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Demon Down!
- In the Devils’ Den.

A dramatic crash at the conclusion of a Bass Strait crossing prompted the lucky preservation of a key piece of RAAF heritage.

 Hawker Demon A1-8. 

Extract From ‘The Third Brother’ (Early RAAF History) - February, 1937.

Cloud nearly claimed the crews of two Demons of No.3 Squadron early in 1937. 

On 3 February, A1-3 (Pilot Officer Donald Ashton-Shorter, pilot; Sgt William Gould, observer) and A1-8 (Pilot Officer Gerald Buscombe, pilot; Sgt A.A.B. Slight, observer) took off from Laverton, Victoria, to fly to Hobart, where they were to carry out Army Cooperation work, photography, and participate in annual Regatta celebrations.

Off the Victorian coast they entered cloud, which extended all the way across Bass Strait and shrouded northern Tasmania too.  The two planes were to have refuelled at Waratah, south of Wynyard, but this destination was missed in the murk and they overflew it.  Now short of fuel, both machines faced the prospect of making blind landings. 

On board A1-8, Buscombe later recalled that: “I said it looked like we would have to go over the side, but he [Gould] said he had lost his parachute.”

The crew of A1-3 were fortunate enough to glimpse a road through a break in the fog, enabling them to touch down west of Waratah, with only slight damage. 

The "slight damage"[Photo by the noted Waratah (Tasmania) Photographer, John Henry Robinson]

A big day for sleepy Waratah.  [Photo: J. H. Robinson]

A1-3 Towed...  [Photo: J. H. Robinson]

[The original propeller of A1-3 is today displayed over the dining room door of the Bischoff Hotel in Waratah.]

Buscombe and Gould in A1-8 were not so lucky, however, and crashed near Mount Cleveland, about ten kilometres from the town.  Both were uninjured in the crash, but they were now stranded in remote country; and in need of shelter from the weather.

The wreck of A1-8.  Apparently they were lucky to have been halted on this spot when the wing struck a tree trunk, as a substantial cliff lay just ahead.  [Photo: J. H. Robinson]

Meanwhile a search effort was mounted.  The crash-site was located by Anson A4-1, piloted by Flight Lieutenant Gordon RAE, who dropped a flask of soup to the pair on the ground before turning away to report his find.  A ground-party reached the airmen a couple of days later and brought them out.  After salvageable parts of A1-8 were recovered,the wreck was burnt.  

A1-8 Deliberately Burnt...  [Photo: J. H. Robinson]

Gerry Buscombe greeted in the thick Tasmanian brush by Don Ashton-Shorter, who walked in with the rescue party.  [Photo: J. H. Robinson]

The rescue party on the steps of the Bischoff Hotel, Waratah.
From top left: Leading Aircraftman Redman (Anson A4-1), Aircraftman Jock Thompson (Anson A4-1), Police Officer, Leading Aircraftman W. Taylor (Anson A4-1), Sergeant Gould (Demon A1-8),
Middle step: Flight Sergeant A. Slight (Demon A1-3)
Bottom row, from left: Pilot Officer Ashton-Shorter (A1-3), Flight Lieutenant Gordon Rae (Anson A4-1), Pilot Officer Buscombe (A1-8), Sergeant Harford (Anson A4-1)
[Photo: J. H. Robinson]

Donald captioned this photo: "The Tasmanian Rascals".  Pilots and crew of the Demons crashed at Waratah on 3/2/37, after being rescued.  F/Sgt Slight, Donald Ashton-Shorter, Gerry Buscombe and Sgt. Gould. 

[Photo: J. H. Robinson.  This photograph was taken in front of the hedge in Robinson's back garden.]

In 1977 the remains of this machine were recovered and completely rebuilt.  It now takes pride of place on display at the RAAF Museum, Point Cook.

A1-8 in the RAAF Museum Point Cook.  The eventual preservation of this sparkling jewel owes much to 3SQN’s navigational “skills”!
By coincidence, this airframe was also the "first" Hawker Demon accepted by the RAAF, on 13 June 1935, and allocated to 3SQN at Richmond. 
Restoration was carried out firstly at the RAAF Museum, Point Cook, and then at No.2 Aircraft Depot, Richmond NSW.  It was finished on 3rd February 1987; exactly 50 years after its fateful flight across Bass Strait. 
Gerry BUSCOMBE, the original pilot, was present at the unveiling and remarked that he was particularly impressed by the detail achieved by the restorers.

Editor's Note:  Sadly, Donald ASHTON-SHORTER lost his life in another Demon incident only four months later.

Many thanks to Rupert HOMES in the UK for supplying historic pictures from the collection of the Ashton-Shorter family.  Also to Jeff CROWE, a grandson of the photographer J. H. ROBINSON, for additional information.

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