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Who Blew-up Agnone Station?

By Tom Russell.

Wartime in distant places
Saw the 450 Squadron boys,
Applauded for their actions,
But not their EXPLOSIVE noise.

Some of them I knew at Alamein
Like Gregory, McQueen, McBurnie, and more,
And some I knew in Sicily,
Where they had a private war.

They were camped upon a hillside
With the ‘drome spread out below,
And plenty of beer to celebrate
...At least they thought 'twas so.

But things just didn’t turn out
As many thought they should,
So someone felt a grievous need,
To have that point understood.

They say that actions speak louder
Than mere words could ever do,
The truth of which was certainly proved,
When they settled that Squadron 'Blue'.

There was a great EXPLOSION
That shook the still night air.
And when we went outside to look
...Something wasn’t there.

Since then, I've often wondered,
With a sense of expectation,
If some day I might really know...

...Who blew up Agnone Station???


Historical Note:

3 Squadron's 'Slim' Moore was present when the first Italian civilians came around with bottles of beer for sale, at the newly-occupied Agnone airstrip in Sicily.  It was good-quality Bavarian pre-war beer - and there was plenty more where that came from!  The Australian squadrons quickly purchased the whole supply, which had apparently been left in a large barn by the departing Germans.  The Padre's 15cwt. truck was used to bring it in. 

Naples, Italy. c. May 1944.  RAAF chaplain Squadron Leader Fred McKay of Qld (front), with his driver, Corporal Les Mitten. 
They are seen here at the completion of an arduous tour of the units in which RAAF personnel were serving in Italy.   [AWM MEA1893]

The 3 Squadron boys were able to share out their beer to everyone's satisfaction, but apparently things did not go so smoothly in nearby 450 Squadron, and a sizable quantity of the valuable bottles were locked away in Agnone Railway Station, "for 450 Pilots' use only"...

Jack Doyle (later C.O. of 450) continues the story (from his "Australians at War" interview):

...The Group Captain, Eaton, whom I admire greatly - he was a real all-rounder - he sent me to take over 450, 'cause he reckoned I could handle them.

- There was nothing wrong with 450, except perhaps that they had blown up the Officers' Mess in Sicily with gelignite...!

Unfair distribution of alcohol... obviously the airmen didn't get as much as they thought they should have.  They'd be right too.  Fair enough. 

 ...So during the night all the pilots' log books were removed from Agnoni Railway Station.  There are photos here in 450 [history] books, a before-and-after.  There's a photo of a beer advertisement and then the "after" is Agnoni Railway station demolished...

When the tents were searched the next day, every tent had a stick of gelignite in it - so it was rather difficult to pin it on anyone. 

That's what you did, when you got liquor overseas - you bought it! 
...You paid for it and a bit of haggling.  Because you get a greater volume of beer than you do in spirits you usually give the beer to the ground staff and the officers take the spirits and if there's enough the ground staff will get an odd bottle of whisky or gin or whatever because we weren't miserable.  I always looked after them that way. 

Derek Shannon and I discovered that a doctor can also give reason for a rum issue because of inclement weather.  I also found out that a CO can give a rum issue because of intense operation.  One nip of rum for heaven's sake!

They got a rough time, the ground crew there.  There were some in 450 that never got home.   I did three and a half years over there.  I did six countries and 2000 kilometres. 

No...there wasn't the establishment there.  You either got killed or got posted.  Well, ground staff didn't get killed that often and they didn't get posted.  No.3 were a bit like 450 Squadron.  They had more decorations than anyone.  You've only got to read a list of them.  They were never withdrawn and they were in everything.

No, nothing wrong with 450, they were a good bunch.  I'm very proud of them...

The "Boxing Kangaroo" on a 450 Squadron Kittyhawk.

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