By Deb Wheeler
This coming Saturday 15th August marks the end of the Second World War. I would like to take a minute to reflect on two amazing personal experiences I have been privy to involving Veterans involved in World War Two. During the war my own father George Francis (Frank) James Wheeler (134840) deceased, joined the Royal Australian Air Force in Sydney and was transferred to Amberley Air Base for the duration of the war. He went on to become the base photographer.
In 2016 I approached two of our local WW2 Veterans requesting permission to write their stories, mainly focusing on their wartime experiences. They were both surprised to think anyone would want to know their stories. Having met the two of them through various other projects I had been involved with I knew the stories of Stephen (Steve) George Flood (429455), Stanthorpe and Tom Phillips (QX16645) MM, Killarney deserved to be told.
We spent many happy hours talking, laughing, listening to music, looking at photos, reading books and enjoying lots of morning teas. For me it was important to capture the essence of the men and so these informal sessions were pivotal in achieving this outcome.
Steve joined the RAAF and ended up being posted to the 467th Squadron, Bomber Command in England. He was allocated the position of rear gunner, one of the most dangerous positions one could find themselves in. I remember him telling me his most memorial experiences were flying over Berlin. He never needed to use his electric heated flying suit as he was in a constant cold sweat the whole time. He completed his tour of thirty flying missions knowing right from the outset the crews only had a 3% chance of ever completing their number of allocated flights. He firmly believed his guardian angel worked overtime to keep him safe.
Sixty seven years after England at the end of the war, Bomber Command were finally, recognized for their bravery and contribution to the Second World War. Steve was one of thirty one veterans chosen to travel to London for the official opening by the Queen of the Bomber Command Memorial. Before leaving Australia these veterans had dinner in Canberra and Steve’s dinner partner for the evening was former Governor General Quentin Bryce. He was thrilled to meet her. In 1917 Governor General Sir Peter and Lady Cosgrove were to attend a number of functions here on the Southern Downs and so I wrote to his office requesting permission to present Steve to Sir Peter at one of these events. Permission was granted and it was my very great honour to bring the two of them together in a private audience.
Tom enlisted in the Army in Toowoomba and was assigned to the 2/3rd Field Ambulance Battalion. After his medical he headed to the toilet when Alister (Sandy) Kemp (QX16637) was coming out. Tom had never met him before but it turned out they both came from the Warwick district. They were sworn in together, in the same unit, completed their training and served their whole army careers together during World War Two.
All Field Ambulance Units were assigned to different Battalions and were positioned on the front line alongside the soldiers. His field ambulance was a highly mobile unit whose role was the rapid collection of the sick and wounded. They were deployed to the Middle East, in Palestine, Tobruk, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Tripoli and they were right in the thick of it during the Battle of El Alamein.
After the Middle East, Tom’s unit was deployed to Papua New Guinea. It was here where Tom went above and beyond his duties and was awarded the Military Medal. Tom led his men in support of the leading company in an attack along the coast west of the Busu River, as his post was the only medical post on the west side of the river. While they came under heavy fire, he collected and treated patients for over three hours and then undertook their backward evacuation over the river. His citation reads:
“His resource, courage and outstanding example undoubtedly saved many lives and is described as amazing for one of his limited medical knowledge.”
Just as I recorded Steve and Tom’s stories, I now invite you to take this opportunity to learn more and connect with someone from perhaps your family who served during the Second World War. Please reach out and simply “Ask” the question – what did my family do during the war?
• If you have any questions or would like help to start your journey of discovery please contact me on 0414 852 492 or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org