© 2009 454 & 459 RAAF Squadrons
454 RAAF Baltimore (B) Squadron
Warrant Officer - Edmond Darlington Gaskell - Pilot
Italian Campaign 1944-45
Service No. 432781
Date/Place of Birth : 17 May 1924 - Eastwood, NSW
Date/Place of Enlistment: 30 Jan 1943 - Sydney
Date of Discharge: 26 Feb 1947
Posting at Discharge: 22 PTC
Died --4th September 2000
Warrant Officer Ed Gaskell served with 454 Baltimore (B) squadron from about May 1945 just after the Axis surrendered, and too late to fly operational sorties. Having moved from Cesanatico to Villa Orba, a base near Udine, Northern Italy, the Squadron under Wing Commander Rees DFC (US DFC) was heavily involved in training for formation and individual strikes, in a back up peace keeping role whilst the terms of the Surrender were being fulfilled, and the complex Jugo-Slavian and Greek political situations were being resolved. Careful monitoring of the situation, "showing the flag:" , and being available for emergencies were high priority. A fly-past of DAF Squadrons was a feature of this period, some 500 aircraft taking part. Finally Ed and his fellow 454 personnel were disbanded and repatriated.
A highly successful NSW Education Department career as an English Master and HSC Examiner was followed by a rewarding period as Principal of Mullumbimby High School and President of the local RSL organisation.
Ed drafted an interesting series of articles about his war time activities for his family, here is one of them. Perhaps those of us remaining might well emulate him.
"SKIN GAME" by Ed Gaskell Pilot 454 Squadron:
A few days after the war ended our squadron moved north of the Po River to an old German strip half way between Venice and Trieste, near Udine and beside a village called Villa Orba which gave the strip its Allied name. We had a well set out tent camp on a large grassy field with Officers, N.C.O.'s and Airmen. The C.O. and Adjutants office was a four wheel truck sized trailer. We had cookhouses and stores which were galvanized iron huts, a Store Tent and galvanized iron pit toilets. Opposite the tent lines were convenience urinals which were bomb tail package containers dug into the ground and called "desert lilies" as they had first been used in North Africa.
The one big problem was water. Drinking and cooking water came in motor tankers and we needed to keep our water bottles full all the time. In England they had been a curse and a nuisance. However washing water for clothes and the body was non-existent. We soon found an Italian lady in our village who did our washing magnificently - and cheaply. Overalls for the Airmen could be washed in aircraft fuel, not motor transport fuel as this was scarce. There was a Squadron Order directing aircraft fuel to be used for this purpose - but washing the body was to prove a continuing difficulty. On our arrival on a hot and dusty day we were told there were no showers and that arrangements could be made we would have to ablute in the irrigation canals. A finger was pointed across the paddock and about 200 meters away we discovered an irrigation canal about a meter or so wide and the wonderfully clear fast flowing water was about 1/2 a metre deep. There were no sheds or other cover so we would have to bathe in the open air. As this place seemed deserted and complaining would have changed nothing all we could do was to say it was not good but it could be worse. We stripped off and stepped into the water and jumped out. We had discovered that the maze of irrigation canals which serviced the area was fed from melting snowfields not too far away. The problem was to have a cleansing and satisfactory wash in minimum time with maximum effect without freezing tender extremities. Further up the canal was a road and a siphon took the water under the road. This meant that there was a concrete hole nearly two meters deep before the tunnel went under the road. Instead of standing in the freezing water to soap up and then splashing or lying down in the canal the brave could plunge feet first into the hole, soap up and repeat the plunge, it was total immersion, but it was quick.
The first problem came when Junior, the Navigator, cracking hardy and plunging deep was almost sucked into the underpass. We moved across the road and used the upsurge to come back to the top. The second problem was the farm traffic along the road. The Italian farm labourers, mainly female, were amused, at least we hoped so and perhaps impressed by the naked conquering Aussie Airmen. We ducked and contrived at some attempt at modesty, but finally with the cold water being so cold and familiarity breeding indifference we accepted the situation and began to grin and bare it. For many the difficulties of bathing became an excuse for minimum excursions to the canal. Even when a galvanized iron shed with a shower was erected the showerer had to pump up enough water for a shower using a hand pump designed for Samson to use which discouraged the effort. The water amount could not be checked so you ran the danger of running out of water and even when the weather warmed up and the shed was an oven the water temperature remained just a couple of degrees above freezing point or so it felt. After one attempt at using the official shower facility we went back to the open air and public plunge in the siphon. The locals became accustomed to the sights and we became accustomed to the locals.
Crew : Back Row L-R: Warrant Officer Arthur "Junior" Davy,
Pilot - Ed Gaskell (seated - centre)
A letter from Ed Gaskell to Colin Munro, 4.1.97
"A Fred McKay Church Parade"
Hearing Fred McKay on your programme at Christmas took me back over fifty years to a church service Fred held in the Transit Camp at AlMaza, just outside Cairo for R.A.A.F. members about late September early October 1945. All the R.A.A.F. who had served as aircrew or ground crew in Italy and the Western Med on Australian squadrons such as 454, 3, 450, and 451, the Australian bomber squadrons and as Odd Bod Aircrew in just about every R.A.F. squadron in the area were being gathered together for final repatriation home. Fred was the last of the three Australian Air Force Padres left with us. The other two, Bob Davies who became Anglican Bishop of Tasmania and Johnny McNamara who was later a Monsignor at the Melbourne Cathedral had already gone home. They had all served in the Middle East ad then Italy since 1940 and Fred had either taken or chosen the short straw to be the last to leave.
Fred had put his head around the concern of our tent and had said something like, "Before we leave I'm going to have a bit of a service tomorrow morning at ten o'clock". The Camp Chapel was a fair sized building presided over by an English Padre who had seen very few Australians. He later said he was quite happy to lend the Chapel to Fred but he did not expect the crowd.
I do not think any Australian in the camp missed Fred's "bit of service". Every seat was taken by the early arrivals; the back and sides of the building were packed with standees and there was a group clustered around the door and at every window. I can remember Fred's talk - it was not a conventional sermon - when he talked of settling back into civilian life and maintaining the values, principles and beliefs we had gained by our service in the Air Force. When recounting a story of the problems of the clergy he made the Pommy Padre sit up when he recalled his brother saying after a hard morning's plowing, "And now here comes the bloody parson".
We would have all said that Fred was "a bloody good padre" and I think everyone who met him in the Middle East and Italy would have followed Fred's subsequent brilliant career and would rejoice in knowing that this "Great and Good Man" was maintaining the same pace, form, and achievement levels he set when he was looking after us so many years ago.
*Note Fred McKay died 31.3.2000
Edmond D GASKELL
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