By Bev Jordan
It was nearly 80 years ago, June 12 1942, that Bruce Robertson was posted to RAAF Richmond to join the newly formed 30 Squadron as a wireless operator.
Now 102, the West Pennant Hills resident has a wonderful recall of his years of service during World War 2 and is a sought-after speaker.
Last week he got the chance to chat to Veterans Minister David Elliott and fellow World War 2 RAAF member John McAuley, 98, a World War 2 radar operator, at a special morning tea at Castle Hill RSL (front page photo).
Bruce joined the Scottish Regiment in 1937 and was in the militia before war was declared in September 1939.
“My father had died when I was 3 years old and my mother didn’t want me to go to war,” he says. Bruce fell in love with aeroplanes as an 8-year-old when he met aviator Charles Kingsford Smith after his trans-Pacific flight so when most of the Scottish regiment volunteered to fight in World War 2 Bruce decided not to follow them into the army but to transfer to the RAAF.
He was working in radio sales and radio repairs in Angel Place Sydney at the time. “I had radio training so that led me to be a Wireless Operator.” One night, during training in Sydney, while helping to monitor wireless communications he picked up Morse code he couldn’t transcribe.
“I heard some strange signals in my headset and called the Signals Officer over. He got onto the Direction Finding stations and got a fix; they confirmed my original suspicion that it was a Japanese transmission in Kani Code.”
He served in New Guinea for two years, where the Beaufighters aeroplanes were involved in Kokoda, Milne Bay and the Battle of Bismarck Sea.
He says he often thinks of those who never come back from flights. “People don’t understand what war is like, “ he said.
He never misses an Anzac Day march in the city and is pushed in his wheelchair by one of his great grandchildren, a different one each year. He has seven great grandchildren and one great, great grandchild on the way.
He will be carrying his Squadron’s banner. John McAuley left school at the age of 16 and at 18 years of age joined the RAAF.
The Castle Hill resident who turns 99 years old in June says for an 18-year-old joining up it was an exciting time.
“A friend of mine had joined up and went into Radar and so I followed suit.”
The RAAF established Radar stations in Australia and New Guinea in order to provide early warning of enemy air attack and to a lesser extent seaborne attack. John was based in North Queensland initially and then New Guinea.
“Radar was a pretty new field and was very hush hush,” he said. “We weren’t allowed to talk about it.”
“The purpose was to detect incoming aircraft and we would phone the details through to HQ and they would determine if it was friendly.”
He said being deployed to New Guinea was completely different to the life he had known as a teenager at school in Broken Hill.
“I came from a very dry place and this was a swamp. Everything was so new and different. We were keen to explore and keen to get to know the locals. I had about 100 Malaysian words.”
When peace was declared John’s 4 1/2 years service came to an end and he went to Adelaide University to study economics and then moved to Sydney where he worked in the economics department of the Central Bank and was Chief Economist of the Rural Bank of NSW.
He says his war service developed him as a person. He has three children, 9 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren with another 4 on the way.
“They are well aware of what ANZAC Day means,” he said. “Service to country.”