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Back where it all began

By FLTLT Chris McInnes
Volume 48, No. 19, October 19, 2006

MEMORIES: From left, SQNLDR Robert Elliott, WGCDR Richard Keir, current owner of Coomalie Creek airfield Richard Luxton, and FLTLT Chris McInness at the site.
Photo by LAC Steve Hobbs

THE Air Force’s newest squadron returned to its origins recently when members of 87SQN visited Coomalie Creek Airfield near Adelaide River in the Northern Territory.

CO 87SQN WGCDR Rick Keir joined SQNLDR Rob Elliott, FLTLT Chris McInnes and WOFF Bruce Homewood in visiting the squadron’s former home.

87SQN was first formed from No 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit (1PRU) on September 10, 1944, and was initially equipped with Lightning, Mosquito and Wirraway aircraft in the strategic and tactical photographic reconnaissance roles. The squadron was then disbanded on August 30, 1953.

1PRU was formed on June 8, 1942, as the successor of Survey Flight, formed at RAAF Base Williams, Laverton, in October 1939.

The new 87SQN was re-formed at RAAF Base Edinburgh on July 1 this year as the Air Force’s intelligence squadron.

From 1943 to 1945, Coomalie Creek was first home to 1PRU and then later to 87SQN. It was from Coomalie Creek that the unit operated against Japanese forces to its north, and it was also where 87SQN launched the last Australia-based operational RAAF mission of WWII.

The current owner of the airfield, Richard Luxton, hosted WGCDR Keir and party as they toured the famous ‘17’ airstrip and the remains of wartime facilities. Highlights included the old photographic darkroom, the CO’s tent (or remaining concrete base) and a crashed Mosquito called ‘Gamble’s Folly’ that was used as fuel for a bonfire celebrating the end of the war.

Mr Luxton is taking good care of the Air Force’s Coomalie Creek heritage, including rebuilding the airfield chapel and hosting a commemorative celebration for VJ Day last year that many 87SQN veterans attended.

The past and present were further united when WGCDR Keir paid his respects to a former member of 87SQN, SQNLDR Fred Gillespie, who was killed in a Mosquito accident at Coomalie Creek on August 5, 1945, just weeks before the war ended, and who is now buried in the Adelaide River War Cemetery.

This visit, as well as the details of Japanese bombing raids and aircraft accidents, was a sombre reminder of the service rendered by former 87SQN personnel and their legacy to today’s squadron members – many of whom are currently on operational service.



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