VIP fleet formed as Darwin burned

VIP fleet formed as Darwin burned

While Darwin played host for the 70th anniversary of the bombing that for most of us was barely a mention in World War II history, it was in Canberra that a squadron was formed that was integral to getting the dignitaries to Darwin for the commemorations.

Gathered at Parliament House to celebrate their 70th anniversary, No. 34 Squadron RAAF was established four days after the Darwin attack, at Parap airfield with two de Havilland Dragons. One was a dud Dragon and the other was destroyed on the ground in Wyndham by enemy air attack within days, so the squadron was off to a shaky start. It survived, of course, as predominantly a transport squadron and its history makes interesting reading. It seems to have been at Fairbairn forever, way back when Canberra Airport was a shed with thick green linoleum on the floor. They were actually relocated to Fairbairn in '59 as the VIP fleet and this squadron has been transporting POWs, royalty, politicians and on occasion a vice-regal dog around Australia and the world. The guests who gathered at Parliament House's Great Hall for the 70th anniversary knees-up were tight-lipped and reluctant to tittle-tattle about incidents long gone. And the newbies, well they've got a career ahead of them so don't tell the journalist what pollies say after a few Iced VoVos and a cuppa.

Ken Stone spent 18 months organising the 70th events with veteran navigator Edwin Ham, 87, the star guest of the weekend's activities. The Sunday memorial service and wreath laying was an event to remember those POW survivors he repatriated from Thailand to Singapore so many years ago.