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Monument revives memories

March 14, 2001

Royal Australian Air Force veteran John Carroll and the propeller that sits in the grounds of the Moreshead Retirement Home and revives so many memories of his WW II experience.
Every time John Carroll catches a bus from his home in Lyneham to Canberra's city centre, he can't help but cast his mind back to his days as a Radio Operator and Air Gunner with the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II.

Mr Carroll's stop is opposite the Morsehead Retirement Home for ex-servicemen, which has an aircraft propeller, anchor and 25 pound cannon adorning its front yard.

The anchor represents the Navy, the cannon the Army, but it's the propeller that holds the greatest significance for Mr Carroll.

It's from a Dakota (DC3), an aircraft in which Mr Carroll had in excess of 500 hours flying time during World War II. In all, his flying log lists 11 aircraft types in which he served in their delivery across the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans to overseas bases from either Dorval, in Montreal, Canada, or Nassau, in the Bahamas.

'I reminisce as always on the propeller and its importance to me and all the aircrews during wartime,' Mr Carroll said.

He said the propulsion of aircraft during World War II was solely due to propellers and the thousands of horsepower generated by petrol-driven engines.

He remembered how pilots of multi-engined aircraft at the time 'feathered' a prop, a practise that left Mr Carroll 'dumfounded' the first time he experienced it.

'Feathering', he explained, was a technique that permitted propeller blades of a failed engine to be rotated to present minimum surface area to the direction of travel. This reduced the 'windmilling' effect that would create drag and limit the ability of the aircraft to fly efficiently on a reduced power supply.

A propeller, he said, was 'feathered' when, for example, it was necessary to shut down an engine due to lack of coolant or oil.

Most trainee pilots experienced this procedure during training but for other crew members its application was 'very disturbing'.

'Nobody had mentioned to me during operational training on coastal command that this procedure was possible,' Mr Carroll admitted.

Perhaps Mr Carroll's thoughts on propellers are more personal because of one experience in particular which occurred in Khartoum, Sudan, in October 1944.

His crew's Dakota, KJ 890, was diverted to Juba, Sudan, on a medical mercy trip when an Air Force aircraft mechanic walked into an aircraft propeller and was critically ill.

Mr Carroll's flying log showed the return flight took 11 hrs 10 mins, during which time the medical team was able to stabilise the patient.

'Years later I worked with an ex-Air Force person who I had served with [in Khartoum] who told me the patient had lived. Naturally I was delighted to hear this.'

Mr Carroll said propellers had been his lifeline during his wartime years and as long as the rotating blades were in his sight and the sound in his ears, 'everything was in order'.

The propeller at the ex-servicemen's nursing home in Lyneham has, in Mr Carroll's opinion, been strategically placed and has helped spark many memories of wartime experiences that, looking back, he would not have 'missed for quids'.

Caption: Royal Australian Air Force veteran John Carroll and the propeller that sits in the grounds of the Moreshead Retirement Home and revives so many memories of his WW II experience.

Story and photograph by Ben Caddaye