|Par t of the Rats of Tobruk exhibition currently showing at the War Memorial|
From Dad's diaries I get a sense of the importance of the trains during the war. How they were the arteries of the country carrying troops away from their dearest hearts and sometimes bringing them back again. The trains were crowded. Tired young men grabbed a sleep in luggage racks, on the floor and if they were lucky on the shoulder of a young lass beside them.
I get a sense of the eagerness of heart that shortened a long journey when it was going in the right direction.
Friday 28 May 1943 "Reported back to R.T.O at 1pm big muck up and long wait got seat in (Dog Box) left Bris at 2.30 and had good companions to travel with. Same old rush for tea at Casino. Good nights sleep on the floor."
Saturday 29 May 1943 "Awoke at 5:30 and was 1st into breakfast at Gloucester. Funny the remarks made by some of our boys, they thought I was a rookie on account of the new overalls."
At this time Dad was no rookie. He had been in Papua New Guinea, the Islands and the north of Australia as an engineer on Catalina flying boats flying over enemy territory for many months. He was on his way to his new posting at No 3 Operational Training Unit in Rathmines, to give new recruits the benefit of his experience.
I dug among the war memorabilia in an effort to discover what his experience was like. In December 1941, Japan entered the war and the diary entries changed from "Suva Fiji - Saw lovely fertile sugar plantations. Country rugged. Beautiful place to spend a holiday." to "On operation. Getting used to the long hours now." A cross check in his flight log shows just how long those hours were 12 and 13 hour stints on patrol ...
Dad's diary entries give almost no clues to what he felt or feared in the skies. It is impossible for me to imagine the strain when the friendly monotonous drone of their aircraft is broken by the terrifying buzz of enemy fighters or the hideous splutter of anti-aircraft fire. Dad simply wrote "Fighters up but they never found us thank the Lord."