I recently had cause to be in the nation's capital and, as usual, I made my way to the War Memorial. Once there I took the time to wander through the magnificent ANZAC exhibition and the impressive Hall of Valour. Before leaving, I visited the post-1945 exhibits which includes the Gloster Meteor jet in which my father flew his first combat mission during the Korean War.
As I near the completion of his biography I took the time to study the artefacts and stories that surround the jet. I listened to stories of the prisoners-of-war and observed the decorations worn by one of the pilots. But these were more than just pilots to me. These names were the names of my childhood that have become even more meaningful as I have researched dad's journey. Vance Drummond and Bruce Thomson, course mates during initial pilot training, they welcomed dad into their tent on arriving in Korea. Both would be shot down within days. 'Butch' Hannan, the pilot dad was searching for when his aircraft was struck by ground fire, destroying the canopy and wounding him in the face. Jim Flemming, who trained my father before he left for Korea and then flew with him as a fellow instructor on his return. Jim had so many anecdotes of their times together and shared them with my children.
So many names. Young faces, wearied by war but recognisable.
I sat and contemplated their lives and their times. As I stared at the mannequin in the pilot's seat, I could almost see my father's face. What did he think before that first mission? How did he feel? Was he scared? Fortunately he answered many of those questions before he passed away. And those that fought with him in New Guinea, landed in a devastated Hiroshima or flew through the Korean skies have shared their stories with me. I am so very fortunate and honoured.
My manuscript nears its end, but these faces in fading photographs have changed me forever. Their voices in life and from beyond the grave have spoken to me and painted vivid images of my dad in two very different. As I sat beside his jet in silence, strangers walked by - some pausing, others not. Then on young lad stood by the jet and reached up to touch its nose, like a child patting a horse. I know that my father would have smiled and probably lifted him into the cockpit as he did with me so very many times. I wish that I could've told the young boy that. Perhaps through this book I can.