13 June 2010

Far North Queensland

Well, here I am in FNQ - Cairns to be exact - a couple of days early for a course (work, honest!) and I've had the chance to travel around a little bit and check out a few things. I'm leaving a lot of things for when my wife and I make it up here but I've managed to visit Mareeba aerodrome but, sadly, did not see much to inspire me in terms of the history of the place. I definitely should have done a bit more research as to what to look for but other than Beaufort Street and a couple of plaques/signs (and a closed aviation 'museum'), there's little to tell the casual visitor that is was once a thriving (and large) wartime airfield teeming with RAAF and USAAF aircraft (a visit to the nearby Syd Beck collection helps in that respect). A flick through Damien Waters' Beaus, Butchers and Boomerangs would have been the smart thing to do.

Every day of this trip I've been able to look out over the waterfront of Cairns - home to Catalinas during the war (check out Brett Freeman's Lake Boga At War and, of course, David Vincent's Catalina Chronicle and AE Minty's Black Cats) - and out to the Coral Sea. However probably the book I am reminded of most of all has little to do with the subject of this website. The wonderfully named Marsden Hordern wrote the equally wonderful A Merciful Journey which covers his days in the small ships of the Royal Australian Navy. Eventually becoming the skipper of several small patrol boats, Hordern, also a Captain Cook afficianado, worked these waters and those north to New Guinea during the war. His command pulled into Cairns on several occasions and, remembering this as I looked at the RAN's current patrol boat base this morning, I wondered if that was the very wharf he tied up to. It really adds to the reading experience (even though I read the book in 2008) when you're able to see the same things the author did. It does pay to leave the armchair on occasion!

10 June 2010

The last autobiography to be written by an NZ fighter ace?

As we get further into the 21st Century the ranks of surviving wartime veterans are, of course, sadly thinning. Barely a couple of days pass without reading yet another obituary of someone who faced the unimaginable but survived to make the most of a long post-war life. I've unfortunately found it's often the first time I've heard of the person but it's never to late to honour a life well lived.

Of the few New Zealand fighter aces still with us some, like Alan Peart and Jim Sheddan, have written their memoirs but according to Larry Hill, a well-known New Zealand aviation bibliophile and a man in the know in such matters, it is likely that the new book by Wing Commander Owen Hardy DFC* - Through My Eyes: Memories of a life in the Royal Air Force in war and peace - will be the last by a Kiwi ace.

As much as I respect Larry I do hope he is wrong on this occasion and I think he would agree. Having said that, if Through My Eyes does turn out to be the last by a living New Zealand ace, what a way to end this unique genre. Owen Hardy served with 485 Squadron in the UK and was hand-picked by Brian Kingcombe to fly in North Africa. Post-war he remained in the RAF and led a Vampire display team in Germany before becoming a big-wheel in terms of developing the RAF's defence strategy. Several months ago Dave Homewood of the Wings Over New Zealand forum interviewed Mr Hardy, the first to do so, and has commented that the book will be loaded with many previously unseen photos and that, if the interview is anything to go by, the publicity-shy author will have written a brilliant book.

Convinced? Visit the link below and buy 298 pages of what is an historic book whichever way you look at it.

Through My Eyes