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Ivor Leaver, one of the "Bofors Boys"

Corporal Leaver [AWM 010169]

- Eulogy by Tom Russell, 2009.

Ivor joined No.3 Squadron, then based at Richmond, on the 15th of February, 1939, (shortly before his 20th birthday) not knowing that, by the end of that year, our Nation would be at war.

I joined the Air Force in February 1940.  I spent two months doing what was known as our “Rookies” (drill training etc.) at Richmond.  Little did I know that the Squadron I would eventually serve with, No.3 Squadron was there; and that after the war I would meet many of the men who were then at Richmond.

On 15 July 1940, the Squadron marched out of the base, bound for North Africa, lead by S/Ldr Ian McLachlan.  There were 21 Officers and 271 other ranks, including Ivor Leaver.  F/Lt Peter Jeffrey, who was to become a very popular Commanding Officer of the Squadron, later recalled: 

“The departure from Richmond was supposed to be terribly hush-hush of course, and we marched out of Richmond down to the little local station at Clarendon.  The Group Captain, commanding Richmond at the time, insisted that we went with the band which played ‘Roll Out the Barrel’ as we marched down, and as we got on to the train.

 As we wormed our way down to the docks through the back streets of Sydney, everybody knew we were going, and they were hanging out the windows, right, left and sideways, waving at us.”

They boarded the Orontes for their journey.

Troopship Orontes, July 1940.
(For more pictures Click Here)

Ivor had enlisted as an “Aircraft Hand / General” and when the Squadron arrived at their base in North Africa, he was put into the Aerodrome Defence Unit.  That was a lonely, and indeed dangerous, job.  When our drome was bombed or strafed by the enemy aircraft, the Anti-Aircraft Boys would open fire, thus giving away their position, drawing attention from the attacking aircraft.

Jack Doyle, who was to become C.O. of our sister squadron, No.450, said,

“In the desert, when we moved to another aerodrome, the aerodrome defence unit, known as the Bofor Boys, would pick their positions.  The British fellows would be very meticulous about the dimensions of their gunpits, but our boys wouldn’t dig a hole at all.   They’d pick up stones and build a little rock wall around there... probably almost as effective, and took half the time.  You could be attacked while you were digging a hole…”

In the picture below, some of Ivor's mates thought that "pointing the bone" [an ancient Aboriginal curse] would be a good way to improve their aim.  In the early days they only had the twin machine-gun mounts.  Not much to fight off the enemy with!

AWM Photo:  Airfield defence, Western Desert, Egypt, 1941. 
[LAC Jones from King Island, front left. AWM 010917]

Incidentally, the bone in the photo is believed to have come from a Camel.  Don’t ask me where they got it.  Our ground crew were real “clifty wallahs.”  [“Clifty” meaning to find, steal, acquire… whatever.]

Wally Bottin remembered,

“The Aerodrome Defence boys were out off the drome, and they had their tent and their gunpit.  They had to be relieved for meals, be taken back...  They had to have everything they needed, water etc., taken over to them”

Ivor has a couple of portraits in the AWM by George Silk, an official war photographer.  One shows a handsome young man with an infectious smile, wearing a jacket that had belonged to a French pilot, and an Australian fur felt hat, with a decoration of German parachute-cord.

Bob Gibbes, our C.O. on the last push up the desert, paid a wonderful, well-deserved tribute to the ground staff of all musterings.  He wrote,

“The comradeship and team spirit between each and every member of Three Squadron was always very real.  The Squadron pulled together as a team, a magnificent team.  When there was a job to be done, they went to it, irrespective of their particular trade.  At times a superhuman effort from every member was called for, particularly from the ground personnel, who carried out their onerous tasks silently and cheerfully.  They had to set up and strike camp almost continually, which in itself, is a very big job.  They had to travel hundreds of miles in extreme discomfort, occasionally in soaking rain, wet, cold and miserable.”

Bob then mentioned every mustering on the Squadron, and of the Aerodrome Defence Unit, he said,

“The job of the Aerodrome Defence Section is probably the most monotonous.  These men are at their gunposts during the hours of daylight mainly, and very rarely do they gain the satisfaction of shooting at the enemy.  But when that opportunity does sometimes come, they are never caught napping.”

Ivor (left) in fur-felt hat with LAC Moran [AWM 010245]

One of our pilots, Murray Thompson, wrote in his diary,

“Feb 9th1942.  Jerry visited us again this morning at about 5 o’clock.  Put on a hell of a show too.  Dropped incendiary flares right across our dispersal area, and then went to work and bombed hell out of us.   He hit a Tomahawk and it burnt, and he also strafed five Kittyhawks, damaging them badly.  The Bofor boys of the Airfield Defence Unit staged a great display, and did a good job on the last one.”

When we were busy, with the Squadron flying up to five missions a day, the men of all musterings, including the Aerodrome Defence Unit, would help preparing the aircraft for the next flight.

As a pilot, I was always grateful for the expertise of our ground crews in everything they did.  There was never any doubt in my mind that the aircraft I was to fly, was serviced to perfection.  Sometimes, particularly when we were at Alamein, Me109s would sit up high above the drome, waiting for an opportunity to pick us off as we made our landing approach.  At times like that, we had every faith in the protection given to us by the men of the Aerodrome Defence Unit and their Bofors.

Les Fitzpatrick sends his sympathy, and has told me a story of a shipwreck.  Ivor had been sent down to Alexandria for medical treatment.  Tobruk was in the hands of the Italians, the Afrika Corps had not entered the desert war, and Three Squadron were nearby trying to oust the Italians.  Ivor, with others, was returning to the Squadron via the Mediterranean, aboard the “Knight of Malta”, when it ran aground.  The boys had to jump off and be picked up by barges.  They did.  All except one fellow called Spilsbury, who stayed on board, and later arrived back at the Squadron on the back of a donkey.  - Strange people our ground staff…

A large contingent of the ground crew, including Ivor, left from Gambut, Libya on posting back to Australia on the 26th of May 1942.  On the 15th of August, he married our lovely Wyn, which has led to 67 years of happy marriage.  Wyn, Dottie and Vicky Morrison have asked me to tell you how much you and your family are in their thoughts.

I first met Ivor at one of our post-war reunions.  It developed into a friendship with him and Wyn, as it is with Allen and Vera Wand who are with us today.  Allen and Ivor were great mates.  Nean and I cherish those friendships, and will always treasure them.


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