Day 91. Remembrance Day

In November 2012 on November 11, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Today is Remembrance Day.

We pause to remember those who died or suffered in combat.

There are key sites around the globe which crop up over and over again in discussions around war.  In our neck of the woods, Northern Australia features pretty heavily due to its exposure to various nations perceived (on and off) to be a threat.

In the early 2000s, Telstra contractors were working on Bathurst Island setting up infrastructure for Over The Horizon Radar (OTHR), an Australian project which stemmed from research conducted at the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO).

Paul Toohey, then writing for The Australian, best describes what happened next:

“surveyor Dave Edwards […] spotted a piece of metal on the ground and called a halt to the bulldozers working behind him.

“Emanating from a deep central crater were fragments of metal and unspent ammunition, scattered everywhere. Edwards then noticed a partly buried machine gun.”

It was the remains of a Beaufighter strike plane, piloted by my grandfather Ian Wilkins (then aged just 22 years) during raids targeting the Japanese based in Timor during 1942.

The tale of how the plane had disappeared is a beauty. Again, I’ll use words written by Paul Toohey:

From late 1942, the 24 Beaufighters of Squadron 31 were based in Coomalie Creek, south of Darwin. The two-seater planes – manned by the RAAF’s best – were heavily armed. As they came within 80 or so kilometres of their target, they would drop to three or four metres above sea level – close enough to raise a wake on the water – and wind up to 520 km/hour. Just short of the target, they would pull up rapidly and strafe the enemy airfields.

Sent on a mission with 5 other planes to attack Betano, Toohey quotes former squadron member Ken McDonald:

“The second aircraft, flown by Wilkins, was hit in the tale section. The cables between the pilot’s cockpit and the plane’s elevators in the tail-plane were cut.

The result was Wilkins couldn’t control the aeroplanes height…..This meant he came home from Timor in a series of wild ups and downs, like a roller-coaster.”

Next, as written be Toohey,

Wilkins was short on fuel and knew that an attempt to land the flailing aircraft would mean certain death. The only choice was to bail out.

The two men managed to survive their landings in the waters around Bathurst Island, and were rescued within several hours. The fate of the Beaufighter remained unknown for the remainder of both their lives.

My mother and uncles have visited the site, and are pleased to report that the radar road was rerouted to avoid the resting place of Grandpa’s Beaufighter.

Lest we forget.

[painting reproduction thanks to Australian War Memorial]

  1. Loved reading this for obvious reasons. Also, that painting is fantastic. At first I was like, wow that picture Sarah found looks remarkably like Grandpa. What a coincidence. But no, it is him!!

  2. I know! I just googled ‘Ian Wilkins image’ thinking that a newspaper photo might come up! Mum didn’t even know it existed. I’m going to contact the War Memorial and get more info.

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