Vivid memories of war still fresh

Headshot of Shannon Smith
Shannon SmithAlbany Advertiser
Email Shannon Smith
Alan and Truda Hawkins have been married nearly 73 years.
Camera IconAlan and Truda Hawkins have been married nearly 73 years. Credit: Laurie Benson

At the tender age of 18 in 1943, Alan Hawkins joined the Royal Australian Air Force with World War II in full swing.

After training in Australia, he was posted overseas to Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea, servicing British 14-cylinder twin-engined torpedo bombers known as Bristol Beauforts.

He was a member of No. 6 Squadron, and conducted overhauls of his squadron’s 23 bombers — of which there were two fleets of nine planes and five spares.

He has vivid memories of one night when three did not return.

Now 94 years-old and the sole World War II serviceman at the RAAFA Amity Village in Albany, they are some of the moments he ponders more than three-quarters of a century later.

Today, he will ride in a Jeep as part of the march down York Street, as he has for the past decade.

His vision is failing, but many of the memories of the 14 months he spent stationed overseas fighting for his country remain clear.

Reflecting on how fortunate Australians are to enjoy the lives we have today, he said it was frightening to think about how close the Japanese got to an invasion.

“I hope people take a minute to think of the things that the soldiers and sailors and airmen all went through, because if we hadn’t stopped them on the Kokoda Trail, they might have got to Australia,” he said. Although Mr Hawkins said he felt he never saw much in the way of hard times at war, he and other mechanics played important roles.

“When we did the overhauls, a flight mechanic and an armourer had to go up on the test flights,” he said.

“Some of the pilots would do their best to turn the planes inside out and cut the motors.

“You were really worried because you had no parachute or anything — the pilot was the only one with one.”

After four months in Milne Bay, No.6 Squadron was shifted to Goodenough Island and then moved to Dobodura Airfield, PNG.

The airfield was a major supply base and had 15 airstrips in use at the height of its activity during the war.

Posted home on VE day in 1945, Mr Hawkins was given a flight certificate and told he had three weeks to get home the best way he could.

“I tried to catch flights but it was so busy and Finch Island at that time was like Heathrow Airport,” he said.

“My parents lived in Norseman at that time. I got back to Kalgoorlie and I went out that night and I saw a couple of young girls and one had these sparkling eyes.

“I went to a dance that Saturday night and saw her and we were married 12 months later.”

Mr Hawkins and his wife Truda are celebrating 73 years of marriage this year.

They moved to Albany in 1955.

Their eldest of four sons, Bill, is a Vietnam veteran who marches on Anzac Day in Albany.

Their grandson, Alexander, is a Second-Lietuenant in the Australian Army in Wagga Wagga.

Mrs Hawkins waits at the same corner during the march each year to wave to her husband.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails