R.A.A.F. Bairnsdale – The story of a wartime airfield by Jim Prendergast.

Australian aviation history World War 11, 70th Anniversary limited edition.

Jim Prendergast’s life

Jim has been an aviation enthusiast since he was about four year old.  He was staying on his uncle and aunt’s farm when a winged object glided on to the property.   As small as he was, Jim out-ran his Uncle Jack to reach the aeroplane, the first he had ever seen.  By the time his breathless uncle arrived Jim was firmly seated in the cockpit  while the pilot  introduced himself as Kingsford-Smith.  Smithy had dropped in to snip a small piece of wire from the farm fence so as to repair his plane. When Jim grew older he wondered if the pilot had really been Smithy or “Some one just pulling his leg”.  Years later he did hear that Kingsford-Smith had been Barnstorming in the area.  This brief meeting started a love affair with aviation which continues to this day, some eighty five years later.   During that time Jim has spent  a good deal of his life researching aviatiion and military history photographing and painting aeroplanes in peace and war and has become recognized as an authority on some aspects. He has built a collection of  several hundred scale model aeroplanes  and  preserved several thousand photographs as well as acquiring a library rich in aviatiion and military history. Not surprising, holidays usually turned into trips that took in some aspect of aviation and military interest. This included research in U.k., Europe, America. Canada and New Zealand as well as most Australian States.  In 1943, prior to being sent to Bairnsdale RAAF Base as a junior postal clerk, Jim had previously been working at the  Trafalgar Post Office as a telegram messenger.  On one particularly stormy night in Winter  when all other telephone lines were down in the area, he was on night shift when he received a call from the Coast Guards asking to be put through to Australian Naval Intelligence in Melbourne, urgently.   As the quality of the line was poor it was necessary for Jim to relay the message between the two parties.  On  completion of the call,  he was contacted by Navy Intelligence and told to destroy any record he may have made pertaining to the connection and not to speak to another soul about the phone call.  The Coast Guards were reporting having seen Japanese activity near Lake Tyers Beach.  The purpose  for the RAAF being based at Bairnsdale was not only to train crew before they headed north but also to escort ships travelling in convoy around the south-eastern coast of Australia.  When  “RAAF Bairnsdale” was first published, Jim received a letter from England where the writer said he was puzzled to know why Australians were so fascinated  with World War 2 as they were so far away from the action.  This prompted Jim to add a map in the next edition showing that Japanese submarines sank 17 ships in Australian waters in 1942, 14 of which were close to the coast.   It was in June 1942 that the  British merchant ship, ‘Iron Crown’ was  torpedoed by a Japanese submarine off Gabo Island.  The crew of a Hudson, from  the RAAF Base at Bairnsdale,  who were patrolling the coast witnessed  the merchant ship being blown out of the water and immediately took action when the submarine surfaced by dropping two anti-submarine bombs  ‘which were seen to straddle the conning tower’. “RAAF Bairnsdale: the story of a wartime Airfield” is a valuable contribution to Australia’s military history and to the town of Bairnsdale’s World War 2 history.

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This entry was posted on July 14, 2015 by .

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