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No.3 Squadron Centennial Plaque Celebrations

10th / 11th February 2016


[Event Pictures by Jennifer Ballard and Dom O’Donnell.]

We were blessed with lovely weather for our two days of celebrations in Canberra. 

On Wednesday 10th, the Curators of the Australian War Memorial had prepared a fascinating array of 3SQN artworks and artefacts (normally hidden away in their Archives) to show us.  

Two of the valuable original watercolours that we saw in the Curators' basement:  3AFC's aerodrome at Bertangles in 1918; and 3SQN's fitters working in snowbound Fano in 1945.

World War Two veteran Donny Nicholls beside a pastel drawing of 3SQN's mobile machine-shop.  (A very useful piece of equipment captured during an Italian retreat!)

Artifacts included, amongst many others, an ingenious piano-accordion case, reportedly made out of parts of a crashed Liberator bomber, by Leon “Stork” Henry.  

Leon's handiwork; alongside a 1943 picture of an accordion being used at an open-air 3SQN religious service at Grottaglie in southern Italy

Outside the AWM, two beautifully-restored WW1 guns are displayed.  The green one is British and typical of the howitzers that 3AFC used to direct onto valuable German targets.
 - Such as the camouflaged howitzer partially shown at the right, which is German!  It
was captured by Australian infantry on 8th August 1918, the "Black Day of he German Army". 
Another trophy on display nearby, from the same day, is the barrel of the huge German "Amiens Gun", which was mounted on a railway carriage.  This gun had been pinpointed by 3AFC reconnaissance.

Our own John Love also presented some terrific insights into the role of 3AFC in the Allied 1918 victories of WW1, utilising precious items from his father Nigel’s collection.  (Including an original Somme Valley operational map, AFC logbook and even the original fabric serial-number off his RE8!) 

Part of the display prepared by John, the original canvas from the tail of Nigel Love's RE8.

An original WW1 leather flying helmet, brought in by Jennifer Ballard, plus original German anti-aircraft shrapnel-balls collected “in flight” by Neil Smith’s father (!) added immensely to the occasion. 

The permanent display of the AWM includes many items of 3SQN origin and the Curators very kindly prepared a colourful “self-guided tour” list for us.  - Several of their best “Red Baron” relics were collected by 3AFC.  Also Lawrence Wackett’s famous invention for parachuting ammunition to the infantry was given a very prominent place in their 1918 display. 

Ammunition parachute designed and manufactured by 3AFC and deployed in action for the first time in the Battle of Hamel, 4 July 1918. 
Each RE8 could carry two boxes with individual parachutes, in modified bomb racks.
"Aerial supply drops" started here!

Bobby Gibbes’ and “Woof” Arthur’s bravery medals from WW2 were also some more very poignant items. 

The moving AWM “Last Post” Ceremony, at the end of the day, included the placing of a wreath by 3SQN veteran WW2 Armourer, Gus Thomson.  The AWM Director, Brendan Nelson, was very generous with his time, chatting happily with the 3SQN veterans and families and posing for photos with the crowd.

The next day’s unveiling of the 3SQN Memorial Plaque (Thursday the 11th, in the prettily-wooded RAAF Memorial Grove) provided us with a heady mix of both nostalgia and pride.  We had a total attendance of 140 people, including descendants of the Squadron’s WW1 generation and a wonderful collection of veterans from WW2 and all later 3SQN eras.  Our current “CO3” led a magnificent party of a dozen representatives of the serving Squadron from Williamtown.  (And we were briefly visited by three more of their hot-shot Hornet pilots.  - Twice!  - “On time and on target!”

“The Sound of Freedom…”

Our Master of Ceremonies, Jeff Latter, did a great job.  The unveiling of the plaque itself was performed by a special party of four: John Love, representing the WW1 families; Felix Sainsbury, for the WW2 veterans; Jim Hall, for the Butterworth generations; and the serving Squadron was represented by its youngest member.  Many thanks to all involved in this moving event.

Our guests included the Deputy Chief of Air Force, AVM Warren McDonald AM, CSC; the Director-General of RAAF Chaplaincy, AIRCDRE Kevin Russell; and the RAAF Historian Martin James.  A very special guest was our parliamentary representative, the Hon. Jane Prentice MP.  Although Jane was delegating for the Defence Minister, in fact she enjoys a far deeper personal link with 3SQN, being both the daughter of 3SQN Kittyhawk pilot Alan Righetti and great-grand-daughter of Senator Sir George Pearce, who did more than any other politician to nurture the 1920s RAAF.  

Julie Gibbes, wearing her father Bobby's medals with Jane (right).  Jane's father Alan flew as Bobby's 'wingman' on several missions.

3SQN veterans and serving personnel, family and friends together.

3SQN Association expresses its sincere gratitude for the funding of this bronze plaque by the Commonwealth Government’s Saluting Their Service Commemorative Grants Programme.

Our Canberra memorial plaque was unveiled (precisely to the minute) on the 90th Anniversary of the first fatal air-crash in the Australian Capital Territory. (Sadly this was also 3 Squadron’s first fatality after being re-established at Richmond as part of the new “Royal Australian Air Force”.)   On the 11th of February 1926, the DH9 biplane of 3SQN’s Pitt and Callander crashed and burned whilst attempting to land at the Original Canberra Aerodrome.  (The old Aerodrome reserve, abandoned in 1927, took up the central third of the modern Canberra suburb of Dickson.  The crash itself occurred just over 100 metres NNW of where Dickson Library is today.) 

They had been positioning for a photographic survey of Canberra.  Both men received moving military funerals: Pitt is buried in the Roman Catholic Riverside Cemetery in Queanbeyan; Callander at the historic St John’s church, Canberra.  They have been commemorated on a special section of our 3SQN plaque, along with two other RAAF personnel killed in 3SQN crashes within a few kilometres of the RAAF Memorial Grove. 

 Contents of Permanent Memorial Capsule 

 (Cemented beneath the Plaque)

● 3 Squadron 1916-1991 history book: "Secrets Revealed".  (Donated by RAAF Association A.C.T.)  

● Original fragments of WW1 Aircraft Fabric and Plywood.  Red fabric from the Fokker DrI Triplane aircraft of WW1's highest-scoring ace, Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, salvaged by 3AFC Pilot Nigel Borland LOVE.  Plywood from the Red Baron's aircraft, salvaged by 3AFC Pilot James Leybourne "Lee" SMITH, DFC.  Plus ‘PC-10’ green fabric from Nigel Love’s RE8 Aircraft, B3420.  (Donated by their sons, Neil Smith, Jeff Love and John Love.) 

Placard mounting the WW1 fabric and plywood samples.

● WW1 Australian Flying Corps Pilot's Wings.  (Modern-day replica.  Donated by RAAF Association A.C.T.)  

● Original WW1 Brass Button from pilot's uniform, featuring map of Australia, crown and legend: "AUSTRALIAN MILITARY FORCES" plus original WW1 pilot's brass Shoulder-Flash, showing "AUSTRALIA".  (Donated by John and Jeff Love.)  


● Original “Bakelite” button from WW2 RAAF Ground-Crew battledress uniform.  (Donated by 3SQN Assn, NSW.)  

● Original contact-print photographs of the Egyptian Western Desert, 1940.  
(Donated by Iain Macinnis in memory of M. L. "Mac" MACINNIS, 3 Squadron's original 1940 Supply Officer and post-war Air Commodore, Controller of Equipment for the RAAF.)  

Mac's 1940 photos mounted on placard.

● Photograph of 3SQN Sabre Jet Fighters flying a precise "3" formation.  (Donated by Jake Newham, former 3SQN Sabre Pilot in the 1950s; later 3SQN’s Commanding Officer, who introduced the Squadron's first Mirage supersonic fighters; and later rising to Air Marshal, Chief of Air Staff.) 

● Photograph of a Mirage Supersonic Fighter preserved in 3SQN livery at Butterworth airbase, Malaysia, where the Squadron served for over 26 years.  (Suggested by Chaplain SQNLDR "Cam" Carroll, former 3SQN Padre.)  

Modern-Day RAAF Pilot's Wings.  (Woven fabric.  Donated by RAAF Association A.C.T.)



“Captivating Canberra”

Those attending our February celebrations in Canberra were encouraged to spend a few extra days exploring the National Capital’s many attractions.  Besides the imposing public buildings, exotic embassies, stunning lookouts and gardens, there are several other sights of specific 3 Squadron interest: 

The Australian War Memorial has spent-up big, revamping its displays for the WW1 centenary.  In the Anzac Hall, 3AFC is featured in the spectacular video ‘Above the Front’ and alongside is a preserved German Albatros fighter shot down by 3AFC.   

The AWM's Albatros.  Sadly the RE8 crew who shot it down (Sandy and Hughes) were both killed in the same battle.

In front of the AWM building, it is well worth strolling past the Anzac Parade Memorials, including the newly-renovated RAAF National Memorial.  One block west, on Constitution Av., is the historic St Johns Church - final resting place of some of the airmen commemorated on our Canberra Plaque.  (And also Bobby Gibbes, famous wartime 3SQN C.O.) 

The National Capital Planning Exhibition also has an interesting new display.  - Its lovely view across the lake includes the spot where tragically a 3SQN SE5A fighter crashed during the opening ceremony for Parliament House in 1927.) 

Behind Royal Military College Duntroon is the quiet Mt Pleasant Lookout.  This picturesque spot also hosts the Grave of General Bridges, Australia’s highest-ranking soldier at Gallipoli, who (amazingly) died in action on those shores.  He was the only Australian out of 8,700 killed at Gallipoli to have his body repatriated for burial in Australia.

Text by James Oglethorpe

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