The Take Off

by Arthur Watson

Yes Sir, That is exactly what happened, but that event happened sixty years ago and as I recall, it was on the Island of Tarakan in the South West Pacific area during world war 2. I was serving in the RAAF as an aircraft flight line inspector and was responsible for allocating aircraft to the pilots who were listed for flight combat command.

I was trained at Pt Cook and Laverton, two RAAF training stations. At this time having completed my training, myself and a special friend who also passed the exam were thrilled about going overseas on active duty. Orders published at the same time giving those personnel interested an opportunity to become pilots. My friend Arthur Sayers was interested and having talked to me about the idea he tossed up his training and accepted the offer to become a pilot. He was posted to a flight training school, and I was sent to the war zone in the Pacific I missed my friend we spent most of our training time together.

The war was giving the Japanese a bad time and by 1945 they had been pushed back from Darwin harbour to the Philippines.

The War was almost over and we were sending one thousand aircraft bombing raids to Japan. I was on line duty clearing and many times sending a hundred aircraft a day on flights. I was busy but enjoying the responsible duties and enjoying my dealing with the fighter and bomber pilots. The sky was always full of aircraft some coming home and others taking off to bomb Japan. The aerodrome was a very active place I enjoyed the work. I was there most days and the routine was much the same each day. However things change, some days it was impossible to be normal, drastic events take place and if you are involved, the day becomes hell on earth, a day you would rather forget.

I was on duty, it was midday and I was about to go to lunch and walking along the flight line I saw two aircrew chaps heading my way as they became closer I recognised Arthur Sayers, my friend, who had passed his flying course, and was now lining up to take his first flight to help him become familiar with the aircraft, a Beaufighter, a twin engine fast, low level fighter, very popular with the pilots. He introduced me to his navigator, and having little time to talk agreed to catch up later. I selected his aircraft, number 39-C for Charlie he waved from the cockpit then taxied out for the take off.

It was time for my lunch so I motored to the mess hall. I was pleased to see Arthur and his navigator, and looked forward to spending some time with them and learn something of his pilot training.

Stepping out of my jeep, looking forward to a good lunch my eye caught sight of a very black smoke line reaching high into the sky. Oh no, not an accident, a rubbish dump being cleaned perhaps, I was shaking, up tight, on edge. I knew there were no aircraft back from operations, the only plane in the air was the one I gave to Arthur, no trouble there he was on a very simple test flight. Someone burning rubbish surely. The smoke was heavy now and much higher in the sky.

Heading back to the air field I was looking for Arthur's plane, I could not see it, he may be back at the airfield. I was speeding, I kept looking up at the sky hoping to see Arthur flying over the island, but no I was beginning to feel the situation was not good, as I turned into the take off strip I brought the Jeep to a dead stop. The fire tenders were out, ambulance, doctors, rescue personnel fighting to save the two air crew.

The ground staff made every effort to help, but the situation was impossible. Aircraft number 39-C was wrecked and the crew made the supreme sacrifice. There are times, and this was one of them, when the aircraft made an unusual manoeuvre, and leaves the pilot without control.

They were laid to rest on a beautiful sunny day. It was a well attended service. It was as I said, a long time ago and I want to put in a memorial for the two men that made the ultimate sacrifice.