World War 1 airman survives four wartime air crashes, braving injury to serve his country

In the leadup to Anzac Day, it was the Manning River Times’ practice to track down and speak with a war veteran. Here is World War II veteran George Meldrum’s story which was published in the Times in the 1980s.

1984: The Anzac Dawn Service at Taree.

1984: The Anzac Dawn Service at Taree.

EACH Anzac Day brings special memories for local man George Meldrum born only hours before the end of World War I. 

On November 11, 1918 the world had finally achieved peace - it was to be the war to end all wars.

A young George was not to know that more than 20 years later, he would be fighting for peace yet again.

George is the husband of former Greater Taree City Councillor, Dot Meldrum of Old Bar.

When World War II erupted in 1939, George was working in a militia camp, commissioned to the army on October 13, 1939.

Later, he decided to transfer to the airforce and train as a pilot. He received his commission into the airforce on December 29, 1942 and gained his wings in Canada.

Dot recalls some of the more interesting experiences George had while in the services.

"One day while flying, he realised he was running out of fuel and could not reach his base," she said.

"Looking down, he could see the Canadian-American border and the landing on the American side of the St Lawrence River was much safer so he landed there.

"The main trouble was that America had not then entered the war and he was interned as an illegal entrant to America."

After signing the relevant papers promising never to attempt to enter the US again, George was released without question.

England was George's next stop where he served in a British squadron 274 and was posted to the Middle East.

At one stage, he returned to base after completing a mission to find he had been on duty during the retreat of El Alamein.

With a number of other 'cobbers' he hitch-hiked to Cairo to find his squadron. In the process he lost his papers, identification and log book.

George's flying days weren't without drama either. In July 1942 the single motor in his fighter plane blew up and George was forced to land west of Aminya. In October of the same year, he was bombed accidentally by the pilot of his number two plane.

In November, George fortunate enough to survive engine trouble during a landing.

Later on, when he was nearing the end of a tour of duty in January, 1943, George was accidentally hit by a friendly aircraft and crashed landed.

"He Flew in a lot of Hurricanes but was later switched to Spit Fires, Warraways and Fairey Fulmers," Dot said.

"He also served in the Number 26 Anti-Aircraft Co-op Unit, the Berka Det and then 74 Squadron.

"He had almost 800 hours accredited combat flying and landed on 24 Middle East Aerodromes."

Towards the end of the war, George's flying missions were marred by pain as his injuries sustained in previous accidents were beginning to catch up with him.

He was finally sent back to Australia to participate in a 'toughening up' course to enable him to join 'Killer Cadwell's Squadron for service in New Guinea.

Unfortunately, George could not complete the course because of injury.

He spent several years in hospital and underwent eight spinal operations.

He was one of the first patients to undergo the operation that is now commonly called a laminectomy.

George married Dot after the war.

They have three children, Robert (Bob) who is a Squadron Leader at Amberley Air Base in Queensland; Peter a teacher attached to Forster High School and Don who is making his future in the computer field.

George is a life member of the Wingham Rifle Club and Taree Pistol Club.

He won his first district trophy in senior division of rifle shooting at 17 years.

Before the war George worked in the hardware department of Connell's in Taree. After his service, he went into partnership with another ex-Connell's man, Vic Godwin, running stores in Wingham and Forster.

Later, he and his wife Dot ran a sports and paint shop in Manning Street, Taree.

George, is now a patient at the Bushland Place Nursing Home.