Plane spotting during World War II

Helen McLaughlin

I was 3 years old when they came to Oakdale, our cattle station over the range west of Mackay. One day in 1944 two magnificent men arrived at the homestead – they were enormous, at least 10 feet tall and dressed in magnificent army uniforms. They spoke gravely to my parents and unrolled two big posters with drawings of aeroplanes on them. They asked my parents to pin these up on the wall each side of the telephone in the hallway. I was to learn that the posters portrayed every aircraft that could possibly be seen in Australian skies – one poster showed the aircraft as they would appear viewed side-ways and the second portrayed silhouettes of the aircraft viewed from below.

We went out onto the verandah and the Officers talked to my parents very seriously with many gestures pointing to the sky. Of course they were explaining the basics of aircraft spotting: upon hearing an aircraft, a spotter was to locate the sector of the sky where it was flying, try to obtain a visual fix upon it, identify it if possible and then telephone the details to a base in Mackay. They provided my parents with a pair of powerful binoculars to assist in this task. This was a time when Northern Australia feared a Japanese invasion. Apart from the job of aircraft spotting, no doubt the Officers were discussing the possibility of this with my father and talking about contingency plans for people living in remote locations in case of such an invasion.

I well remember one of these magnificent men smiling and speaking to me, then bending down to me and gently placing the binoculars before my eyes and he explained how you could clearly see things far away through them. I was amazed to see one of our fine red and white Herefords so close to me that I felt I could reach out and touch it. The adults were suitably amused by my reaction.

I remember, too, that we went down into the garden and the Officers stood by a tall garden post and told us that a plane carrying some very important people would be flying over that very post on a particular date and time. My mother was very excited. Later in life I learned that the important people were the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, who, in 1944, during World War II, visited Australia as a gesture of support demonstrating the unity of the Empire.

My parents explained to me that whenever I was outside playing, I must listen for any aircraft, try to see where it was in the sky and then tell an adult immediately so that it could be reported. I took this task very seriously indeed and spent considerable time briefing the hens, the turkeys and the pet goats on the need to be vigilant! I am proud to say that I commenced work when I was three years old, as a volunteer gathering intelligence for the Military!