75 YEARS ON – Local veteran remembers the end of World War II

World War II veteran Hugh Bower and Gawler RSL publicity officer Wayne Clark outside the club last week. PHOTO: Sam Bradbrook

AS the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II approaches, Gawler Returned and Services League member Hugh Bower has found himself reflecting on his time serving in Australia’s Defence Force.

Mr Bower, 99, served in the Royal Australian Air Force’s 36 Squadron throughout the war, primarily in Australia and New Guinea – now Papua New Guinea.

He primarily worked as a clerk, organising parts and supplies to be used for aircraft repair and maintenance by his squadron while moving between bases at Laverton, Essendon and Townsville.

This Saturday, August 15, commemorates 75 years since the day Japan surrendered to the Allies, ending the fighting of World War II.

“I was still in it when it ended and I was posted out because the commanding officer had been advised that he would follow up the retreating enemy,” Mr Bower said.

“We were still rescuing Australians and Americans while on the trip because they were still fighting in bundles on those (South-East Asian and Pacific) islands all the way back to Tokyo.”

Mr Bower was just 20-years-old when he enlisted at Largs Bay on April 15, 1941, to fight in the war, before being officially discharged on March 27, 1946.

The 36 Squadron, while based in Townsville, played a pivotal role in the battle against Japanese forces in New Guinea, carrying supplies and reinforcements to Australian troops.

Mr Bower, while not officially tasked with any flying duties, said he learned quickly, from his first flight, how to assist the pilots.

“He (the pilot for Mr Bower’s first ever flight) got up on the stairs for the doors and walked up to the front of the aircraft and said ‘you sit in that chair on the right’,” he said.

“Then he said follow me, started to play with the levers, the engines started and off we went.

“Next thing I’m looking out the window and I see the fence go underneath us. He asked ‘do you like this’ and I said it was pretty good.

“He asked me how many times I’ve been up and I had to tell him it was my first.”

On later flights, he had to learn on the job how to help land planes.

“He (a pilot on a later flight) told me to pump up the wheels and I said ‘I don’t know how the wheels get there’,” Mr Bower said.

“He jumped out of his seat, and instead of watching what was going on out there, he turned his back on that and he pumped up the wheels.

“He (then) told me to follow the needle which shows the pressure in the tyres, and then I had to do it.”

Mr Bower was also in Sydney the day Japanese submarines entered the city’s harbour in an attempt to sink Allied warships.

He was on leave staying at a hotel on Sydney Harbour recovering from dengue fever when he was awoken by panicked citizens and servicemen alike.

“At about 3am in the morning I got woken up by a screaming woman yelling ‘we’ll all be dead’ and I thought I better get up and have a look,” he said.

“I got out the door and I bumped into two other members of my crew and they said we’ve been instructed to go down below (the hotel’s) elevators.

“It was a terrible mess and full of people. Everybody from the pub was down there.

“I left, went back to the room and went back to bed.”

Mr Bower will celebrate his 100th birthday later this month and is one of only around 3000 living Australian World War II veterans.

Sam Bradbrook

@sambradbrook

Sam Bradbrook joined The Bunyip in 2018 as a reporter and covers the Gawler, Playford and Adelaide Plains Council rounds. He graduated from the University of South Australia in the same year with a Bachelor of Journalism and Professional Writing and had previously interned at the Jakarta Post in Indonesia and The Courier in Mount Barker before moving to Gawler. In February of 2020, Sam was named the Young Journalist of the Year for 2019 by Country Press South Australia. He is interested in reporting on politics, healthcare, police and social issues and outside of work has a passion for sport and music.

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