Raymond, or Ray or Boss as he was known to his mates, was born at Rockdale in New South Wales on the 12th May 1925. He was raised at Banksia in a home that overlooked Mascot Aerodrome, so it was little wonder that Ray was intrigued by planes.
He was just over fourteen when the war broke out and he had to wait until he was sixteen to join the Air Training Corps. By the age of seventeen, he was rostered to take part in a regular ATC No.28 Squadron activity, and that was to spend Friday and Saturday nights on the roof of the Astor Private Hotel in Macquarie Street, Sydney, spotting aircraft, recording details and relaying the information to the relevant authorities. On one particular watch, they were being observed by an NCO from the permanent RAAF and over breakfast at Circular Quay the next morning, he told Ray that at age seventeen-and-a-half he could volunteer to join the RAAF Reserve, with a move to the permanent ranks guaranteed when he turned eighteen. Ray followed his advice, becoming a reservist on the 12 December 1942 and just under two weeks after his eighteenth birthday, he received his call up notice and enlisted at No.2 Recruiting Centre at Woolloomooloo on the 25th May 1943. Because of his age and because he was employed in a reserve occupation, Ray could only complete the enlistment procedures with parental permission and a protected industry clearance.
Vocational testing identified Ray as a candidate suited for duties as a Wireless Telegraphist (W/T), but before he could start his specialist training he had to proceed to the Initial Training School at Tocumwal to do his “rookies”. This lasted about a month and on completion Ray was sent to No.1 Signal School at Point Cook, Victoria, where he commenced his W/T training in July 1943. By the time he finished this course, being under nineteen, Ray was too young to be posted to an operational unit and therefore had to cool his heels at No.4 PD Signals Office at Colonel Light Gardens Adelaide until such time as he reached the eligible age. The photo was taken about this time when Ray was in St. Kilda Rd, Melbourne.
On the 25 May 1944, Ray was posted to No.110 Mobile Fighter Control Unit (MFCU) located at Sattler airfield on the Stuart Highway, just south of Darwin. At that time, No.110 MFCU was a support unit of No.1 Fighter Wing, which included the Spitfire Squadrons 452 and 457, both RAAF and 54 RAF, as well as No.7 Repair and Salvage Unit and No.60 Operational Base Unit. Later in June 1944, this was restructured as No.80 Spitfire Fighter Wing with 79 Squadron replacing 54 Squadron, and with the addition of several radar units.
As the threat to Darwin diminished and the war moved north, Ray, as part of No. 80 Spitfire Fighter Wing, found himself on a posting to Morotai. While the aircraft were flown there via Merauke and Biak, all other units were transported aboard the US troopship, SS Mexico, which left Darwin on the 16th January 1945 and arrived at Morotai at the end of the month. While the SS Mexico was capable of travelling at a fairly high rate of knots, it was held back by slower ships in the convoy and this caused it to pitch and roll much to the discomfort of Ray and the other troops on board.
On reaching Morotai, No.110 MFCU was attached to the 36th American Fighter Control Squadron. Ray was most impressed by the set up of the operations centre and the quality of equipment in use. It was the first time as well that the RAAF personnel had had the experience of working with ack-ack and searchlight units in a combined operations room. No.110 MFCU began full operations on the 1st April 1945 taking over the control centre from the USAF. Later at the end of May, they were able to occupy the camp vacated by the Americans and this proved to be a step up in their level of accommodation as well. (Web Master: According to Wikipedia, nicknames for anti-aircraft guns include AA, AAA or AAA, an abbreviation of Anti-Aircraft Artillery; “ack-ack” (from the spelling alphabet used by the British for voice transmission of “AA”.)
However, Ray was destined not to enjoy the benefits of an improved standard of living for long. Planning had commenced for an Australian attack on Balikpapan and in June 1945, he was deployed as a member of 110 MFCU Assault Echelon to establish an operations centre on Balikpapan. Its role was to coordinate the activities of 452 Squadron and to work in conjunction with the AIF 7th Division’s anti-aircraft batteries and searchlight units. The landing commenced on the 1st July 1945 and three days later, Ray’s unit was fully functional and working out of an operations room located on the beach at Balikpapan, approximately three kilometres from Seppingang airstrip.
Ray remembers the capitulation of the Japanese on the 15th August 1945 as a momentous occasion, although he was not able to get back to Australia from Balikpapan until October of that year. The RAAF still required his services and after eight weeks leave, he was posted to No.2 Personnel Depot, Bradfield Park, where he was required to assist in the process of discharging large numbers of RAAF servicemen and women. Ray worked in the Signals Office and in his words the staff there were, “very popular with all other sections, as all we were doing was taking down discharges on a landline from Eastern Area Headquarters when the teleprinters became overloaded. Although on sustenance pay as day boys, working around the clock eight hours on and 24 hours off, we were sweet with all other sections and received special privileges from clothing store, mess, medical and dental. We were able to let them know in advance when they would be discharged. I took down my own discharge and on the final day I had everything complete, except for the final pay and free three months rail and bus travel.”
And Ray didn’t hang about. On the 1st April 1946, with pay and transport passes in hand, he was out of Bradfield Park and out of the RAAF. After a few weeks leave, Ray was back working with his old firm, exactly three years after he had enlisted.
The photo, taken in 1944, is of Ray and some of the men in 110 MFCU at Morotai. Back Row: Tony Winchester, Dave Jenkins, Ray “Boss” Hart, Jim “McGinty” McNeill and Ray Dorrington. Front Row: Sid Askew, Kevin “Obie” O’Brien, Gerry Samson and Peter “Nugget” Nugent. The last photo is of the 110 MFCU unofficial crest, which was designed by Tony Winchester.
Brian Kille, Ray Hart and Steve McGregor
The Spitfire Association