Squadron Leader Ernest Albert Whiting - Far right holding a book.
My earliest childhood memories were of RAAF Base Pearce, when my father, then Squadron Leader Ernest Albert Whiting – always known as Bill - was Commanding Officer No. 7 National Service Training Unit.
Dad’s early years were spent in Charleville, Queensland, learning how to ride horses and I gather having a great time especially when he attended Nudgee College as a boarder, where he got into sports, playing rugby, swimming and wrestling. He had too much of a good time apparently because he had to repeat Year 12.
After leaving school he travelled and worked for a time in China where he met a young Chaing Kai-shek who was to go on to be Chairman of the National Government of the Republic of China in the 1940s.
Returning to Australia, he worked as a stockman before joining the Air Force as a Cadet at Point Cook. On the verge of failing his Pilot’s course, he discharged and returned to Charleville to attend to his grandmother’s estate when she died.
When War broke out, Dad applied to join the Air Force again and was rejected; so he joined the Army and, after some rudimentary training, sailed out of Sydney harbour on the Queen Mary, then a troop ship, watched by one Theresa Waugh and her sister Bertha from North Heads – little did Theresa know her future husband was on board.
Dad ended up in Syria with an anti-tank regiment fighting against the Germans and Italians and was promoted to Captain-in the field, but never got the opportunity to put his pips up.
He made it back with a small piece of shrapnel embedded somewhere in his body, which would always sound alarms at airport terminals.
On leave in Charleville, his mother handed him a letter – dated before he left for Syria and calling him up for Air Force Service. She hadn’t opened it because it was addressed to Dad!
He then re-joined the Air Force, trained as a Navigator and married Theresa, my Mum, three weeks after meeting her at a dance in Sydney.
Mum and Dad spent their honeymoon weekend in Sydney and then Dad went back to Point Cook for more training.
He saw operational service in the Pacific on Catalina Flying Boats.
After the war, Dad served at ARDU (Aircraft Research and Development Unit) and with No. 1 Squadron during the Malayan Emergency, where he saved the life of fellow Navigator, John Pratt, who was accidently shot in the crew room after returning from an operation (and with whom I still keep in touch).
Dad’s last posting was as a Wing Commander and Staff Officer Air at RAAF Base Richmond headquarters - the first Navigator to hold that position.
I have a vivid memory of seeing a poster outside a newspaper shop in Windsor announcing Australia’s commitment to the war in Vietnam and my mother asking Dad - Do you think you will have to go?
I don’t remember what Dad replied but, for the first time in my life, I really understood what it meant to serve in the armed forces.
I knew my father and his contemporaries had gone to war. However, my life was full of fun and all the men and women in it were my heroes.
When Dad retired from the RAAF we lived in Townsville for a while and then moved to Brisbane, where Dad took up an appointment with a small engineering company.
My parents got involved in many community activities, including the St Vincent De Paul Society. At one point Dad was the President of the Redcliffe Arts Society while also President of the local Aero club.
One day when I was working as a secretary in Brisbane, I met Dad for lunch and he said ‘I see they are calling for stenographers in the Air Force’.
I went to the recruiting centre in Brisbane and, in under a month I joined the WRAAF (Women’s Royal Australian Air Force).
Dad was 98 when he passed away. He had been patron of the National Service Association and a Life Member of the RAAF Association. His Nasho boys turned up and gave Dad a great send-off.
My father was brave and generous. He loved his family, friends, the RAAF and the nation he served.
He continues to inspire me.