Across his working life, my father, John Brady, served in three ‘Royal’ Air Forces. Two may be easily guessed at, but the third will be a challenge.
As a schoolboy growing up during World War 2 in the northern port city of Liverpool (the most heavily bombed English city after London), he witnessed German bombing raids and British dogfights. Doubtless he spent many nights in air raid shelters, knew friends who were killed or families whose home was bombed, though he never spoke of this time.
Just 11 when the war ended, John retained a child’s passion for aviation and could name any military aircraft from just a glimpse. As a teenager, he joined the Air Cadets, learning to fly in gliders which were launched by winch off a cliff.
His father, a merchant navy engineer, absent for months at time and who survived being torpedoed and sunk twice, was no encouragement for a life at sea. What John did inherit was a desire to escape Liverpool and see the world.
The Royal Air Force (RAF) was the obvious choice.
He joined in the early 1950s and was soon shipped off to defend the British Empire – in Africa. Although unable to fly, he took on a range of roles, including with the Military Police.(Photos of him on a motorbike and with his guard dog are remembered).
Postings included Kenya, Sudan, Yemen and Egypt during the 1956 Suez crisis.
John later moved to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where RAF had operated the Rhodesian Air Training Group (part of the Empire Air Training Scheme) from 1940 to 1954 and he soon transferred to the newly formed Royal Rhodesian Air Force.
At that time a secure and booming British colony, the political situation in Rhodesia gradually deteriorated across the decade. Talk of Rhodesia unilaterally declaring independence from Britain raised the prospect of conflict with his homeland, forcing John to choose a side.
Now married with two young children, he opted to return to England in 1965, leaving the military for six years to work as a social worker in Barrow.
However, the lure of another Air Force (and warm weather) led him to move his family – now with a wife and four kids under 10 – across the world to join the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).
After officer training at Point Cook, John’s first posting was all the way to the Radio Apprentices’ School at Laverton where he was an administrative officer. The family lived on base.
As a mature-aged Officer graduate with active service experience, he progressed quickly. Next postings were heading up Defence Force Recruiting in the Townsville tropics, Squadron ADMINO at Townsville and later, Point Cook, where he played an early part towards establishing the Museum as a separate operation.
Strategic roles at Victoria Barracks (Melbourne) and a stint at Russell Offices in Canberra led to John’s final posting to RAAF Fairbairn where, as a Wing Commander, he ran VIP operations during the 1988 Bicentennial year. He retired in 1990 and died in 2015.
Always the ‘British officer’, with a trademarked English accent, moustache and ever-present pipe, the Air Force(s) shaped my father’s life, taking him to places we never could have imagined.