Mascot Aerodrome as it was Experienced
by Neville Watson

Memoirs of Mr N G Watson

Commenced duty with Department of Civil Aviation 23 December 1943 (16 yrs),
retired 7 January 1988 (60 yrs).

Major Harry Mann, the DCA District Superintendent at Mascot was a World War I flyer who had three fingers on his right hand shot away. He used a pen in his right hand with his index finger and thumb. I saw something of his in the Canberra War Memorial years back.

A fitness man, he walked from Mascot Aerodrome to the Mascot Post Office daily to collect the Department’s mail. He also walked around the perimeter of the ‘drome on weekends. He lived in a flat in the old Control Tower building, married I think in his late 60s - his wife, who was a much younger person and a very lovely lady, had a baby girl. They continued living in the flat before going to Melbourne where I understand the Major was killed by a motorcycle whilst he was crossing a road.

I was employed by the DCA after Major Mann had asked his friend the Mascot Postmaster did he know of a lad who may wish to work at the ‘drome (Mascot was not known as an "airport" in those years). The writer was working during the 1943 and previous Christmas school holidays at the Mascot Post Office. The Postmaster suggested to me that I seek the position mentioned.

The Major may have tested others and myself. This has come to me only whilst writing this letter.

(a) He had me clean the interior of his Departmental car (C955 - a 1938 Ford Prefect 10hp). There was two shillings on the back floor. When I returned the coin to him, he said that he had known it was there.

(b) In 1944/45 the Major asked for volunteers from the then small staff to study first aid at the Ambulance Station - Central Railway Sydney - at night in one’s own time. There were only a few who volunteered. Having received the small list of names, he let it be known that the volunteers will study in the Department’s time and they will be paid an allowance if they pass the certificate test.

(c) Someone gave Major Mann two black chooks. I was told that he asked the lad to kill and dress them and bring them to his flat.

(d) The red obstruction light (or lights) had blown on the top of the 185ft HF Tower at the old Brighton Transmitting Station, which was situated in the area of the now Kyeema Bowling Club, before the then Cook’s River was diverted to its existing flow into Botany Bay. Through another person I was told that the Major required that the obstruction light be restored before nightfall. I will continue with details of the never to be forgotten light restoration. That day, having reported to the duty Radio Officer, also a young man (Australian-Chinese) Gil Jans, that I was about to climb the tower, he said that he would switch it off. The tower had no ladder and when I touched the metal I received a flash burn on my hand. I called out "It’s still alive" - he called back in reply "I thought I turned the connect switch off but have now switched a second off." I wet my fingers to test if or not the tower was still alive - yes it was. After a short delay he called "I have now switched every switch off but just to be sure take a run and jump at it." After the change of a globe or two at the top and after feeling much pain in my arms and legs, both on the way up and down, the feeling of ground under my feet was most welcomed. When filling out my timesheet for the day, someone suggested that I should claim danger money - ¾ hour was the time requested. Six weeks later the sum of one shilling and ninepence was received in addition to my normal fortnightly pay. (A year after, at 17 years of age, my fortnightly pay was £3.19.9).

Gil Jans was the co-inventor of the Gil/Ford Automatic Cut-off Electric Jug. The other co-inventor was anothe radio officer Laurie Oxenford (an Englishman who later had something to do with car racing gear).

The weekly hours of duty in 1943-44 were 48: five days of nine hours and three hours on Saturday.

Harold Ellam was Senior Clerk in 1943 - he later became Controller of Stores in Head Office, Melbourne - perhaps Henty House. George Hemburg (or Hemberg), clerk, was a former PMG Telephone Mechanic. He once said to me that the clerical future in the Public Service was in his opinion greater than for those in the technical field. Bill Lang was in charge of the electrical and mechanical section. He saw service a year or two prior at Groote Eylandt which was a stopover for flying boats flying from Darwin to Townsville enroute to Sydney-Rose Bay. Bill Conkill was a New South Wales Fireman and was assisting Bill Lang relative to mechanical work on the then small fleet of vehicles and diesel generating sets.

In 1944 the electrical and mechanical sections were established. The writer then became Junior Mechanic in Training. The PMG had such a term of employment. Bill conkill was my Senior Officer and soon after I started a course in Automotive Mechanics at Sydney Tech.

Around this time I attended the Marconi School (AWA) relative to Morse Code sending and receiving - 18 words per minute was attained quickly. It was war time and this was minimum speed.

Mr Bill Pickford was the Senior Aerodrome Inspector. He drove a 1938 Chevrolet Utility which was converted to a coke powered gas producer - C956. The mechanical internal engine result was an increased build up of carbon. Bill Pickford travelled throughout NSW on aerodrome inspection. He later moved to Melbourne and became an Assistant Director General - Airports. Prior to this he visited Indonesia on behalf of the Government regarding airport construction advice.

Dr Bradfield (son of Dr Bradfield) visited Sydney from Melbourne frequently - aerodrome construction I think was his field. He and the then 16-17 year old writer met in the darts final shoot out during a Saturday afternoon social get-together at the Aerodrome-Airfields Section outside of what they called the "White House" - ex RAAF huts at Mascot which were repainted white. The darts final prize was a one shilling cigarette lighter. I think some of the 3 or 4 typists were barracking for Dr Bradfield.

George Burns, storeman, was a former London bus driver and DCA groundsman. Reg Holt and George Bruce were radio technicians. Soon after the bombing of Darwin the radio section had an additional member. He was the PMG person who sent Morse transmitted news to the effect that Darwin was being bombed (I was in Darwin in 1950-51 and saw the then existing damage to the wharf area, including the sunken ship Neptunia). John Able was also another radio person at this time.

Bob Gunion (Gunyon), Foreman Groundsman, travelled from Manly to Mascot by ferry and tram daily. He was a temporary officer for 18 years before being mad permanent. The writer served 9 years as a temp before being made permanent. Not many people in those years were attracted to the payment involved relative to superannuation. In looking back, I think DCA was left behind relative to its establishment, but again there was objection to the superannuation pros and cons.

Norm Barlow was a groundsman-tractor driver of C933, an Allis Chalmers petrol-kerosene model. I can remember some Commonwealth plates as I did issue petrol and oil. C916 was a 1938 Chevrolet Panel Van (stores section) and CST314 a 1943 Chev. Panel Van.

I was told that at a certain stage of the war trucks, tractors as well as steel cables were left on the aerodrome and across the runway to prevent enemy landing at night. C924 was a 1938 Ford V8 flat top truck. I was told that the Chance Light (chemical light), which I saw in storage, was bolted or strapped to this vehicle relative to night landings. A groundsman, perhaps George Burns, would have the carbide light in operation at a point on the runway. The aeroplane would approach the light whereupon the truck driver would drive at speed in a forward direction, the plane following. There were no runway lights in 1943. There were perimeter (amber) and obstruction (red) lights. The kerosene flarepath was used at times.

When I was 17 years old I received my driver’s licence. I was then detailed to drive a war time vehicle - Bedford Monty’s Midget containing 8-10-12 DCA staff from the old control tower to Kingsford Junction. I received ¾ hour overtime daily and then had to find my own way home - my people’s house was 300-400 yards up from Botany Road not far from the old Lakes Golf Club’s 10th green and Todd’s Sand Hills (pure white sand).

C958(?) was a Chevrolet truck, C952 a Bedford-Symplex-Wormald Brothers Fire Tender. During the war the RAAF and the Department’s unit worked together in this area. The writer became an Auxilliary Fireman later (another allowance).

Mr Jack Christie was the OIC of the communications section. It was located in the old control tower building. At the end of World War II Mr Christie had to fly to Singapore regarding Civil Aviation or Government business - he had to dress in a uniform - I think BEA. It had something to do with a requirement that no civilians were permitted to enter Singapore at this time.

Mr James Mollison once spoke to me in 1944 - he asked of the whereabouts of Major Mann. I said at this time he would be walking to Mascot Post Office to collect the mail. I think I was asked to tell the Major’s secretary that he had called to see the Major.

During the war years ANA flew DC2s and Butler Air Transport flew four engined Dragons from Mascot to Charleville and return, and two-engined Dragons from Mascot to Bega and return (Note 1). The Royal Aero Club flew Tiger Moths and, I think, Moth Minors. The Commonwealth Department of Aircraft Production was working 24 hours per day building Beaufort bombers and Beaufighters. I think also assembly of Lockheed Lightnings and Thunderbolts. The first Superfortress to land at Mascot surprised many as it landed on a very short runway. It may have been one of the first aeroplanes to have radar controlled guns (Note 2). I had my first flight in 1944 in a Tiger Moth. There were many types of war time aircraft flying in and out of Mascot.

My home was in Mascot and I did know the now Sydney Airport area when some of it was
a. a racecourse
b. a live pigeoon shoot
c. a dairy
d. I think, a pig farm years before.

The old Cook’s River followed approximately the direction of the now East-West runway. It took a sharp right hand turn just westwards of the sewage pumping station (wharf) then into Botany Bay approximately in the direction of the existing radar area. The sea wall in this area was known to all as "the stones". Worm bait was always to be found here and fishing was very fair. Between the stones and Brighton there were a few fatal shark attacks close to the shoreline when I was young.

Before sand dredging and pumping of sand for Mascot Aerodrome extension and later the Botany Bay runway extension and later again for the establishment of the Port Botany area, the Bay was very shallow. When the tide was out, large patches of pure white sand could be seen - sand crabs could be taken. The area seaward of the old coal pier was alive with smallish fish. Four shilling boat hire for 2 or 3 1/2 hours (row boat), 4 men and 2 boys from say 5:30 PM to 9 PM Summer Time.

Editorial Notes

1. The "four-engined Dragons" referred to were DH89s, not Dragons (DH84).
2. The B29 did not have radar controlled guns.