Group portrait of members of the first RAAF Air Gunner's Course at Evans Head. More than 5,500 air force personnel passed through No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery Schools training programs.
Group portrait of members of the first RAAF Air Gunner's Course at Evans Head. More than 5,500 air force personnel passed through No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery Schools training programs.

WWII was in full swing when Evans Head stepped up to help

AUGUST 26 marked the 80th anniversary of the No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School at Evans Head.

Flight Lieutenant Jason Van Rysbergen, from No. 23 Squadron Combat Support Group, is in charge of the Evans Head air weapons range, and said he was proud to be living in a town rich with air force history.

"The Evans Head air weapons range has been, and will continue to be, a vital training asset for air force," Flight Lieutenant Van Rysbergen said.

"The graves of 22 airman that died during training are here.

"We're very lucky to have strong community support for the range and our small team feel extremely privileged to represent the air force in such a unique location."

 

No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School under construction in January 1941 with Fairey Battles lined up for Movietone News as PR for the RAAF and the ‘war effort’.
No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School under construction in January 1941 with Fairey Battles lined up for Movietone News as PR for the RAAF and the ‘war effort’.

 

It was 1940 and World War II was in full swing.

Australia agreed to provide 36 per cent of the total number of proposed aircrew - 28,000 aircrew over three years. One of them was No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School at Evans Head.

Reportedly the largest RAAF training facility in the southern hemisphere during World War II, the aerodrome was distinguished by its four runways, associated taxiways and aprons and 17 Bellman hangars.

Dr Richard Gates, a retired neuroscientist, spent his childhood at Evans Head, before moving away after his father, the local chemist, passed away in 1959.

"When I was a boy, the airfield was still an aircraft graveyard," he said.

"It was our playground.

"We made sailing boats out of aircraft parts before the aircraft were stripped."

 

Aerial view of Evans Head during WWII showing 17 Bellman Hangars, station buildings including accommodation huts, messes, workshops, water tower and two of the four runways 14/32 and 18/36 with the village of Evans Head in the background along the Evans River.
Aerial view of Evans Head during WWII showing 17 Bellman Hangars, station buildings including accommodation huts, messes, workshops, water tower and two of the four runways 14/32 and 18/36 with the village of Evans Head in the background along the Evans River.

 

Dr Gates returned in the 1970s to find that while much had changed, a lot remained the same for the holiday destination that boasts pristine beaches, national parks and a quiet river.

"I have vivid recollections of the airfield because my father was a pilot under the Empire Air Training Scheme and he loved watching aerobatics," Dr Gates said.

Now the president and life member of the Evans Head Living Museum, Dr Gates has undertaken extensive research into the history of the Evans Head aerodrome and recalls numerous significant historical events.

Approximately 630 aircrew passed through this school, flying mainly Avro Anson and CAC Wackett aircraft until it, too, was disbanded in 1944.

The air force has continued to use the southern range as a primary training area for honing the skills of aircrew flying numerous military aircraft, including the Bristol Beaufighter, Canberra Bomber, F-4E Phantom, F-111C, F/A-18F Super Hornet and, most recently, the F-35A Lightning II.

Today, the site of the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome is listed on the NSW State Heritage Register.

 

A Royal Australian Air Force F-35A Lightning II A35-019 aircraft flies over the Evans Head Air Weapons Range in Northern NSW.
A Royal Australian Air Force F-35A Lightning II A35-019 aircraft flies over the Evans Head Air Weapons Range in Northern NSW.


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