Bomber recalls his war years

BEFORE AND AFTER: Corporal Jack Bell before the war (left) and as a prisoner-of-war. Photo contributed.
BEFORE AND AFTER: Corporal Jack Bell before the war (left) and as a prisoner-of-war. Photo contributed. Contributed.

REMEMBRANCE Daytoday marks the month 72 years ago that Corporal John "Jack" Bell came to Evans Head to undertake gunnery training at the RAAF's No.1 Bombing and Gunnery School.

The world was preparing for war and Jack was no exception, having joined the Royal Australian Artillery in 1936.

"This was the time when Hitler was 'rattling his sabre', as it were, and all realised that war was inevitable," he said.

"The government started a recruitment drive so I re-enlisted in early 1939."

Jack trained at Evans Head for four weeks, learning how to shoot at targets from an aeroplane, in preparation for their entry into the war.

Jack became part of a formidable flying force known as Bomber Command in the British RAF.

They flew many missions into Europe with the aim of bombing strategic sites used by the enemy, to help undermine their strength.

Jack was one of 10,000 Australians that served with Bomber Command during World War II, and while he survived the war, nearly 3500 didn't.

On January 23, 1942, Jack's brother Laurie's birthday, their squadron was shot down over Libya at around 10am by the German 15th Panzer division.

"They just blew us out of the sky," he said in a radio interview with Eddie McGuire for this year's Anzac Day.

"Not having parachutes, we had to crash, I was injured ... and the navigator was killed."

For the next three years, three months and three weeks, Jack was a prisoner-of-war.

"I was reported to my mother and father as 'missing in action, believed killed'," he said.

"Some six months later our neighbour in Toowong was listening to the Vatican's broadcast of prisoners and he heard my name, rank and number given out.

"You can imagine the relief to my family."

President of Evans Head Living Museum Richard Gates said that as yet there was no Australian memorial to recognise the bravery of Australian soldiers who served in Bomber Command.

"Jack Bell was typical of many people that trained at Evans Head where they were promised RAAF squadrons when they went overseas, only to find out they didn't exist and so had to fly with the RAF," he said.

"Evans Head would be an appropriate home for a Bomber Command memorial as more than a thousand who trained here were killed in battle.

"We think that's deserving of getting a recognition for Bomber Command."

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