Edstein, John “Abe” Barry

During the War, John Edstein was a Leading Aircraftman with 110 MFCU (Mobile Fighter Control Unit)

Ray Hart, a colleague of John and another Leading Aircraftman with 110 MFCU, wrote the following:

John, or Abe or Barry as he was known to his mates, was born on the 6th May 1923 in Hamilton, New South Wales. He joined the Army initially, but when his Mother told the OIC that he was under age, he was asked to leave and come back when he was of age. He waited until he gained the required number of years, but he never went back. He decided, instead, to join the RAAF, which he did on the 20th April 1943.

Abe was a great character, fun loving and known to the majority of the members of 110 MFCU, which was a support unit of No.1 Spitfire Fighter Wing, Darwin, and No.80 Spitfire Wing, Morotai and Balikpapan. Although he trained as a VHF/DF (Very High Frequency/Direction Finding) Operator at Signals School Point Cook in Victoria at the same time as quite a few of our W/Ts (Wireless Telegraphists), we did not meet him until he joined the unit located at the 19 mile peg in Darwin. The unit was about 1.6 kms and 800 metres into the scrub north of Sattler. A short time after he joined the unit, we had to add Barry’s VHF/DF equipment to our mobile wireless aerials. During this procedure we soon realised Barry had a very keen sense of humour and enjoyed a practical joke.

One Saturday morning, Barry wandered into the signals tent and the W/T on duty had the earphones jack out of the AR7 (wireless receiver) because this particular set had a very good speaker, and the reception was loud and clear. The set was tuned to a Melbourne radio station, which was giving the acceptances, scratchings and starting prices for the races that day. Barry’s question was, “What’s that?”, and when told he went off to get his mate Bruce Clegg, whose father was a registered bookmaker in Sydney. In those day, Bruce had penciled for his father. When told we could get this information every week, Barry and Bruce decided to become the unit’s SP bookies. They had a good run for quite a period, however, one Saturday, for a major meeting all the punters backed the same favourite in the same race. The favourite won and Barry and Bruce had not had the opportunity of laying off any of the bets. They paid up, but decided to give up the bookmaking business.

After this, because of the name Edstein, he was considered to be of Jewish decent (he wasn’t) and was nicknamed “Abe”. Barry’s next venture was selling magpie geese to the Americans. Whilst on outstations in a mobile tender away in the scrub, Barry’s group was bivouacked close to a lagoon frequented by magpie geese. Barry decided to shoot them and sell them to the American unit we used to trade with. From memory, Barry worked out that it was a better deal to trade the geese for Lucky Strike and/or Chesterfield cigarettes. He reckoned the geese would taste better than SPAM, which we had been trading, and the Yanks thought so too.

At Morotai, Barry and Bruce were offered a Jeep for 600 Guilders (A$200) from an American Ordnance Company. They bought the Jeep and charged one Guilder to take you to theAmerican open air picture theatre. One night, when leaving the picture site they were pulled up by the American MPs for driving an unmarked vehicle. The MPs did not believe their story about buying the Jeep and impounded it, and told them if they wanted to make a claim to report to the American Provost Marshal the next day. Barry and Bruce fronted the next day with paperwork they had received from the American Ordnance Company. This showed that the vehicle had been made up of parts from Jeeps that had been written off. The Provost Marshal scratched his head and said they could keep the Jeep, subject to our CO agreeing to taking it on strength. Doug Vanderfield, our CO, being a gentleman and suddenly very popular with Barry, agreed. Barry and Bruce were back in business. The sequel to this being that when Barry and Bruce left for Balikpapan, they sold the Jeep to Digit Davey, and unfortunately it was later stolen. The photo is of Doug Vanderfield, Barry and Bruce Clegg with the Jeep, plus a bag of magpie geese for the American cooks down the road. 

At Morotai, Barry and Bruce were short of beer and decided to put down a brew of jungle juice. When the brew was ready, they bottled it and were in their tent about to sample it when “Obie” Kevin O’Brien, another Aircraftman, walked passed their tent. Knowing he liked a drink they invited him in and poured him a glass. He tasted it and then he pulled a screwed up horrible face and declared, “it’s beautiful”, and stayed drinking with them. Late in the afternoon our CO Doug Vanderfield called on Barry and Bruce at their tent and asked, “What did you do to O’Brien? He is in bed in his tent and they cannot wake him”. It must have been a great brew.

The photo is of the 110 MFCU “Skinheads” getting ready for Morotai’s tropical climate. Edstein John Barry pic3

Abe was discharged on the 14th February 1946. 

Barry passed away in late 2010. He was a Past President of the Spitfire Association (2005-2006) and was a great character and mate, and is sadly missed by all who knew him. For further details on Barry in his “Peace Time” escapades, please contact  stevemcgregor3@bigpond.com.au

Steve McGregor and Ray Hart
The Spitfire Association