Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jam tins for Spitfires

I’M getting too far ahead of myself with these bloggy tales about how I got into newspapers.
So I’ll go back to a time when I was just a little kid, a great little kid, in the 1940s in Yeppoon, on the Central Queensland coast in Australia.
In some ways it wasn’t a good time to be a kid in those war years because you couldn’t get lollies or chocolate or ice-cream.
Australia wasn’t producing much of that stuff because of World War II - and what was being produced was going directly to the thousands and thousands of American soldiers who were camped around Rockhampton, Yeppoon and Emu Park, waiting to be shipped off to war in New Guinea and Pacific.
It was so crook for us little lollyless kids that one of our convent classmate’s parents opened a home-made lolly shop in Yeppoon’s main street and did a roaring trade selling toffee apples and toffee lollies.
Us Yeppoon kids did our part in the war effort by pushing our billycarts around Yeppoon collecting scrap metal anywhere we could, but mostly from people’s back yards.
We were told that it was going to the big cities down south to be melted down and turned into army tanks, cannons and Spitfires, but for cripes sake a lot of the stuff my big brother, Marty, and I collected was rusty old corrugated iron. They told us it would be turned into armament in the war effort.
That’s what led to one of the most exciting times in my young life and which I still remember at least 67 years on.
I was about seven and had gone to Rockhampton with my parents to visit my uncle and aunt and my cousins.
I was playing in their back yard about mid-morning when a distant roar turned my attention to the southern sky. I didn’t know what was going on hearing motor noises in the sky because we didn’t hear or see any aeroplanes over Yeppoon.
Then suddenly over the southern horizon came a beautiful Spitfire fighter plane, the first I had ever seen. I had always admired pictures of Spitfires. But here was the real thing. A ridgy-didge beautiful Spitfire about to fly over me.
But … hold on. It was followed by another Spitfire … and another and another. I counted them - 13 beautiful Spitfires flying over Rockhampton on their way north to the war.
I tried really hard to see if any of our scrap metal had been used to build those beautiful Spitfires. Maybe some rusty corrugated iron, or maybe that bit of angle iron, or maybe that big old jam tin.
But I couldn’t recognise any scrap metal in those beautiful, beautiful fighters.
I knew then and there that I had to be a heroic Spitfire pilot in the distant future. If the war would only last long enough. That night I even prayed it would last that long.

"Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray The Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray The Lord my soul to take.

And please let me become a Spitfire pilot. PLEASE!"

Looking back they were vastly different days for kids. No telephones (forget mobiles), no television, no toys, no factory-produced lollies. But if you were good you could sit with your parents and listen to the Seven O’clock War News on ABC Radio and sometimes even listen to Dad and Dave if you’d been extra good.
But you were never, never allowed touch the radio or turn the dial. That was the father’s sole right.
And what about toys? Well, you couldn’t buy them so you made them out of old pine boxes or any bits of spare timber you could find. I became pretty good at making all sorts of things.
Nearing my teens my brother and I made our two pushbikes out of worn, old bike parts we found at the dump after more than a year scraping through the rubbish. In my early teens I made a pretty good 11ft sailing boat.
About a year ago all those thoughts came back to me when I was showing my small grandson how to go about making wooden toys.
I had cut one piece of flat pine into an aeroplane wing and one into a plane body and was about to nail them together. I told him what I was doing.
He listened to me for a couple of seconds then said:
"OK! Grandad, you hold the nail while I hammer it in."
Not bloody likely.

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