Lifestyle

Jack shot down over Libya

BATTLE STORIES: Second World War veteran Jack Bell stands in front of a WWII Avenger 441 plane at the Evans Head Great Eastern Fly-In on Saturday.
BATTLE STORIES: Second World War veteran Jack Bell stands in front of a WWII Avenger 441 plane at the Evans Head Great Eastern Fly-In on Saturday. Leah White

THE sound of piston engines roaring through the sky is not something new to Jack Bell.

The Second World War veteran first got accustomed to them when he was 22 years old and stationed at Evans Head, undertaking gunnery training at the RAAF's No.1 Bombing and Gunnery School.

It's hard to believe that 75 years later, the same man stood on the tarmac at the Evans Head Aerodrome, watching pre-WWII planes, warbirds, ultralights and general aviation aircraft buzz through the sky for the 2015 Great Eastern Fly-In.

Before his overseas deployment, Mr Bell spent four weeks training - if you would call it that - at Evans Heads in 1940.

There were 16 aircraft, more than 100 men to be trained and only three servicemen to train them.

"At the most, I got four hours' training," he said.

"We were sent off overseas on February 1941 as trained pilots, trained observers, trained gunners ... we didn't know a thing.

"(We thought) we'd be home by Christmas.

"We soon found out that war was entirely different to our concept."

Ian Thompson puts his 1:5 scale F/A-18 Hornet on display at the Evans Head Great Eastern Fly-In on Saturday.
Ian Thompson puts his 1:5 scale F/A-18 Hornet on display at the Evans Head Great Eastern Fly-In on Saturday.

In January 1942, Mr Bell was tasked to take pilots and medical supplies to headquarters just south of Benghazi in Libya.

As the aircraft dropped below the clouds to 1000 feet on approach to landing, the crew discovered they were in range of a German tank division.

An 88mm armour-piercing shell hit the aircraft, killing some crew members and badly wounding others.

The aircraft crash-landed and Mr Bell managed to survive, but he sustained severe abdominal injuries and burns to his forehead.

He was taken to a German hospital and operated on by a doctor who happened to specialise in abdominal surgery.

"He saved my life, there's no doubt about that," he said.

For the next three years, Mr Bell was a prisoner of war. After the war ended, Mr Bell was brought home on the ship Orion.

"When we finally arrived in Australia, everyone kissed the ground," he said.

"Everyone."

Maverick Masters, 3, from Pottsville, feels the need for speed in a pedal plane at the Evans Head Aerodrome on Saturday.
Maverick Masters, 3, from Pottsville, feels the need for speed in a pedal plane at the Evans Head Aerodrome on Saturday.

Topics:  evans head aerodrome great eastern fly in



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