasoned, ‘it must be further back.’    Bert worked out that the problem was as simple as grease in the ignition points.  Grease put there by design to prevent corrosion on the sea voyage from the US to Australia.

Madelyn in front of the American left hand drive WW2 Jeep like the one Bert got going for his Yankee Boss.

Bert now really had a friend in his boss.  And well…. life just got better between Bert and the Americans.

Bert had a killer bike, he had the run of the place and could’t be stopped because of the black armbands.   And he had friends in high places.

Madelyn standing on the running board of an American WW2 truck.

Bert admired Americans throughout his life and even took on aspects of their accent in his speech, which he retained for the rest of his life.  He always pronounced the word ‘new’ as ‘noo’ rather than the Strine pronunciation of ‘nee-u’, much to the amusement of the ‘Children of the Road.’

This all happened in 1943 at Bachelor Air Base in the Northern Territory of Australia.

Far away, in time and place, a baby girl came into the world exactly half a century later and half a world away.  Madelyn became Bert’s Yankee great great granddaughter.  She was born in Chico, California and so Bert had a Yankee Granddaughter.  He would have loved it.

When Madelyn discovered that not only had her great great grandpa done something for the Anzacs but in so doing, had worked for Americans, rode an American Hog and loved Americans, she was mightily impressed.  As an Australian, she loves to identify as an American.

What a bonus that at the Madelyn’s first Anzac dawn service, there were 2 American WW2 vehicles on display.  One of them happened  to be a Jeep just like Bert had managed to get running for his Yankee boss almost 60 years before.

It was absolutely necessary for Madelyn to have a good look at the Jeep with the steering on the left hand side.

By contrast to Bert supercharged Hog, there was a WW2 BSA motorcycle on display.  This was what the Australian Intel riders rode to carry out their duties.  Not as fast by half as Bert’s Hog, but definitely worth a look and a picture.

Madelyn beside a WW2 BSA motorcycle NOT like Bert used to ride.

So, half a world and half a century apart, Bert and his Yankee granddaughter share a special American bond.

Madelyn Honours the ANZAC’s fastest HOG

The day before Anzac Day, 8 year old Madelyn asked a really good question. “What did our family do for the Anzacs?”
My answer, “Your great great grandfather, Bert Wight, rode the Anzac’s fastest Indian.”
“You mean like Cowboys and Indians?” she asked.
“No, like a really big Indian motorcycle ridden really fast.” I replied. As it turns out it was actually Harley Davidson 10/12 rather than an Indian. Luckily Jim Wight picked us up on when he checked the blog before we published it. Madelyn was delighted that our family had done something for the Anzacs and decided that she would like to attend the dawn service this Anzac Day. We were up at 4.45am and made our way to Cleveland RSL. Big attendance!

Madelyn at her first Anzac Dawn Service

There were 1000’s of people and cars were lined up from 1 kilometre away. We made our way through the crowd, couldn’t see much, but we heard the messages, heard the prayers and heard the bugler at dawn. Our decision to stand on the roundabout turned out to be a good one, because we had a great view of the marchers at the end of the service.  Madelyn took the flowers she had bought to honour the great great grandfather she never knew about until the day before Anzac day. She placed it at the memorial in his honour.

Bert Wight in his RAAF uniform at Bachelor NT in 1943

How did Bert become the Anzac’s fastest HOG? First thing was that he joined Australia’s military thereby becoming part of the Anzac tradition and secondly he rode the fastest Harley Davidson.
Bert became an Anzac when he joined the RAAF in 1943. He had spent the earlier part of the war in essential services. He was posted to Bachelor in the Northern Territory. Bachelor was one of the airfields that supported the defence of Northern Australia which was of vital strategic importance to stop the Japanese offensive. It was defended by Australian, British, Dutch and American forces. That turned out to be a real bonus for Bert.

Bert Wight on his killer HOG from side-on in Bachelor NT in 1943

On arrival in Bachelor, Bert reported to the Adjutant and was informed that he was to be an Intell Despatch Rider. “Can you ride a ‘real’ motorcycle?” the Adjutant asked.
“Yes Sir,” Bert said confidently. “I raced a Douglas 500cc Sports motorcycle in speedway before the war.”
“We have a Harley here that nobody will ride because it has killed its last 3 riders.” It was a Harley Davidson 10/12 and was supercharged.

Bert astride his killer HOG after he had gotten the better of it in 1943

The Harley sat very low to the ground which is why it was so deadly, especially when ridden on unsealed roads.   Unsealed roads was all there was in the Outback.  You had to ride it correctly or it would get you.

Never the shrinking violet Bert stated boldly that he was up for it. The Douglas 500cc he rode in speedway ran on motor spirit, so Bert had plenty of experience with powerful motorcycles and dirt surfaces.

Douglas 500cc sports racing bike like that Bert Wight learned to ride on dirt with before the war.

He couldn’t see why the Harley couldn’t be tamed and looked forward to the challenge.

Bert had the killer machine and now was given a licence to speed and a licence to kill. As an Intell Dispatch rider he was not to be stopped or impeded in any way and was instructed to shoot to kill if anyone tried to stop him.

He wore 2 black armbands to indicate his role. The armbands would signal to those who manned checkpoints that he was not to be stopped.

Bert Wight posing with his Yankee boss on the HOG

Bert regularly carried Intell from Bachelor to Darwin, a distance of some 60 miles. He tamed the Harley and travelled at high speed. He could really make that HOG fly.
Bert in his inimitable way had managed to work his way right into the thick of things. He was assigned to American Command but mainly worked with the Dutch Squadrons which were under the direction of the Americans. He was his own man, he had a licence to ride anywhere unchallenged, a Colt 45 on his hip and a superbike to ride as fast as he liked.

Bert astride his HOG in Bachelor in 1943

And that’s how Madelyn’s great great grandpa came to be the Anzac’s fastest HOG.

Madelyn laying flowers of the Cenataph for Bert Wight

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