Ken was born on the 29th June 1925 at Milton Private Hospital in Ashfield, New South Wales. In 1940, he started working life as a grocery boy, pushing grocery orders around the hills of Wollongong. He was eventually offered a job with Marcus Clarks, then the biggest store in the city. He even won first prize in window dressing, which led him to being offered a job with Farmers, another large retail store, but this time in Sydney. Ken well remembers the time when he and a friend, George McKeith, boarded together at Bondi Junction, and it was here that they had their first taste of World War II. Japanese two-man midget submarines had made their way into Sydney Harbour and shelled the suburbs with very little damage done. It was a nuisance raid only, but they heard the shells flying overhead.
By now, Ken had turned eighteen and he enlisted in the RAAF on the 9th July 1943 in Sydney. He was trained as a flight mechanic, mostly at Point Cook, and from there he was sent to Mallala in South Australia. It was from there that he was sent to Darwin, Australia’s front line of defence to protect our shores from the would be Japanese invaders. The trip to Darwin took him by train to Alice Springs, and from there he travelled by road convoy across the wilderness to Darwin.
In Darwin, Ken was posted to 548 Spitfire Squadron. This was an English RAF Squadron, which operated from Fanny Bay Air Strip, in sight of the old and original Darwin Jail. Ken tells about the time that the young Pilot Officer, who flew the “Spitty” he serviced, said to him one day, “How would you like to come up for a flip (flight) over Darwin?” So up they went with Ken sitting on a cushion on the knees of the thoughtful and adventurous English pilot. Ken said, “I guess I would be one of the few people who have been up as a passenger in a single-seater fighter. So much for that”.
The Squadron disbanded and the most interesting part of Ken’s “Tour of Corps” commenced, which was a posting to No.6 Communications Unit, commanded by Squadron Leader Clive Fenton, who before the outbreak of WWII, was one of the original Flying Doctor Service pilots of the Outback.
No.6 Communications Unit was made up of very old dependable aircraft. These were Dragon Rapides, a two winged twin-engined plane, and because of its shape was affectionately known as “The Flying Coffin”. (See photo) The other aircraft were Avro Ansons and Oxfords. In these planes, Ken flew over most of the Northern territory. Out of Darwin to Gove, Millingimby, Snake Bay, Broome, Derby, Truscott, Melville Island, Crocker Island, Batchelor and Tennant Creek.
The unit was an aerial transport unit flying supplies and personnel to other strips, with loads such as fruit and veggies, movies, Aboriginal lepers, aircraft parts and anything they were asked to fly. Ken said, “I can remember flying low over the plains, about 30 feet above the deck (ground) chasing herds of water buffalo just for fun and adventure. I have eaten with Aboriginals at their feasts, such delicacies as snake, possum, witchety grub and other taste treats”. Ken said cryptically with a twinkle in his eye, “They were good times and good experiences”.
The war ended in 1945 whilst Ken was still in Darwin and what a celebration that was for the boys. Heaps of sore heads and heaps of empty bottles. Ken Oliver was discharged from the RAAF on the 23rd April 1946 with the rank of Leading Aircraftman and while he was with 12 Squadron. The Squadron flew Liberators and bombed Japanese positions and shipping in the seas around Timor and Banda.
Ken Oliver and Steve McGregor
The Spitfire Association