Sydney veteran flies again

A veteran of the Second World War, Mr Robertson took pride of place in the jumpseat of a C-130J Hercules for a flight over Sydney on 11 July 2019.
A veteran of the Second World War, Mr Robertson took pride of place in the jumpseat of a C-130J Hercules for a flight over Sydney on 11 July 2019.
 
The flight over Sydney with No. 37 Squadron was in recognition of Mr Robertson’s 77-year association with RAAF Base Richmond.
 
Born in 1920 and raised in the Sydney suburb of Lakemba, Mr Robertson was inspired into aviation by the exploits of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and Sir Charles Ulm.
 
After the Southern Cross’ trans-Pacific trip in 1928, his family were lucky enough to meet the crew in Sydney.
 
“And from that time I wanted to do something in the air. That was the beginning,” Mr Robertson said.
 
Leaving school at 15, he worked in a radio workshop and later joined the New South Wales Scottish Regiment at 18, before joining the Air Force as a wireless operator April 1941.
 
On an aircraft, the wireless operator would communicate with other crews, home bases, and other forces on the ground.
 
He completed his training in early 1942 and was posted to No. 30 Squadron at RAAF Station Richmond.
 
“It was still forming – there were no aircraft (in 30 Squadron) at the time,” Mr Robertson said.
 
“We were a family just formed, we didn’t know one another, but we fitted in well.”
 
In the meantime, he worked in the signals station – a job which effectively brought him into the War during the early hours of June 1, 1942.
 
“One night I was turning a dial on a receiver, listening for an aircraft that might be in trouble somewhere – it was a monotonous job, just turning a dial and listening,” Mr Robertson said.
 
“Suddenly this loud Morse Code hit me in the ear. I couldn’t write it down – it didn’t make sense at all, it wasn’t one of our letters.”
 
“It just struck me ‘it’s got to be Japanese’. I screamed out loudly “THIS IS JAPANESE”, it’s come through my headphones.”
 
Mr Robertson was listening to a submarine attack on Sydney Harbour, the aim of which was to sink a large American cruiser.
 
The torpedoes missed their mark and struck HMAS Kuttabul, killing 21 sailors.
 
The three Japanese miniature submarines were lost. The mother submarine was waiting at the Sydney Heads to pick up the miniature subs after they had destroyed the shipping.
 
The miniature subs did not return to their mother submarine.
 
Later that month, 30 Squadron received its first Bristol Beaufighters, a strike aircraft whose combination of speed, range, and armament made it ideally suited for the Pacific War.
 
Knowing little about Beaufighters beforehand, Mr Robertson’s first experience was “absolutely fantastic”.
 
“Two Beaufighters were going for a training flight, and I said ‘I’d like to come too’, and they said ‘hop in’.”
 
“The two of them took off from Richmond, and of course the Hawkesbury River flows through Richmond and we followed the River around every bend, no higher than the gumtrees on the bank – that low.”
 
After target training off Barrenjoey Heads, the Beaufighters returned along the Hawkesbury River.
 
“You’d pay money to do that today – a wonderful flight it was,” Mr Robertson said.
 
Intense training was put into effect, leaving Richmond at the end of July, travelling via Townsville, No. 30 Squadron was sent to Port Moresby in September 1942.
 
In New Guinea, the Beaufighter’s armament of six machine guns and four cannons were brutally effective destroying Japanese supply lines on the Kokoda Track.
 
In March 1943, they joined a massive coordinated strike on a Japanese convoy in the Bismarck Sea, attempting to bring 6,900 troops to New Guinea.
 
The convoy mistook approaching Beaufighters for torpedo bombers, and turned to face the attack – presenting an ideal profile for the RAAF pilots to strafe bridges and anti-aircraft defences and leave the vessels blazing. 12 of the 16 ships were destroyed.
 
Listening on the wireless in Port Moresby, Mr Robertson waited for reports of aircraft damage or losses.
 
“I was listening to the battle going on, and informed all our fellas in the camp – everybody’s hanging around wanting news of what happened because everybody put their effort in,” Mr Robertson said.
 
“All I could hear was American voices from all these aeroplanes – they were dropping their bombs, and the Beaufighters were still flitting around the ships.”
 
No RAAF aircraft were lost, and the low-level flying skill of Beaufighter crews won admiration from the Americans.
 
“The bombs were dropping down on the ships and the Americans were calling the Australians ‘sons-of-so-and-sos’ and expletives in the most loving terms,” Mr Robertson said.
 
“Fred Cassidy, a Navigator, said he looked out and saw a skip bomb alongside him – hitting the wavetops and going along – and that’s how low the Beaufighters were, and he yelled out to his pilot to pull away quick because it hit a ship and blew it up.”
 
In the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, only 1,200 Japanese troops made their destination – an outcome which helped seal the New Guinea ground war for the Allies.
 
Mr Robertson spent 18 months at Port Moresby and on Goodenough Island with 30 Squadron before returning to Australia and a ground job with Air Force Headquarters.
 
His first priority however was marrying his fiancée Beryl. Arriving home on a Saturday, Mr Robertson tied the knot the following Friday, then posted up to Darwin a few days later.
 
What soon followed was an end to the War in the Pacific and discharge from service, along with two daughters, a career in stationary supply, and 66 years of marriage before Beryl sadly passed.
 
In 1991, he joined members of the No. 30 Squadron Association in commemorating the Battle of the Bismarck Sea at RAAF Base Richmond.
 
In March 2020, Mr Robertson will turn 100, ahead of the Air Force reaching its own centenary in March 2021.
 
“I still enjoy life, I’m active all the time, sing in a choir, play lawn bowls, and quite a few other things and am currently President of 30 Squadron RAAF Beaufighter Association” Mr Robertson said.
 
His enduring relationship with RAAF Base Richmond led to the offer to fly on a Hercules in 2019.
 
That flight over Sydney may not have been as dramatic as his first flight in a Beaufighter, but he remains enthusiastic as ever about flying.
 
“I thought it was fantastic – here am I sitting between the two pilots, just behind them, with headphones on chipping in with conversation,” Mr Robertson said.
 
“It didn’t affect me that it was bumpy – I enjoyed every minute of it.
 
“Fancy having an aeroplane out on that tarmac and you’re going to fly it off – what could be better?”