Frederick, or Ron as he was known to his friends, was born on the 21st January 1922 in Lidcombe, New South wales. He volunteered for the RAAF in Sydney when war was declared at age 17 years and 9 months, and after some hold ups, was enlisted on the 29th April 1940.
In Ron’s own words:
“After the trade course and the like, I was stationed at Camden in NSW until volunteers were called to ‘infiltrate’ into the RAF in 1941. Being accepted, we were medically examined and had our teeth pulled and drilled and were given the usual set of injections. During the line-up for our shots, some of the biggest and oldest fainted on the needle and were rejected. We were told of the urgent need for our services in England and sailed away on, of all days, Friday 13th June 1941, to the United Kingdom via Canada. (Web Master: Ron’s use of the word ‘infiltrate’ refers to the Infiltration Scheme. On the 26th September 1939, London invited the Dominions to jointly establish a vast pool of trained aircrew, which could be used to create new squadrons in England and replace combat losses in what was expected to be an intensive air war over Europe. There was an agreement that once individual squadrons reached a predominant proportion of aircrew from a particular nationality, it would be designated as a RAAF, RCAF, or RNZAF unit. This was known as the ‘Infiltration’ scheme, and it was accordingly expected that there would be twenty-five ‘Canadian’, eighteen ‘Australian’ and six ‘New Zealand’ squadrons).
En route we called at Auckland, New Zealand, and picked up a group of Kiwi Air crew trainees. At mealtimes on board we sat at long tables, Aussies one side, Kiwis the other. We were shocked one morning to hear a Kiwi ask, “how milk was made”. I suspect that they are more knowledgeable now days.
Arriving in Canada, we were marched off the ship past a big Aussie who broke down and wanted to go home. (Later) we also learned that the RMS Awatea, was sunk in the Mediterranean in 1943? and it was a shock to we young blokes. (Web Master: TSS Awatea was sunk by enemy aircraft on the 11th November 1942 during Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of French North Africa.)
We set off across Canada on the CPR railway to Halifax, Nova Scotia where I saw my first really fast aircraft, a Canadian built Hurricane. During the trip, I must say our personal hygiene suffered until we reached Winnipeg, where we were taken to the city baths for a bath in their pool. One of our blokes, who until then did not wash much, was forcibly dunked and kept in by all and sundry. He had a distinct moustache, like Adolph Hitler’s and was christened ‘Smidt der Spy’.
Leaving Canada, we steamed off to Iceland in huge seas on an armed merchant cruiser of the Royal Navy. A sad note here is I saw a burial at sea. The ship was loaded with airmen. I spent a week in Iceland, and one of the joys was to swim in the hot spring baths or get washed in a river of ice water on the edge of the camp. Whilst in Iceland we were inspected by Winston Churchill, after his discussions with President Roosevelt.
Heading for the UK, we boarded a Belgian ship the Leopoldville. During this trip we were locked below decks during a suspected naval engagement, which proved to be a scare only. We had a real scare! On this ship were a lot of Aussie aircrew bods who had been given their Wings. Well known names like Flight Lieutenant Ron Cundy was one. We arrived at Greenoch Scotland in time to see a German float plane in the water, which was shot down by a circuiting Spitfire. We were then overnighted to Bournemouth, England, and were allotted various bases to acclimatize. During my time there one night, I learned a painful lesson and got horribly drunk on beer and gin. I have never drunk gin since.
In September 1941, I was one of 19 Engine and Airframe Fitters at Croydon airport of pre-war fame. We were near such well-known fighter bases as Purly, Gatwick, Kenley, Red Hill and Biggen Hill. We experienced snow, sleet and dense fog, so bad we were almost lost midfield. I was billeted in a house on the airport fringe. It was so cold the wiring overloaded by all our added heaters and of course bypassing the meter board did not help due to the burnt out meters. The result, being up before the Station Commander. Interestingly our CO taught Australian pilots in the 14-18 War and he said he was very pleased to have us there. He subsequently dismissed the charges.
During my stay there, I met a local family, the Sergeant of Police, wife and two kids. They subsequently migrated to Tasmania in the 1950s. After approx three months, we were posted overnight to Red Hill whilst 452 Squadron were there, spending two to three days at Kenley. We were on operations there until January or February 1942. We were then with 457 Squadron on operations to the end of May 1942. Red Hill was a small pre-war light aircraft aerodrome and was just big enough for wartime purposes. While the station changed personnel, and room found for them, we were the major service centre for Squadrons using Red Hill. When 452 Squadron departed, we continued to service 457 Squadron.
We all stayed with 457 Squadron in about August 1942 at Richmond NSW, when we returned to Australia. Upon arriving home, after my sister’s birthday, Mum decided to give me a special treat, after the so called poor food in England. The meal was of herrings in tomato sauce! Heavens above, I was eating goldfish, as they were called in Corydon and Red Hill. Another important event for me while at Richmond was that I married my darling wife on November 7 1942. From Richmond, we all relocated to Darwin in January 1943.
I arrived in Darwin, Northern Territory, and then traveled by truck to Batchelor Strip. We slept on a ground sheet right on the ground, and dinner was part of a tin of warm bully beef and biscuits, ugh. The next day we pitched tents and made ourselves relatively comfortable. In no time we were then moved off to Livingstone. We attended picture nights and walked home, six to eight miles, as the nearest picture theatre was at Hughes Field some two miles away. At the movies it rained during the whole show, and the box I sat on was not too comfortable with water inches deep underfoot. Sly grog was available and I found that it was ex aircraft compass fluid. I lived on two bob a day (20 cents) and Two-Up, cards and penny poker helped augment my income.
On the 9th May 1943, there was a sudden rush for us to go to Milingimbi Island as it was raided. The 28 days at Milingimbi was almost my last, as on the 10th May 1943, the siren blared and I knew we were in for it. From then until early June, we were strafed and bombed on three occasions by the Japs and it was, I suppose, the hairiest of my five years, six months, two weeks and a day in the service of the RAAF. We were six aircraft, six pilots and six ground staff. Later more of each was posted. All in all we, had three raids and two visits without action recorded. The photo, left to right, is of the boys aboard the DC3 enroute to Milingimbi: Unknown, Jack Keys, George Green and Ron Lambert
Supper at night around the camp fire was a circus with all the yarns etc floating around. Daytime, we caught flies for the little slippery lizards that were quite tame.
In Darwin, night readiness was the go and during the full moon period, sand flies had a ball on us. The little bastards could get through whatever you wore. I stayed in Darwin until June 1944, after which I was posted to Richmond RAAF Base, and served out my time there until I was discharged on the 2nd November 1945 from No.2 Aircraft Depot. The Richmond posting was, as they used to say, ‘a piece of cake’.
Sometime after the war, not sure of the year, but I think after 1955, I was one of a group including Jim Grant, Jack Newton, Paul Dehlson, John Bisley and others, who put the basics of what is now the Spitfire Association together. But my friends, that was a long time ago now, and we welcome you and all the other members.”
Ron’s photo at the top was taken at Kenley RAF Station in Surrey, England, when he was there for two weeks in 1941 at age 19 years and 9 stone (57.2 kgs).
Ron Lambert and Steve McGregor
The Spitfire Association