Gilbert, George Raymond

George was born on the 19th January 1922 in Hobart, Tasmania. 

He enlisted with the RAAF on the 30th January 1942 and, as a LAC, he commenced training at EFTS, Denilliquin flying Tiger Moths. He was then posted to No.2 OCU Mildura for more training, flying Wirraways and Kittyhawks. Graduating as a Sergeant Pilot, he was then posted to the newly formed 79 Squadron at Lavernton where he learnt to fly Spitfires. As there were no dual control aircraft in the Squadron, George’s first flight, his conversion, would have been solo in his own Spitfire, JG891. 

In June 1943, George eventually found himself stationed at Goodenough Island, north of Milne Bay off the north eastern coast of Papua New Guinea, after flying there with the Squadron. The Spitfires redeployed further north to Kiriwina Island in the Trobriand Islands on the 18th August, and the Squadron operated under adverse conditions alongside 76 Squadron from the northern end of the airstrip. There, George flew on a number of missions against the Japanese Imperial Air Force.

During his time at Kiriwina, the photograph with the Japanese flag was taken. There is a story attached to it as told by his friend and fellow 79 Squadron pilot, David Hopton: “Sergeant Ian Callister shot down our first kill and was tragically killed himself six days later on Goodenough Island. The aircraft he shot down was a Kawasaki Ki-61 “Tony” Fighter, which attempted to outrun Ian and his wingman. The action happened near Kiriwina. A Japanese silk emblem was found floating on the sea when rescue aircraft searched the site north of Kiriwina where the “Tony” was shot down. The flag was retained and would be still in existence.” The photo from left to right: George Voges, Phil Turner, Bob Rice, Peter Birch, Bill Wright, Max Bott (CO), Richards, George Gilbert, Reg Nathan, Bob Chaffey (Admin). Bob Rice and Richards hold the flag. 79 Squadron Flag

(Web Master: David apologises for not being able to remember a lot more. As he said, “It happened all too long ago, and sadly stories and names are dimming quickly, I am suffering badly from memory problems.” Unfortunately, Ian Callister was killed six days later when his Spitfire collided with a Kittyhawk during an early morning take off.) 

George’s aircraft also has a claim to fame. On the 12th January 1944, while he was on leave, Flight Sergeant Dudley Gridlington was flying the aircraft. Returning from scramble, he overran the wet strip while while landing in gusty weather. He swung to avoid another aircraft and overturned. The Spitfire was badly damaged. There it stayed for thirty years until 1974, when it was recovered and enventually returned to England and restored by Historic Flying Limited. JG891 flew again on the 2nd November 2006. The photos, one from a local paper and one of the restored aircraft by fellow pilot, Bob Rice, are worth a thousand words. Keen observers will note that far from having its tropic colour scheme, it is now in desert camouflage and has a deep “chin” cowl necessary for the “Vokes” air filter which was needed in those conditions.

Gilbert George pic2

George was posted back to 2 OTU Mildura in April 1944 and became an instructor. He was discharged from the RAAF on 15th November 1945.

After the war, George took up flying again, eventually owning his own little airline called Boomerang Air Services. He retired on his 75th birthday plus one day with his log book showing a grand total of over 16,000 hours. George died on the 22nd May 2010.

With thanks to an article by Ken Pittman in Airmail, a publication of  the RAAF Association
David Hopton and Steve McGregor
Updated by Vince Conant
The Spitfire Association
Gilbert George Pic 3