- Second World War (1939-45)
- Air Force
The Beaufort Bomber was colloquially known as the workhorse of the RAAF during World War Two and played a key role in Australia's defence. In this podcast, convenor of the Beaufort Squadrons Reunion Tony Clark unpacks the story behind the plane. Hear why they were built on home soil, how women played a pivotal part in construction and what happened when the plane was retired.
If you want to learn more about the Beaufort Bomber, click here for a recording of final Beaufort Squadrons
Visit the Galleries of Remembrance at the Shrine to see a Beaufort Bomber turret.
Keith Tucker and John Lloyd-Fillingham conducted interviews with many of the Beaufort aircrew veterans and former DAP factory workers at the 2014 Beaufort Squadrons Association reunion. The sentiments and words these individuals shared about their experiences were incorporated into an audiovisual on display at the Shrine of Remembrance. The audio from this project can be heard throughout the podcast.
Some Smoke by National Promenade Band
Fading Light by Josh Lim
ARCHIVAL AUDIO: Here rings an Australian achievement. Sturdy, efficient, Beaufort Bombers are built in sections in a number of huge plants around Australia. They are assembled and made ready for the air in several separate giant shops including right here in Melbourne.
LAURA THOMAS: Hello, and welcome to the Shrine of Remembrance Podcast where we explore all aspects of military history. My name is Laura Thomas and I'm the Production Coordinator here at the shrine. This shrine of remembrance acknowledges the Bunurong people of the Kulin nation as the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we honour Australian servicemen and women, and we pay our respects to elder's past, present and emerging.
For this episode of the podcast, we're looking into the world of the Beaufort bomber, a plane that was colloquially called the workhorse of the RAAF during World War Two. 700 bombers were built between 1941 and September 1944, and they were made here on home soil with the help of tens of thousands of people. Tony Clark is the convener of the Beaufort Squadrons Reunion and he sat down with me to uncover the triumphs and the tragedies of the Beaufort Bomber. Tony, do you want to start off by telling me what sparked your interest in Beauforts?
TONY CLARK: My interest was sparked by the request of my wife Pam to research her uncle, Maurice Michael Culhane. Maurice was 19 years old when he was killed in an accident in Beaufort A9426 on the night of the 12th of January, it was in the early morning of the 13th of January, that his aircraft crashed into probably Bass Strait but the remains of the aircraft and of the crew have never been found.
LAURA THOMAS: Gosh, I can't even begin to imagine how heartbreaking that would have been for the family. What was his role in flying the Beauforts?
TONY CLARK: Maurice was a wireless operator air gunner, and he enjoyed the role very much, he was very good at it. He had in fact flown the aircraft on one of the exercises. And this was common practice amongst Beaufort crew; to learn to fly the aircraft in the event that the pilot needed a break, needed to go to the toilet, needed to do anything else other than to be in the pilot's seat. And many of the crew members will tell you that they flew the aircraft for quite long periods of time sometimes. And in this particular case, Maurice flew the aircraft from Mount Gambia almost to Sale.
LAURA THOMAS: Wow. So, what was the impact of that on your wife's family at the time?
TONY CLARK: My wife's family consisted of her mother, who was one of five sisters. They were very hard-working people, they lived in the High Plains, they were brought up in the High Plains. And they were very energetic, hardworking, intelligent women who at every opportunity, and I mean every opportunity, they would mention their brother Maurice as a much-loved person who was no longer there, but he was ever present in their homes.
LAURA THOMAS: And so from that family connection, how did you start to delve into the stories of Beauforts and their significance in Australia?
TONY CLARK: Well, the first thing that I did was to get in touch with the National Archives of Australia and get the service records of Maurice and then later the crew. And that was, it was heartbreaking because so little was known of the circumstances of the accident, there were a lot of conjecture, but the court of inquiry relating to this particular accident has disappeared. And indeed, of the 1070 courts of inquiry that were carried out during World War Two, only about 100 remain. The others have just simply been destroyed or have been incorporated in other files, and are very difficult to find.
LAURA THOMAS: What happens next, how did you then become to write a book and to become so interested in the Beaufort?
TONY CLARK: Well, at that time I then knew the names of other crew members. And I was able to contact the brother of the pilot who had a lot of material relating to his brother, photographs and his logbook and those sorts of things. And we visited him in Echuca. And he was a man a little older than me. But he was greatly affected by the death of his brother and speaking to me was a very emotional experience for both of us. And he then disclosed that he had letters from the Culhane family, to his parents, and that his parents had written back to the Culhane family, which I knew that the calpain family had letters from the pilots family. And so, I was able to read both sides of these letters. And they were very human letters, they were letters, although written by very young men were very mature in their expression and outlook. And they were conscious of the things that may happen and alerted their families to the possibility of their deaths. I also was able to contact the family of one of the other WAGs who told me that he was completely unaware of the death of his brother because he was a prisoner in Changi. He did suspect that something had gone wrong, because the tone of his parents’ letters changed. And they never mentioned his brother ever again. And it was only on his return to Australia that he learned of the death of his brother.
LAURA THOMAS: So there just seems to be kind of this all-encompassing impact of Beauforts on so many Australian families. So let's rewind a little bit and talk about how they actually came to Australian shores. So what was the process of Beauforts and Beaufort manufacturing coming to Australian shores?
TONY CLARK: Well, quite a long time ago in, it's certainly before 1935, there were discussions between the Australian Government and the British government about the possibility of Australia purchasing aircraft for improving the quality of the RAAF. In 1939, there were about 3500 personnel in the RAAF. And during the Second World War, that number expanded to about 173,000, a 50-fold increase in the number of personnel. The aircraft that were held by the RAAF, just prior to the beginning of the war, are 55 Hawker Demons, 73 Avro Anson’s, 20 Supermarine Seagulls, a total of 150 aircraft, it was no force at all. And those aircraft indeed were antiquated aircraft of no real significance as a defence or aggressive aircraft. Those talks went on and on and on. And really, it was, of course, a time when there are great changes in the technology itself. So early decisions were superseded by later decisions of better aircraft being offered. And it really wasn't until 1940 that ultimately, the decision was made to go ahead and manufacture aircraft in Australia in great numbers. Originally, the intention was to divide the output between Australian Government and the British government. This did not eventuate because in 1940, the British government placed an embargo on material being exported from their country to support the manufacture of aircraft. And so the Australian Government pleaded with the British government to allow Australia to keep the whole of the manufacturing output. In the end, 700 Beaufort aircraft were manufactured, and this was a huge enterprise.
ARCHIVAL AUDIO: Genesis of a Beaufort. Here are hundreds of expert Beaufort builders. Each of these people are performing a vital service. Every bolt, nut and rivet is important in building another Beaufort. Each individual part of each machine is a potential danger if it is not perfect, it must be perfect. Men's lives depend upon it.
TONY CLARK: It started with two men in Exhibition Street in a small office, beginning the planning process. Ultimately, the whole of the manufacturing of the Beaufort was led by John Story later Sir John Story who was an individual of great competence. He had a background in engineering, he'd studied in the United States, particularly to do with manufacturing of motor vehicles. And he was well aware of an association at that time with General Motors. He was a very great leader in my view. He was very alert to the possibilities of women in being employed in the workplace, he recognised their skills as having particular qualities that would be useful to the manufacture of aircraft and ultimately, 1/3 of employees at the manufacturing of Beaufort were women. The entirety of the workforce was something in the order of 30,000 people. And there were about 600 subcontractors, including people like General Motors Holden, who manufactured at least 5 million components of the Beaufort aircraft, and these were all manufactured in South Australia. The other interesting issue relating to Beauforts is the use of the railway workshops that existed in South Australia, in Victoria and New South Wales to manufacture major components. So in the South Australian workshop, the wing centre section and outer wings were manufactured in New South Wales at Chullora, the cockpit and engine nose cells were manufactured. And at Newport workshop in Melbourne, the rear fuselage tailplane, and rudder and fin were manufactured. And they were all completed in those facilities, and then boxed up and sent to either Mascot in New South Wales, where they were assembled as complete aircraft, or in Fisherman's Bend in Melbourne, where they were similarly assembled.
LAURA THOMAS: So it's an absolutely massive effort involving coordination between so many different states and lots of different people. How quickly did we go here from not manufacturing these at all to having full scale production lines and pumping them out?
TONY CLARK: Well, the agreement with the British government was that we would be supplied 20 sets of components from the Bristol Aeroplane Company who designed the Beaufort, and those sets would be sent to Australia and would be supplemented by additional sets of components as required. But upon the Battle of Britain and Lord Beaverbrook's requirement that all exports of any material relating to aircraft be stopped from Britain, we only got the first 20. And indeed, we only got those in incomplete sets. And it was quite a challenge to supplement those components with components that were manufactured locally, or to obtain them in other ways. It took until the end of 1940 until really the first lots of Beaufort aircraft were coming off in significant numbers. The first flight of a Beaufort occurred in August 1940. And that really was the one that was tested and tried until everything about it was known. And indeed, one of the things that was identified was that the fin was too small. It caused a number of problems because of the increased power of the Pratt and Whitney R1830 engines and it had to be increased by 15%. And that was a major change, which was ultimately adhered to by the people in Britain who were manufacturing the Beaufort there at Filton.
LAURA THOMAS: You mentioned that tens of thousands of people were involved in this, how were they employed? Were some people in factories, changed tasks and having to work on Beauforts? Or were these all new employments and people who were new to working in the industry? How did that all happen?
TONY CLARK: Well, Australia had a very small manufacturing capacity for aircraft and indeed, they really didn't manufacture aircraft in any great numbers at all. The numbers would have been in the hundreds, in the low hundreds if that. But upon the decision to build Beaufprts, it was understood that there would need to be a major change in the way aircraft were manufactured. So the idea of manufacturing components in diverse places was, firstly to ensure that if the enemy attacked that the centres of manufacturing were distributed widely across Australia, and there was a redundancy in the manufacturing capacity. Secondly, there was a need to employ people who'd never worked on any aircraft before or indeed may not have worked in manufacturing roles at all, and to train them to do so. So one of the big things that was involved was the training establishments that occurred in all states of Australia, or in the three states of Australia that were involved in the Beaufort manufacturing to ensure that those people were trained. Indeed, there were many tradesmen who were capable in engineering aspects; turners and fitters, and milling machine operators and people who were familiar with engineering generally. But very large numbers of people were trained from scratch, and you can find women doing training on welding, on routing, doing all sorts of tasks that men would normally have done. But in this particular case, it was necessary for women to learn and to do it, and they did it very well. It was not only a very important aspect of the manufacture of Beauforts, but it was a major social change taking place. And women were attracted to the manufacturing industry that was created because the facilities were brand new. They incorporated things like cafeteria, they had places where people could rest, where people could wash properly, where people were given a first aid if necessary. And indeed, one should recognise that a very large number of people were injured in the manufacturing process. More than 1000 people suffered injuries in the workplace. And indeed, at least 16 were killed, either travelling to work or in the workplace. So that in itself is a very significant thing. But ultimately, the production of Beaufort aircraft became routine, the production was very good standard, and the aircraft were built on time and on budget.
LAURA THOMAS: And you spoke about the role of women in the production there, and I just want to touch on that a little bit more.
ARCHIVAL AUDIO: This vitally important work is safely entrusted to a woman. Women play an increasingly important part in aircraft construction. They are extremely adaptable after training in specially organised technical schools. It's a changing world and male dominance recedes at pace.
LAURA THOMAS: Was this kind of the first opportunity for involvement for women to support the war effort in that practical sense?
TONY CLARK: Well, prior to the Second World War, women were not usually involved in the manufacturing workplace at all. It was very, very unusual. If they had a role at all, it would have been in an office or in a clerical position. But now, large numbers of women became involved in all sorts of roles to do with manufacturing. And you can come across pictures of women doing all of the tasks that men would normally have done, and you can see them on the top of ladders riveting away, or painting or doing any of the tasks that were necessary inside the aircraft; the wiring, installing equipment, all of those sorts of things were all done by women. Certainly, there were many men involved as well. But the aircraft could not have been produced without the assistance of these very substantial numbers of women. And the characteristics of women in some instances were much better than the men. For example, the fuel tanks were coated with a fabric and rubber material which was designed to prevent penetration or leakage upon penetration by bullets and so on. And women were tasked with putting this coating on and it involved a sewing like process to create all the seams. They did it so excellently that they were, it was commented upon many, many times that the work that was done by women was as least as good as and in some cases much better. They paid attention to the detail that was required. The riveting was done better by women in many instances than it was done by men.
TONY CLARK: We went to a training college just off Lonsdale Street and for six weeks, we learned how to use the electric drills and we learned measurements and everything you knew you were gonna be asked for. We work in pairs, one as a riveter on top of the duralium, the one on the top has the gun. First you drill the hole, then you put the rivet in, and your partner underneath holds the metal hammer. And you do that for so long. And then you change positions and you do the opposite. We love the job, it's fascinating. I never go up the other end of the shed to see what they're doing up there. I just have my little space where I work. And I just sort of stay down here.
LAURA THOMAS: And you've spoken to a lot of people, a lot of men and women who worked in these factories, what did they say of their time there?
TONY CLARK: Without exception, they said it was the best job I ever had.
LAURA THOMAS: Okay, why? Why did they love it so much?
TONY CLARK: It may well have been their first job in many cases. And it was a job in which there were many people involved. It was a busy environment, it was an important environment, it gave value to their labour. It was a job in which they earned money for the first time often, although much less money than the mean earned but for many people, it was a wonderful experience that they enjoyed their entire lives and spoke fondly of for their entire lives. Often they met their partners in life at the factory. And you know, I can tell you, I'm very surprised at the number of men and women who married as a consequence of working in the same place.
LAURA THOMAS: Good on them, I say. Can you recall any stories of people telling you about what it was like working there?
TONY CLARK: Well, they were excited to go to work they were, of course, the other thing that they did was to ensure that people had good travel to work. And you'll find that, of course that all the railway workshops, had a railway station nearby. You'll find, of course, that people who needed transport by bus, there was a bus provided by the Department of aircraft production to ensure that they were able to get to work on time and get home safely. These were all things that were very unusual at that time. But indeed, they were very significant to the people who worked at the Department of Aircraft Production, Beaufort division.
LAURA THOMAS: And you've also mentioned kind of the other side of this, and the workplace incidents and accidents that happened, how significant were those and were they widely reported at the time? Were people aware of that?
TONY CLARK: A lot of things were not widely reported publicly. They were certainly well recorded. The fact that I am able to identify more than 1000 people who were injured is as a consequence of the accident reports that were written at the time and retained. It was, of course, the work was highly secret. People were asked not to disclose the sorts of work that they were doing, where they were doing it. There was lots of concern about the possibility of enemy attack. There was lots of concern about sabotage. There were lots of warnings about things to watch out for in the workplace, if you saw something unusual, then you should report it immediately. One of the things that they also did was to ensure that there was a sort of a work programme that would allow them to participate in sport and to do things as a team and to ensure that it was an exciting place, an interesting place to work at, much as you would hope that all workplaces today would be, at least there was some attempt to achieve that then.
LAURA THOMAS: Beyond the construction of these planes, they were then taken and rigorously tested. Talk to me about that process and how the plane was tested to then be able to be flown.
TONY CLARK: Initially each aircraft would be pushed out into the test area. It was at that point fitted with some additional equipment, often radar equipment as radar became available that would be the point at which radar would be added. It was added in a special workshop in which was highly secure with guards outside the doors and that sort of thing. But upon completion, the aircraft would be given a test flight. And prior to that flight, the test pilot would check the aircraft very carefully to ensure that everything was apparently as it should be. It would be given a test flight and an assessment would be made of whether certain things need to be done whether things need to be adjusted. And indeed, several aircraft flights would occur. In some instances, very rarely, was it only one flight, but at least two, sometimes three, but up to five flights occurred to test the aircraft. These were done by pilots who were particularly skilled and trained to undertake test flying,
LAURA THOMAS: How dangerous was it to be a test pilot in this stage?
TONY CLARK: Well, one would guess that would be reasonably dangerous. But it turns out that very few dangerous events occurred. Indeed, following the test flight, there was an acceptance flight by the RAAF. So once the aircraft had been completed, from a manufacturing point of view, it was handed over to the RAAF who carried out their own test flights to ensure that everything was okay. But at that point, they were also testing whether the armaments were functioning correctly and whether things that they added to it after delivery, by the DAP, had been completed correctly.
LAURA THOMAS: And Tony, there was some incidents down in Gippsland, involving Beaufort bombers. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
TONY CLARK: Many accidents occurred in training in Gippsland, particularly at Bairnsdale at East Sale, but also at the base at West Sale. 96 personnel were killed in accidents during this period. And of course, this is a very unfortunate and tragic event for them and for their families.
LAURA THOMAS: Was this unprecedented? The number of deaths in training?
TONY CLARK: The level of deaths in training, of course, was caused by the increased activity of the RAAF at the beginning of the Second World War, and continued right through until the end of the war. Indeed, there were some deaths that occurred after the end of the war. And they, they are, of course, particularly tragic. The peak period of deaths was in 1940 41, and 42.
LAURA THOMAS: Okay, and there's lots of kinds of monuments around Gippsland to remember them, do you think it's still very much in the public conscience in that area, how much of an impact Beaufort's had?
TONY CLARK: Certainly in Bairnsdale, there is the Beaufort Memorial Gardens, which are a splendid reminder to the people of Bairnsdale and all those passing through that there was this incredible concentration of effort in Bairnsdale. But also there are many reminders of the RAAF presence in Gippsland, generally, in many, many places in Gippsland.
LAURA THOMAS: So tell me about the deployments overseas. So where were these planes being used and what were they being used for?
TONY CLARK: Beauforts were a reconnaissance aircraft and bomber. They were capable of carrying about 2000 pounds of bombs. And typically it would be, you know, four 250 pounders and a couple of 100 pounders and some other armaments as well, flares and so on. Or one torpedo, one aerial torpedo. The aerial torpedoes were very unreliable and dropping a torpedo was a very dangerous thing to do. And indeed, it soon became clear that there were not very many targets for torpedoes, because really the largest ships had been destroyed by the time we had any significant numbers of torpedo bombers. It was very, very dangerous to fly at 60 feet and drop a torpedo with Japanese capital ships firing at you, that didn't help at all. But the real role of the aircraft became in coastal patrols. So in the early part, there were very many Beauforts involved in flying around the coast of Australia, monitoring convoys, looking for submarines or any other enemy craft and returning to base. Later on, aircraft were deployed in quite large numbers, firstly with 100 Squadron to New Guinea, where they carried out bombing raids, particularly on all sorts of targets. As time went by, they were joined by many other squadrons, particularly six, seven and eight squadron. But there were quite a number of units also had Beauforts involved. But it was the bombing raids carried out by their main squadrons that were its main feature and role and were highly successful. Many of the bombing raids were quite, in the later part of the war, were quite short in duration. They may take off to a target that might have only been 10 or 15 minutes away, drop their load and come back and do that five or six times. So it was quite a hard working aircraft, it was known as the workhorse of Australian Air Force, and it was very highly regarded in its role as an aircraft that was capable of providing very close support to bring troops.
Visciously taloned, soaring warily in search of any who would seek to disturb the nest, which in 150 years of history has never been disturbed by alien hands. May it be that the serene surety of their flight points the road destiny as planned for the Australian people when the smoke and flame and suffering the war is at an end. Fly off Beauforts, and may victory fly with you.
LAURA THOMAS: How many people were involved in flying Beauforts?
TONY CLARK: There were normally four crew. They were pilot navigator and two wireless operator air gunners. The interesting part of the wireless operator air gunners would be that they would sometimes, it was typical that on the flight out that one wireless operator air gunner would operate the radio and on the other would operate the guns. And on the return flight, the opposite would be true. But sometimes, crews decided amongst themselves that "I will always be the operator, the wireless operator" and the other would always be the air gunner. And it was to do with the way in which the crew decided amongst themselves as to their particular roles. The navigator also often had some specialised bombing skills so that sometimes he might be a bombing leader, for example. But the navigator sometimes would be a wireless operator. I've seen quite a number of people who had their primary role was navigator but they often had wireless operator skills. And I think as I've mentioned before, many of the crew were able to fly the aircraft at least in calm conditions and in normal level flight.
LAURA THOMAS: Tony, you've spoken to a lot of people who were involved in flying the Beauforts, what do they remember of that time?
TONY CLARK: They remember the time with great interest and excitement. They remember the time that they would check the aircraft on the ground. They remember entering the aircraft, they would remember the excitement of running up the engines. The time of takeoff, of course was a time of considerable danger in many respects, because the aircraft was often heavily laden. And if you suffered an engine failure on takeoff, that was a pretty dangerous situation. But they remember most of it with exhilaration. It was an aircraft that was in their hands, very good aircraft, an aircraft that was very stable generally, but not without its quirks but something to be learned about to ensure that they were safely returned to their base.
LAURA THOMAS: And what about in combat? What were the deaths like of people flying and working on Beauforts during that time?
TONY CLARK: Well, during the Second World War, in Australia 262 lives were lost in Beauforts, mainly in training but in some operational accidents as well, because many of the flights that were carried out were along the coast of Australia looking for submarines and ships and that sort of thing. But quite a considerable number occurred overseas. By overseas I'm referring to the Southwest Pacific area, that's really New Guinea and Indonesia, Timor, those areas, of which 205 people lost their lives and a further 38 RAAF personnel lost their lives in RAF Beaufort squadrons in Britain during the Second World War. This brings the total to 505 deaths that occurred in Beaufort squadrons
LAURA THOMAS: How does that compare to other squadrons or other aircrafts? Do you know?
TONY CLARK: The comparison is something that was made many times during the Second World War. Of course, the RAAF was acutely conscious of the large number of deaths that were occurring. But in reality, the deaths compare similarly to other aircraft. Flying during wartime is a very dangerous thing.
LAURA THOMAS: Regardless of the numbers, a life is still a life and to families and friends and co workers back home, it is still a loss. And as you mentioned, Beauforts touched so many people's lives, including yours.
TONY CLARK: Well, the numbers do matter and they are still felt today by those people who have been affected by it. Indeed, many of the families that I have had contact with, and indeed, within our own family, mention is made of their loved ones all the time. They are as ever present as they ever were. And indeed, the pain is felt quite severely by many, many people.
LAURA THOMAS: How long were Beauforts used in the Australian war effort?
TONY CLARK: The first flights took place in late 1940, and continued right through to the end of the war. Indeed, Beauforts were to carry out the last raids of the war carried out by the RAAF and probably the last raids carried out by any allied force in the Southwest Pacific area. There are many people that I've spoken to who flew on the last raids of the war, and it was a time of great anticipation. They knew that the end of the war was coming. And they wanted to be on the last raid. The last raid was in fact cancelled while the aircraft were in flight. And many of them just continued on. Many men that I've spoken to, who were not on the crew list, asked the captain of the aircraft if they could fly with the aircraft on this last flight, recognising that this was a very significant particular flight for them to be involved in. There was then of course, the return of many aircraft to Australia, and indeed, people like John Caddy, my friend, who's now deceased unfortunately, but he flew A9190 back from Moresby. It was destined for Cairns, but halfway between Australia and Moresby, the port engine failed, and gradually the aircraft flew lower and lower and lower. And so various things, all the luggage, anything that was not tied down, was thrown out of the aircraft to reduce the weight on the aircraft. And very slowly, he headed towards Australia and recognised that he was never going to make Cairns but flew to Bamaga. And he was so low at Bamaga that he decided that he would not be able to turn around and come into the wind. So he flew down wind and ran off the end of the runway, and A9190 remains there to this day,
LAURA THOMAS: In the exact spot that it landed?
TONY CLARK: Indeed.
LAURA THOMAS: Incredible that he made it out of that experience alive and lived to tell the tale
TONY CLARK: John had five passengers with him, and all of them survived the experience. One of the passengers got a whack on the back with one of the batteries. But everybody lived to tell the tale and everybody walked out of the aircraft and any landing you walk out of is a good landing.
LAURA THOMAS: I think that's a good rule to live by. When did the Beauforts get retired for use?
TONY CLARK: After the war was over, there were all these Beauforts and people recognised them for the great aircraft that they really were in many respects and there was an attempt to make them into aircraft that could be used for other purposes. So for example, in I think 1946, there was a thing called the Rutherglen bug, an insect which was attacking grapevines in the Rutherglen area. And so the Beauforts were adapted to spray DDT on these crops to kill these bugs. And similarly, they were used to spot bushfires, both during the war and after the war. But it wasn't until about 1948 that the last aircraft flew as an RAAF aircraft and then gradually they were disposed of and sold for scrap
LAURA THOMAS: When they were doing these bushfire monitoring jobs or helping to control bug plagues, did they have to be modified before that with the turrets removed and that kind of thing or did they fly as is?
TONY CLARK: Well, they basically had a spray arm attached underneath the aircraft and the fluid was contained in a large container in the bomb bay and the aircraft simply flew over the area and released the material at an appropriate time. And it by and large could have been returned to active use straightaway if the need occurred, but of course it didn't. And by that time, the technology of aircraft had changed. And in particular, the introduction of jet aircraft was starting to show itself as being a very viable means of powering aircraft and the Beaufort, which had been a great workhorse, it was time to put it to rest.
LAURA THOMAS: And it was sold for parts...
TONY CLARK: Well not really for parts, sold for scrap. There are people who purchased them simply to melt down the aircraft for aluminium. They powered the furnaces that they created with the fuel and the oil contained in the aircraft, and simply melted the aircraft down. There were obviously components that were of great value. So all the electrical cables and materials were recovered, but by and large, it was simply destroyed.
LAURA THOMAS: It is such a shame that a lot of the parts and the history is no longer around. But here at the Shrine we are actually lucky enough to have a restored Beaufort gun turret. And Tony, you played a big role in making that happen. So how did it all come to be?
TONY CLARK: Well, the turret that you have here was one of a great many built. The turrets, originally designed for the Beaufort were a pattern designed for the predecessor of the Beaufort the Blenheim. And in fact, I think the first 20 were were equipped with Blenheim turrets. But it soon became clear that we would need to manufacture turrets here in Australia. And indeed, that's what happened. And indeed, a better turret was built in Australia, a better designed turret. And indeed, the turret here in the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne is one of those turrets that was built here in Melbourne. It was a tragedy that after the war, Beauforts were simply destroyed. And indeed, all the turrets that remained were taken out of Beauforts and were destroyed as scrap, but a few bits and pieces remained. And the Beaufort turret that exists at the Shrine was built by the Beaufort Restoration Group in Queensland from components and assembled and recreated as an example of the turret that was normally used in most of the Beauforts, and certainly the later Beauforts that were built in Australia. It's a very good representation. It contains parts that have been refurbished. And indeed, I think if you were to plug it into the power supply, you'd find that it would probably still work. But it is an excellent example of the workmanship that existed in the 1940s. And indeed, an excellent example of the preservation powers of those that exist in Australia today.
LAURA THOMAS: How did it feel for you to be able to see that and see all these parts coming together to make what stands in the Shrine today?
TONY CLARK: It's a treasure to see an example of something that could have so easily have ended up as scrap. It's wonderful to see that, that these things exist. And to see how small it is. Some of the men who got in, I just do not understand how they got in the turret. And it's a very tight quarters that one found themselves in. And it's a remarkably complicated piece of engineering. I'm not quite sure how many parts there are in it, but it's some hundreds of components in a turret. And it is a very fine piece of engineering that was built here in Australia.
LAURA THOMAS: You've done a lot of work in preserving these stories. Why do you think that is so important?
TONY CLARK: I think it's important to recall the lives of those who served in the armed forces and who put their lives at risk with the objective of preserving the life that we knew in Australia. We're very fortunate to live in Australia in a land where freedoms exist without any real limitation. All of those men joined when they were 18. The typical story was they turned 18 and they joined the RAAF. Prior to that they may have joined the Air Training Corps. That was a very common situation. They learned the basics of things like Morse and navigation and electricityand magnetism and all the things that may serve them well in the RAAF. But on joining the RAAF they were then assessed as having particular knowledge or skills that would be useful to the RAAF. And they became committed to a particular role. If you're a navigator, you'd normally have a very significant ability with mathematics. Because the navigation in those days was primarily a significant mathematical calculation. Pilots were judged to have a particular skill that would allow them to be pilots, and at various tests and times, they were given the opportunity to show those skills.
LAURA THOMAS: So in years to come, what do you hope that people remember of the Beaufort and the effort that the Australians put in to flying them, creating them, manufacturing them, what is it that you hope people remember?
TONY CLARK: I hope that people will remember that the building of the Beaufort was an incredibly large enterprise and enterprise of great significance to the defence of Australia. I hope they will recognise that the people involved did their very best to produce the best possible aircraft that they could. I think it would be great if people would remember that many people placed their lives on the line and indeed great many lost their lives. A great many families were to suffer great loss, and for the pain and suffering of many, due to accidents was to remain for the rest of their lives. It's no small thing to go to war. It's no trivial matter. And everybody who joined the RAAF knew what they were signing up for. They knew that this was something that could take their lives. But without exception, every one of them thought that was never going to happen to them. But for some, it did.
Reviewed 10 August 2022