Dehlsen, Paul “Chocka” John

Paul was born on the 28th April 1920 in Concord, New South Wales. His father, an engineer, came from Denmark in 1909, married and had five sons. He insisted that all the children attended school through the Great Depression.

Chocka, as he was known to his friends, enlisted on the 4th April 1940. He thought that he was going to become a pilot, but found himself being trained as ground crew. After completing training at Point Cook, Melbourne Showground and Adelaide, he qualified as a fitter and was posted to RAAF, Amberley, Queensland. From there he was posted overseas, together with a large group of ground crew known as the Blue Draft.

They embarked on the Awatea, a passenger liner, at Sydney, and sailed to Vancouver, Canada. They were put on a train and crossed Canada, arriving at Halifax. In no time, they were put on a ship bound for England. It had been loaded with Italian prisoners of war and the Blue Draft walked off the vessel because it was filthy and stank to high heaven. After a few days at an embarkation camp, another ship was boarded and it sailed to Iceland. Again there was disembarkation and an extra five days ashore. It never got dark during the whole time they were there. An interesting side story here was that Mr Winston Churchill visited during this time. Then they embarked onto yet another ship to Greenock on the west coast of Scotland, followed by train to Bournemouth on the south coast of England.

Altogether, there were about 230 fitters, armourers, mechanics and electricians and, after a few days, small groups were posted to RAF air stations all over the UK. Paul went to No.58 OTU at Falkirk, near Edinburgh with six others. They worked on Hurricanes and Spitfires for about six months. Then, around 100 of the personnel were sent to the Middle East to be the crew for a new squadron, and it took seven days in all sorts of aeroplanes to reach a place called Aga, on the Nile. They sat in a closed camp for a week, and when no aircraft turned up they were sent back to the UK! In spite of searching maps, etc, Paul was never able to find Aga.

Back in the UK, he was sent to Redhill to service Spitfires of 457 and 452 Squadrons, RAAF. Then, surprise, surprise, he was sent back to Australia as a part of 457 Squadron. From Sydney up to Darwin, and by this time he was a Sergeant. After about six or seven weeks, the re-muster as pilot came through. He had asked for this at every RAF base he went through, so he was moved to Initial Training School (ITS) Victor Harbour, South Australia and demoted to AC2.

From there, he went to Elementary Flying Training School at Cunderdin in Western Australia, and after to Sydney and a ship to Canada again! There, he went to Service Flying Training School at Camp Borden, Ontario and trained on Harvards. Chocka got his “wings” and was commissioned, on graduation, to Pilot Officer. Then, guess, back to Falkirk, where he had been two years before as a fitter. After finishing in No.58 Operational Training School he returned once more to Australia.

All this moving added up to nearly six years, and he was discharged the 25th February 1946 as a Flying Officer from No.5 SFTS, having been round the world twice. Clive “Killer” Caldwell once remarked to him that he had a lower Service Number and had had more ranks than him: AC1, Sergeant, AC2, Pilot Officer and Flying Officer. 

In peacetime, Paul clocked up some more miles. He said, “one of my brothers and I went into the building industry, including building the Burns Philp trading store on Norfolk Island. My wife and I returned there five years later and stayed for 26 years, running several businesses. We finally retired on the Central Coast, NSW.”

The photo is of the boys at Redhill, England, in June 1942. Chocka is in the back row, fourth from the right.

Note from Editor. This could possibly be a travel record for a member of the RAAF during the war!

Written by Paul Dehlsen and edited by David Hamilton
The Spitfire Association