Today, April 25th, is Anzac Day. It is the Day of Remembrance in Australia and New Zealand commemorating the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli on April 25th 1915. It turned out to be one of the most futile campaigns of all time but it created the national identities of two young countries.
It is the day on which we remember all those who serve and have served our nations in war and peace around the world from the Boer War to Afghanistan and everywhere in between including Korea, Viet Nam, Malaya, Indonesia, Timor Leste as well as WW1 and WW2.
For two small countries (in terms of population) the contribution and sacrifice of Australia and New Zealand is beyond comparison. No settlement, however small, was spared a loss and a generation never returned from Gallipoli, the Somme, Fromelles and Villers Bretonneux.
My father, Maurice William Payne, joined the Royal Air Force in 1937 to escape the life of a farm labourer. He spent most of the Second World War in the Mediterranean and the Middle East serving there from 1939 until 1946 - usually at Heliopolis near Alexandria.
He had various jobs from bomb aimer, to air gunner and loadmaster. Posted to 216 Squadron I recall him saying his first combat experience was priming bombs and rolling them out of the open doors of a Vickers Valentia in the Syrian Campaign in early 1941 when British, Australian, Free French and Indian forces stopped the Vichy French and German forces from moving towards Egypt and the Suez Canal - while Rommel approached from the west along the North African coast.
Transferred to Greece with his squadron he arrived to meet the full German invasion onslaught in Crete and he was one of many who had to swim off the beaches to waiting ships at the end of May 1941. (Coincidentally, Annie’s father, in the Australian Army, was also in Crete and swam from the same beaches). Both were evacuated to Tobruk and my Dad moved on to the Suez Canal Zone while Annie’s Dad remained to become one of the “Rats of Tobruk”.
Maurice saw action in many locations from El Alamein -attacking German and Italian forces in Wellington bombers and supplying forward Allied units; to Iraq, Syria, Geece (1944) and Iran. He was based in in Egypt largely because of his knowledge of Arabic - he was one of the few who could speak the language - and this made him useful in dealing with local tribesmen along the oil pipelines that ran from Iraq to the Mediterranean. His squadron became the main transport squadron for Allied forces in Greece following the liberation of the country in 1944. 216 by that time was operating Dakotas across the whole of the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East.
My mother (who was a Swiss nanny in Egypt during the war) says that Dad would spend his spare time sitting under a tree talking with the local Egyptians and learning Arabic while teaching them English. He had a great aptitude for languages; my mother taught him French (as she knew no English and dare not use German, which as a Swiss was her mother tongue).
My parents were married in Alexandria, Egypt in 1944 and Dad went on to spend a total of 37 years in the RAF Egypt again (1953-54), Iraq, Aden, Malta, Masirah, Bahrain and various other Bomber Command stations in Britain as well as detachments to the US and other countries.His knowledge of Arabic clearly made him a marked Middle East man and this was reflected in his career postings. No wonder his motto became "never volunteer".
John, Thanks for adding your father's WWII experiences in the RAF to Legacy Stories. It's quite uncanny that both of our dads, from the opposite ends of the earth should end up fighting in the same theatres of war in Egypt, Libya, Greece, Crete and Syria - mine on the ground with the 6th Division, 2/104 A.G.T on the ground with the Australian Infantry Corps and yours in the air with the RAF! I bet they could have shared some amazing stories over a beer or two had they ever met.
Knowing my Dad they would have had that beer. He always liked the Australians except when it came to inter unit cricket matches.
I interviewed a man several year ago who'd been in the Royal Navy and he, too had also been in North Africa around the same time - uncanny!