© 2009 454 & 459 RAAF Squadrons
454 RAAF Squadron - D.A.F.
Flight Lieutenant Norm Gilham
Service No. 418262
Norm Gilham aged 22
Norm Gilham - Pilot
Geoff Wilkinson - W/OG
Ross Woodhead - F/L Nav
C.B. "Tommie" Tutin - W/OG
History of world-wide movement
Rocklands, Somers, Benalla, Bradfield Park and Ascot Vale
HMT Niew Amsterdam
A very fast single ship, to avoid u-boats. Across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand; and then across the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco, America
Up the Pacific Coast by Train to Vancouver – Canada
Souris, Calgary, Summerside Prince Edward Island and Hallifax.
A very fast single ship – across the Atlantic Ocean direct to England.
Brighton, Sidmouth, Castlecombe, Long Newton, Watchfield,and Blackpool
In a convoy of 28 ships and navy escorts. English Channel, Bay of Biscay, Straits of Gibraltar and Mediterranean Sea to Palestine. 3 u-boat attacks, 2 ships sunk, 1 u boat sunk.
Mearc – Jerusalem.
Gianaclis, Amiriya and Almaza, (Tripoli and Tunis on the way to Italy)
Naples, Falconara, Cesenatico, Villa orba and Taranto.
Slow, single ship, no u-boats now! Across the Mediterranean Sea again, back to Egypt.
HMT Stirling Castle
A very fast single ship, but now for the first time, a fully lit troopship! Through the Suez Canal, Red Sea and Indian Ocean to Fremantle, Australia. Then on to Sydney and Melbourne. Home at last!
The boy who was posted overseas
After 8 months training in Australia a boy was posted overseas. Out from the East Coast. 3 years later a man comes back. In from the West Coast. Having traveled 9 oceans and seas and 8 countries.
After another 3 months I returned to civilian life; a life that seemed strange for quite a long time; after 4 years of training and operation life in the Air Force, and having completed 40 operational missions with 454 Squadron on daylight formation bombing, and night intruder bombing and strafing missions.
MY SERVICE HISTORY BY NORM GILHAM
When I was first asked to write an article about the war, I said that I was not into that sort of thing; and that people had heard all about the war anyway. Later I realized that most people write about the death and destruction of war, and quote facts and figures, so I wrote about a very brief resume of my war service, and a few brief stories of the lighter side of that service. A more personal and human side.
First of all I think it is essential to impress on the younger generations that the veterans they see today were very young men and boys, when they were in the war.
I joined the Air Force when I was nineteen, and my first taste of service life was at Rocklands, near Hamilton. The Rocklands Reservoir was only a series of survey pegs in those days, and we used to do our map reading and route marches, around the area that is now full of water. At Rocklands we learned the basics of Air Force service, and did a lot of physical training and drill instruction; as well as instruction in the handling of various types of weapons.
Somers, near Frankston, came next, where we did a course of subjects to fit us for aircrew duties. The recruits who performed best in those subjects, were to be trained as pilots or navigators. The final test to decide which, was a special coordination test. Pass this test, and you trained as a pilot. Fail and you trained as a navigator. The remainder of the course, trained as wireless operator/air gunners. I passed all those exams and tests, and so I had cleared the first hurdle, in my quest to become a pilot. Benalia came next, to begin flight training and further studies in night and in navigation and gunnery.
A very special thrill, was my first solo flight. I understand that it always happens, as it did with me. One day the instructor got out and said, “see if you can do it on your own.” and of course, I did!
From there I was posted to Calgary in Canada in the “Empire Air Training Scheme” [EATS see History Page of this site]. We went over on the New Amsterdam, a new luxury liner which had been converted to a troopship on it’s maiden voyage. We called into Wellington, New Zealand, to pick up some New Zealand servicemen; and then non stop to San Francisco; up the coast to Vancouver, and then through the Rocky Mountains to Calgary. We nearly died with the drastic change in temperature, from 100ºF [37.7ºc] in Australia to minus 17 ºF [-27ºc] in Calgary, just 17 days later.
After three months intensive study of flying and navigation, ship and aircraft recognition, armaments and bombs etc., continual flying training, day and night until the final graduation day came and I received my pilots wings. Finally I had made it.
Norm Gilham with a Harvard at Calgary
68 trainee pilots started that final course and only 35 graduated. Out of the top graduates there were to be 13 pilot officer commissions and I received one of those commissions, to become Pilot Officer Norm Gilham.
Ron Squires, Bill Jones and Norm Gilham formation flying
During training we were banned from flying over the Rocky Mountains, because of severe downdraughts and dangerous wind shifts, but just before I graduated my instructor got me to fly over them and around some of the highest peaks, so that he could take photographs.
A copy of one of the photos my instructor gave me
'flying over the Rockies'
I then spent three months on Prince Edward Island, on navigation and reconnaissance training, and flying anti-submarine patrols over the Atlantic approach to St Laurence Gulf. We were then lucky enough to visit New York, before heading for England on another very fast ocean liner, the Aquitania.
Typical English lane Castlecombe
A sad reminder of the deadly seriousness of the war, was the fact that after five months in England, I was suddenly posted to the Middle East, when I had just arranged to see my brother-in-law, who was also in the Air Force in England. I never did get to see him, and one month later he was killed over the North Sea.
We went to the Middle East on the Alcantara in a twenty-eight ship convoy. Troop ships, supply ships, ammunition ships, etc. with escorting destroyers and an aircraft carrier. There were three u-boat attacks. Two ships lost, and one u-boat destroyed. At one stage we deliberately headed into a storm to avoid a reported u-boat pack. We were confined below decks for three days because of huge forty to sixty foot waves.
We went to a transit camp in Palestine; meeting an entirely different people for the first time. While there I walked the Way of the Cross, and visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where I received a Certificate of Pilgrimage with a small chip of marble set in wax o the bottom. These chips had come from repair work in the church. We visited the birthplace of Jesus, and I was instrumental in saving it from fire damage. I noticed smoke coming from an area of hessian ceiling, and promptly reported it. Had it burst into flames, there would have been severe damage.
Donkey tour Jerusalem
First Class travel in Palestine
Certificate of Pilgrimage - Church of the Holy Sepulcher Jerusalem
Norm at the pyramids
We then went to our respective units in Egypt, and there again, in between flying, we saw as much as we could, of the country. The remarkable pyramids, which were badly weather beaten and the sphinx, which had a huge support placed under its chin. There is an amazing contrast in Egypt with the mighty, fast flowing Nile River; and then the huge expanse of desert. When the Desert War finished, the Australian Army came home to fight the Japanese, but the RAAF stayed on, and in early August 1944, 454 Squadron went from Berca in Libya, to Pescara in Italy; changing from mainly reconnaissance and anti submarine patrols, to the dangerous job of daylight formation bombing.
Mediterranean sea anti submarine patrol
Very few people realize that three Australian Squadrons went to Italy, in the Desert Air Force, No. 3 and No. 450 Fighter Squadrons and No. 454 Squadron flying Baltimore light bombers. The New Zealand Army continued in the Eight Army, so we were flying in support of them from time to time, and also supporting the British and Canadians.
Our aerodrome at Falconara - actually a mud patch
We had mud and slush, and ice and snow, to contend with; and the Squadron was commended for continuing to operate under such conditions.
Snowed in at Cesenatico - Italy
The trucks always made three tracks, two for the wheels, and one for the differential, scraping along in the mud. In these conditions the German anti-aircraft gunners were very reluctant to fire at us. In the heavy snow the heat and blast from their guns, made a beautiful black target for our covering fighters to dive down and attack.
Later on in the Italian campaign, were went onto night intruder work. This involved a single aircraft, always at night, roaming over Northern Italy and Austria, and Yugoslavia to Hungary. They were see and destroy missions, with a fixed target to attack if nothing else was found. It was lonely and eerie; and there was always a sense of unknown danger, out there in the dark.
The crew with Eventful Eve -
L-R W/OG Geoff Wilkinson F/Ldr, Ross Woodhead (Nav)
F/LN, Norm Gilham (Pilot) F/LN, Tom Tutin W/OG
I had been briefed for one of these intruder missions on the 24th of April 1945; but about 11pm I was briefed for a special mission that required an experienced crew. The Army had a large number of Germans bottled up at a bend in the Po River, and the Germans were busy building a temporary bridge, to escape during the night. Our job was to destroy the bridge and prevent their escape. We had the right plane for the job, because we were flying Baltimores, which were very fast and heavily armed, and carried a bomb load of 2,000 lbs.
It was a clear night, so I crossed the river clear of the target, and had a look at the situation. I continued North to gain the element of surprise. I turned around, dropped to 1,000 ft, and headed for the bridge. The anti-aircraft guns were a bit slow in their response, and as I turned away we could see that our bombs had badly damaged or destroyed the bridge and anyone working there. We also spotted two barges further up the river, so I quickly circled around, dropped even lower to 300 ft, and came back past them, with the turret and belly guns spraying them with bullets. The anti-aircraft guns were right onto us by now, and although I answered with my forward guns, we were badly hit. All the instruments and communications were put out of action. I had no contact with the rest of the crew, and I did not know if any of them were alive or dead. The crew knew I was OK because we were sere still flying! I flew clear of the area, and then gained height. I tried to call the crew without success. My nerves were totally on edge; and I nearly jumped out of the plane when something grabbed my foot. It was Ross, the navigator; his compartment was below and forward of mine. He handed me a note to say he had been hit.
The 2 Notes Ross the Navigator passed to Norm
Left side the first note, right side the second note
He then reached up with another note with a course for base. Without instruments working, I didn’t know how high we were, or how fast we were going. I simply had to fly by my experience and understanding of the aircraft; by feeling and instinct. If you fly too slow you simply fall out of the sky, and if you are going too fast you can’t land. Tom and Geoff, the two wireless operator/air gunners, were unhurt and did their jobs well. One sent a wireless message that we were in trouble; and as we approached base, the other set of a double red flare, which meant an emergency landing. Just as well they did because I could not contact base at all. I landed the plane quite safely; but our troubles were not over. We had no brakes! Near the end of the runway I turned the plane sharply with full rudder, spinning it off to the side, leaving the runway clear. The three of us got Ross out, as his compartment hatch had jammed. Then the ambulance and fire crews took over. There was always the chance of fire with damaged aircraft so they played it safe.
It was now about 1 am on the 25th April 1945; Anzac Day. We had certainly named our plane very well – “Eventful Eve” –
as we had taken off on Anzac Eve, and landed on Anzac Day. Our fortieth operational mission with 454 Squadron, and our last; because the war ended while Ross was in hospital. In the morning we counted 198 holes in the plane; and because of internal hydraulic damage it did not fly again. There were six holes in Ross’ parachute, so if we were forced to jump, he was doomed. He has often thanked me for getting us back to base; but I continually thank God for extending our lives.
Once again my prayers had been answered. Before each flight I said a little prayer, for a successful mission and a safe return; and after shutting off the engines on return, I sat in the silence; and said a little prayer of thanks. When Ross came out of hospital, we got a new plane EII but in our minds nothing could replace the one that had carried us through. On Anzac Day like so many others we remember our dead, but after OUR Anzac Day 1945, we are very thankful to be alive.
The crew at Gianaclis
My forty operational missions with 454 Squadron were of three very different types; Reconnaissance and anti submarine patrols - were a bit like fishing. Full of anticipation; but you usually caught nothing. Daylight formation bombing – was a team effort, and very challenging and very dangerous. Night intruder operations – were entirely different. A single aircraft on seek and destroy missions over enemy territory at night. It was a strange loneliness, and quite eerie; and there was always a sense of unknown danger, out there in the dark. Anyway, we did all these things, and survived!
Breakfast and life goes on
No more war and thinking of home
A few months after the war ended I was proud to be a part of the awesome spectacle of 500 aircraft of the Desert Air Force, in a final fly past salute to the Eighth Army; after a long and successful relationship. I have a copy of that fly past programme in my folder.
A few months after that fly past, we handed in our aircraft and went in truck convoy down to Taranto. Then back to Egypt.
All aboard for Egypt
HMT Mataroa cruising to Egypt
AT Egypt by ship where we dropped off several hundred German prisoners. As a matter of fact one of those prisoners went to the same school as one of my crew. He had returned to Germany, and become a fanatical Nazi! He was very proud of the fact that he was in a group who did not surrender until well after the ceasefire, when they finally ran out of ammunition.
German prisoners being dropped off at Egypt
A few weeks later we left Cairo and Egypt for the second time; this time heading for home in the Stirling Castle. Down through the Suez Canal, through the Red Sea, and out across the Indian Ocean to the west coast of Australia.
Suez Canal & Red Sea journey
Three years earlier we had sailed out from the east coast, and here we were, coming in from the west. A few days later we were home at last!
Crew photo - ready to be home
Anchoring Sydney harbour
I had led a charmed life for those three years. I had many brushes with death, that could have gone either way. Many were killed, and many were wounded, in training as well as in action. After the war finished in Europe, I realized a strange thing about wartime service; is that while you are in danger yourself, you do not worry about others in danger. I had not worried about my brother-in-law; but he was killed in England. I had not worried about my brother flying in Liberators against the Japanese, but once I was safe, I worried about him until the war in the Pacific finally ended!
Well, that very briefly is what I did with four years of my life; but I have added a few brief human interest stories at the end, about things that happened along the way.
STORIES FROM NORM GILHAM
My Twenty-first Birthday
21st Birthdays are usually special occasions, and with a party with family and friends; but mine was far from home, and not with family. Way back then I was a twenty year old RAAF pilot just doing my final course at 37 SFTS in Calgary, Canada. The people of Calgary were the most friendly people you could find anywhere, and they went out of their way to make us welcome into their homes and into their lives. A Mr. and Mrs. Hodges and their family were making me feel quite at home during my 3 months at the Air Force base there, and they knew that my 21st birthday was due on Saturday 3rd July. The week leading up to my birthday is still very clear in my mind.
It unfolded like this. Sunday 27th June – after a pleasant evening with the Hodges family, Mrs. Hodges invited me to join the family on a weekend trip to Banff on the following Saturday, the 3rd, my birthday. Monday 28th, Tuesday 29th and Wednesday 30th – were all rather uneventful, flying and studying. Thursday 1st July – another full day, and were doing further night flying when the smooth run up to my birthday suddenly changed. Fate nearly ruined it for me. The pilot in front of me carelessly forgot to put his tail light on, and I just as carelessly got too close, and chopped a piece off his tail plane… just a little bit; and by the way, we were still on the ground! Quite safe really! Friday 2nd July – the two of us were up before the commanding officer, and our punishment was; “You are both confined to base for seven days”. I phoned the Hodges household and told them the bad news; and then settled down to some solid study. Some hours later I was told to report to the Adjutant, to be greeted with; “A Mr. Hodges just phone me about a 21st birthday trip to Banff. Why the hell didn’t you say it was your 21st?” I told him that there were two of us involved, and I did not want special treatment because of my birthday. He then said; “The two of you can have Saturday, Sunday and Monday off and make it up later.” The Monday was a special day off for the Calgary Stampede. I phoned Mr. Hodges and thanked him for his thoughtful intervention.
Saturday 3rd July – my 21st Birthday. We all went up to Banff as planned. We had a wonderful time, capped off when Mrs. Hodges produced a cake especially baked to celebrate my 21st birthday. So you see the combined efforts of a very special Canadian family, had saved my 21st birthday from slipping into complete oblivion. An added bonus was being able to attend the world famous Calgary Stampede on the Monday.
Banff Springs Hotel
The Calgary Stampede with the proud Indian chiefs
THE DAY I STRUCK THE JACKPOT
Another thing I should mention is that most people have the impression that the Air Force operated from established airfields and buildings. In war time of course, that is not the case. You simply make airfields as you go along, and live in tents. 454 Squadron was considered to have the best equipped mess under canvas, due to our scrounging in towns as they were taken from the Germans. I have photos in my folder showing that mess in all it's glory; and contrasting photos, two days later, after a violent storm completely destroyed it. In situations like that, rank was forgotten, and we all worked together to get things back to normal, and we ate what we could, when we could.
I have been asked many times just how I came by the photographs and Nazi flag, and the souvenirs from the SS officers flat cum office in Klagenfurt, Austria. Over a period of time, my crew members and I had taken over responsibility for buying and scrounging extra food and drink etc, for the Squadron. We always had a truck available and if we were not flying when a town was taken from the Germans, we went there to get whatever we could. When Klagenfurt fell, I went up there with one of my wireless operator/air gunners, Tom Tutin. Wanting a bed for the night we asked at one of the larger buildings. The Austrian woman there must have thought we were Military Police, because she looked quite scared and simply stood there repeating, “Up there, up there!” Well up the stairs we went and discovered the SS officers flat cum office. We did actually sleep there, with the door barred and our guns under our pillows. As a matter of fact the Army caught this bloke a couple of miles away the next morning. We collected souvenirs, photographs and flags etc. for ourselves and for others at the Squadron, then bought quite a variety of drinks etc for the Mess; and returned to base after a very successful “raid”.
Another exercise was scrounging for eggs. Once in awhile we had an Italian family come to the Squadron and make spaghetti for us, and this required a certain number of eggs. Money was of no use to the Italian villagers and country folk, so the going rate for an egg was two cigarettes; and when we got enough eggs we would get our spaghetti. On one of these trips we came across a small patch of onions, about 60ft x 25ft. We bought the lot for pair of boots and a 5lb. jar of jam. The Italian farmer agreed to look after the onions for us, and in return he could have what he needed for his family use. As you can well imagine, over the next couple of months we had onions cooked in every conceivable way. We had learned enough Italian to get by in conversation so these trips were quite an enjoyable break for us and of course the Italians enjoyed our visits as well.
WIN SOME -- LOSE SOME
Shortly after this another side to our service lives began, when the war in Europe ended. The rumors said we were going to Burma; or going home. Neither of these came about for several months, and in the meantime the commanding officer asked us to do everything possible to keep all the aircrew and ground staff occupied with organized activities, otherwise we would lose some of them when the time came to leave. This story relates to that.
When the war ended our Commanding Officer asked us to keep everyone together to be ready to head for home, or to further action in the Pacific. We fitted up trucks with bench seats, and had them doing tours of different parts of Italy, taking about twenty men at a time. Quite a number of us were running our own “Little Airline” flying VIPS and supplies etc to and from Rome, Florence and Taranto etc. We flew a spare aircraft to the different cities, where they spent a few days, and swapped over with the next crew and flew their plane back to base. In this way we were able to see a lot of Italy's cities, including a couple of stopovers in Venice.
Another activity was a horse riding school. Unfortunately it didn’t last long. One of my crew, Tom Tutin, had a lot to do with horses before the war, so one night we went up into Austria and managed to get two Russian horses into our truck and then headed back to base. They created great fun around the camp until we had a dinner party attended by a few New Zealanders. We were far too trusting; in the morning our horses had gone! We headed over to the Kiwi camp, but too late! They had already sold them to an Italian. Easy come, easy go was never so true! At least the Kiwis had something to show for it, a good profit, we did not!
A PEACEFUL RETREAT
This story relates to our Padres of 3 denominations, who were always helping with morale etc, and sending their own letters to our home folk from time to time.
It was a small and quiet little fishing village that should not have known the violence of war; but like so many such places in the world at that time it had, and had been badly damaged. It was Cesenatico, on the Adriatic coast of Italy in 1944.
In Cesenatico township
As a pilot in 454 Squadron, I was based there for several months in the final push against the Germans. Our Padres transformed a damaged building into a peaceful retreat, called The Kookaburra Casa, a place where we could go and relax, play music, have a cuppa and a yarn.
My wireless operator/air gunner, Tom Tutin, and myself, and another pilot, Jim Duffy, were on friendly terms with a local Italian family, and we came up with the idea of getting a group of local girls to the “Casa” for a dance from time to time. It was pretty lonely for them too, because most of their men folk were away in the armed forces. Fortunately a few of us had learned enough Italian to get by in a conversation. Our Italian family made up a list of girls and their addresses, which we then had to have cleared for security. With the all clear, we organized the music, and then whenever we could we would arrange a dance, we picked up the girls in a covered truck fitted with bench seats, and took them to the Casa. After a very pleasant dance afternoon, we took all the girls back home. At times we had to wear gum boots and carry the girls through winter mud.
This is just one of many such stories in my war service, and thousands of other servicemen have similar stories to tell. Little pieces of human interest from all parts of the world. A PS to this little story, is the fact that I still have the original list of girls we had drawn up for our dances, over fifty years ago.
A SLIGHT EMBARRASMENT
It was quite a dark night on the Adriatic coast of Italy in early April 1945. One 454 Squadrons aircraft was heading south to base after a successful mission near the Austrian border. Apart from the engines there was the usual eerie silence of an intruder over enemy territory at night, and then:
"Pilot to Navigator"
"Navigator here, go ahead Norm"
"What do you make of that glow over the water at nine o'clock, Ross?"
"Navigator to Pilot. Looks like a fire, could be a ship."
"Pilot to Wireless."
"Wireless here, skipper."
"Break radio silence Geoff. Request base permission to investigate what appears to be a burning ship."
Silence once more except for the engines, and then:
"Wireless to Pilot, permission granted."
I then turned out over the Adriatic Sea.
"Turret to Pilot."
"Go ahead, Tom."
"I get a good view from up here, Norm. Certainly looks like a fire and getting much bigger."
All watching in silence as we go further out towards that glow.
"Turret to Pilot".
"Go ahead, Tom."
"I hate to say this Norm, it's the moon coming up!"
"Pilot to Navigator, I'm afraid he's right Ross. Have you got a course for base?"
"Navigator to Pilot. It is the moon Norm. Course to base 210 degrees."
"Pilot to Navigator, thanks Ross. Turning onto 210 degrees now."
We returned to base safely, and we were commended for our initiative, but other crews did not let us forget our "burning ship" for quite some time. The bonus of course was a little humour at a very serious time in our lives.
Another thing I should mention is that most people have the impression that the Air Force operated from established airfields and buildings. In war time of course, that is not he case. You simply make airfields as you go along, and live in tents. 454 Squadron was considered to have the best equipped mess under canvas; due to our scrounging in towns as they were taken from Germans.
OUR DEDICATED ASSISTANTS
No story about the RAAF at war is complete without reference to the tireless work of our ground staff. Under very trying conditions they kept our/their planes clean and they kept them refueled and armed. They worked like slaves to get the bombs to the planes and onto the bomb racks. Especially n the mud and slush of winter in Italy, they helped us in and out of the planes and were always interested in where we were going and what we were doing. The ground staff boys were very proud of their planes and when we returned they check all over the plane for any damage. If they found any holes, they boasted to theirs about the fact that their plane had been right in the thick of the action. On one occasion we came back with a number of holes, and they found that our emergency water container had been holed. The water had run out and frozen on the floor like a sheet of glass. When they found this they shouted to their mates to come and have a look.
The maintenance ground staff were just as dedicated, doing regular maintenance, and repairs. One particular incident relates to this dedication. A plane had been repaired and the pilot testing it said it would not take off and returned it to maintenance. The boss asked me if I would try it. I agreed and asked the maintenance Sergeant to show his faith in the repairs, by flying wit me and he readily agreed. We had just about run out of runway traveling 120 mph, well above the takeoff speed of 110 mph, when I finally go the plane to lift off. We flew around for a while testing controls etc. the sergeant worked out that the elevator trim tabs were at fault. Back at maintenance he corrected this fault and there was no more trouble. We had both put our lives on the line because if the plane did not lift off we were going too fast to stop.
A HAPPY ENDING
On my return from overseas service in November 1945 I had a very happy reunion with Pat Niblett. A lovely girl I had known very well before the war. Pat had now developed into a very beautiful young lady.
We soon felt as though we had never been apart, and five months later that reunion led to the perfect marriage, to the perfect bride. Pat helped me a great deal in settling back into a normal lifestyle, and in the forty nine years since that happy occasion, we have worked together in successful businesses, and we have raised two children to become responsible adults. We traveled all over Australia and New Zealand, and we have been very successful in racing horses, including the champion Dual Choice. As you can see, we have had a very full life together. We are still very good friends, and very good mates. Most of all we are still very much in love!
A perfect marriage and a perfect wife
The "confetti" shown in this wedding photo has sentimental value, because it came from the ticket punches at
Pat's theatre, the Corio, Geelong
Finally I still thank god every day for my safe return and for such a wonderful wife, because during the war, on land, at sea, or in the air, every single time you went out, you may never come back!
WARTIME VOLUNTEER WORK AND FUNDRAISING
by Patricia Gilham
During World War II, along with other girls, I was quite involved in volunteer work, and in fund raising activities for the Red Cross; just as our mothers were in World War I, and were now doing for the second time in World War II.
Being Chief of Staff at the Corio Theatre on a six days a week roster, I had limited time to help during hte week, but Sunday was always a free day, so I worked at the "Fighting Forces Hostel" in Ryrie Street Geelong.
On Sundays we served breakfast to 50-100 servicemen, and helped with other meals when required, especially with the midday Sunday roast. The boys said it was "Just like Mum's roast at home". We always enjoyed serving the Sunday dinner, seeing the happy reactions, and hearing their comments of praise.
The big, and quite difficult job, was the making of up to 140 double decker beds. We worked in pairs, and had to straddle the lower beds to make up the top beds; much to the amusement of any of the servicemen who were around at the time.
The Hostel was set up in an unoccupied furniture store in Ryrie Street, and operated from the middle of 1942 until early in 1946 to offer a "Home away from Home" to servicemen on leave, and to servicemen stationed in the Geelong area. During the four years the Hostel operated, the volunteers served almost 300,000 meals at one shilling each and made up almost 100,000 beds; once again at the small charge of one shilling per night. Busy girls we were, but very happy to be helping in our small way. We met lots of very nice and interesting servicemen and civilians along the way, and I must say that volunteer work is a very rewarding part of life.
Much of the rest of my free time was spent on fundraising activities for the Red Cross. House parties and little private dances were occurring all over the place, and they were very popular. To make floors smooth enough for dancing my father shaved wax off a candle and mixed it with kerosene and sawdust. It was very effective indeed. Small door charges were made, and the inevitable raffles were run. All small money by today's standards, but all the money coming in from so many helpers amounted to quite a sizeable sum for the Red Cross, and other charitable organisations helping servicemen. Once again, as with the volunteer work, this fundraising had the great reward of meeting and enjoying the company of a great number of very nice and interesting people.
The biggest fundraising event I was involved in was organised with three girls chosen to represent each of the armed services. Army, Navy and Air Force. They then competed with each other, with service rivalry, to raise the most money. One was chosen as Queen, and the other two were Princesses, plus two school girls as attendants. One of the Corio Theatre girls was "Queen of the Air Force", I was one of her Princesses, and of course we won!
Pat is second on the right
OIL SILK BATHERS
by Patricia Gilham
In November 1945 just after the war ended, I had a happy reunion with; and later married Norm Gilham. Norm had been overseas for three years as a bomber pilot in the RAAF. Among the souvenirs, etc that he bought back was his survival pack to used in the event of being shot down. It contained highly concentrated survival rations, a compass, a fishing line, and two escape maps made out of oiled silk – beautifully coloured to show countries, roads and rivers, etc.
These maps were very pliable and waterproof, so after all family and friends had seen the contents of the survival kit, and especially the maps; I could not resist making bathers out of them. I made a brief two piece pair of bathers for myself, and similar brief trunks for Norm. Rather appropriately, on my stomach was printed “Hungary”, and on Norm's bottom was “Berlin”.
These bathers created a lot of interest on many beaches, from Lorne to Surfers Paradise, as we traveled up and down the coast from time to time.
Unfortunately the sun and saltwater eventually took their toll. They could no longer be worn in the water because of the danger of disintegration. They certainly served their purpose and created a lot of interest for quite a few years.
Pat wearing the oil silk bathers
Norm's oil silk map bathers - Bondi Beach 1947 -
sporting Berlin on his behind!
The front cover of Norm Gilham's wartime folder
Norm Gilham has provided this site with the most wonderful photos and stories and we thank both Norm and his wife Pat for the contribution of stories and photos to this site.
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|Stories & Anecdotes|
|Anzac Day Pictures|
|War Time Pictures|
|War Time Document|
|Post War Pictures|
|London Dedication Ceremony|
|454 Magazine - Nomad|
|459 Magazine - Gremloids|