In Charlie Williams Country, part II

Bannockburn today. The central part of the house directly ahead is original. The section to the left is partly filled-in and partly more recent construction. This includes the kitchen, which likely was originally separate from the house.

Guest post: more from Susan Paxton’s recent trip to Queensland, Australia, in the footsteps of Flg Off Charlie Williams. Here she visits the home where the Williams family lived from 1933.  Text and all new photos by Susan Paxton.

When Horace Edward Williams lost his place as manager of Telemon Station, he had to act quickly. At 69 years of age, likely he had been looking forward to a pleasant retirement once his sons Doug or Charlie took his place, but any promises his former employer had made were now moot. Horace made Townsville, on the coast, his temporary base of operations, and set to work looking for a new opportunity. One day, he spotted this advertisement in a local paper:

Under Instruction from THE UNION TRUSTEE COMPANY OF AUSTRALIA LIMITED, Executors and Trustees in the Estate of William Charles Reed deceased; Solicitors to the Estate, Messrs. Marsland & Marsland, MESSRS. DALGETY &. COMPANY LIMITED, HUGHENDEN, in conjunction with the QUEENSLAND PRIMARY PRODUCERS’ CO- OPERATIVE ASSOCIATION LIMITED, TOWNSVILLE, will offer by PUBLIC AUCTION AT CENTRAL HOTEL LOUNGE, HUGHENDEN, on SATURDAY 21st OCTOBER, 1933, at 11 a.m.
SITUATED – Approximately 80 miles south-easterly from Prairie Railway

A long description of the property followed making it sound paradisiacal. Horace knew better. When he’d first arrived in Queensland as a 16-year-old immigrant he’d worked for his uncle James Tolson at a property adjacent to Bannockburn, Uanda. He was well aware that the area was arid and, unlike Telemon, extremely isolated. The nearest towns were Prairie and Torrens Creek – both specks on the railroad that ran inland from Townsville through Charters Towers and on west – to the north, and Muttaburra and Aramac to the south, only slightly larger and even farther away. Horace also knew that, run very carefully and with the minimum of paid help, Bannockburn could be made to turn a tidy profit. While too arid for lambing, wethers (castrated male sheep) would put on high quality wool eating the available forage. Organizing a syndicate with two friends who were in the shipping industry in Townsville, Horace assembled enough capital to buy the place.

For Charlie and Doug, any hopes that they had had of becoming station managers pretty much ended at Bannockburn. They became station hands, nothing more; the work of the place fell entirely onto them, with only one hired hand. Perhaps what it meant to Charlie in particular comes from his photo albums. His photos of Telemon are full of fun, of visits to and from neighbors, trips to Townsville and Sydney, parties, picnics, often with amusing captions. There are only four or five snaps from Bannockburn, all of them views of the house, with no captions at all other than “Bannockburn.”

The Williams family put a great deal of effort and money into Bannockburn and indeed almost immediately had the place earning its way and providing enough income to make further improvements. Horace had the small and bare homestead enlarged, added stands to the shearing shed, had new bores drilled, bought more sheep. But with the coming of war, at least one of his sons was more than eager to get away from the place and its unrelenting drudgery and tedious isolation. So it was in late January 1941 that Charlie Williams walked down the steps, into a car, and was off to the railroad station at Torrens Creek. He would never return.

Telemon today is a ruin; Bannockburn is a working station owned and run by Bill and Amy Dart, with their children Cameron, Malcolm, and Ruby. In the Williams’ day it was a sheep station; the Darts run cattle, sturdy Droughtmaster breeds.

While the interior of Bannockburn has changed a good deal, this is almost certainly original and gives an impression of the rather spare house the Williams family moved into.

The shearing shed at Bannockburn. The reason for the height of the building above ground is two-fold; it made it easier to load bales of wool directly into the bed of a truck, and if rain started during shearing the sheep would be driven under the building and penned in to stay dry, since wet sheep cannot be sheared.

The interior of the shearing shed, which Bill Dart uses today to store hay. The prefabricated iron construction is notable.

This single-cylinder diesel motor was used to turn the drive belts for the shears and other equipment. Although taken down, most of the pulleys and other equipment are still stacked around the shed.

The shearer’s quarters, now used for storage. The chimney marks the kitchen.

This old water trough dates from the Williams’ time. The remains of the tank it was once attached to are visible behind it. The bare patch gives an indication of the size of the tank; Bill Dart told me it takes decades for plants to regrow in this area when the roots have been killed.

The last sheep at Bannockburn! The Darts found this now-elderly resident on the road when it was a baby and they saved and raised it.

This monument in Torrens Creek remembers Jack Bunt, “A man of courage and integrity,” the local mailman whose long, lonely route took him every Monday to Bannockburn, where he delivered the letters Charlie Williams was writing home. The fence beyond marks the site of the railroad station from which Charlie left to report to the RAAF.

Once again, my visit was made possible by Helen Williams-Brown, who was my patient companion in my pilgrimage. Bill and Amy Dart and their children Malcolm and Ruby (oldest son Cameron was away at school) were our unfailingly pleasant and very interesting hosts for our overnight stay at Bannockburn.

AJ-Z memorial to be unveiled in May

The crew of AJ-Z, killed returning from the attack on the Eder Dam, 17 May 1943. L-R: Henry Maudslay, Jack Marriott, Robert Urquhart, Alden Cottam, John Fuller, William Tytherleigh, Norman Burrows. [Collage of pics: © Dambusters Blog]

The memorial to the Dams Raid crew skippered by Henry Maudslay will be unveiled on 17 May 2019, near where they were shot down in the early morning of 17 May 1943, seventy-six years ago. The event has been organised by local researcher Marcel Hahn.

On the Dams Raid, Henry Maudslay and his crew in Lancaster AJ-Z, had been spectators at the Möhne Dam when it was breached. The three Lancasters still with bombs on board were directed to go to the Eder dam. The attacking force quickly realised that the dam presented a much more difficult target. The lake is smaller and set in a deep valley, meaning that there is a much shorter approach which starts with a very tricky steep dive from over the Waldeck Castle. This is followed by a sharp turn to port. Given the geography, the Germans had obviously discounted the idea of an aerial attack, since there were no gun batteries in the vicinity.

David Shannon in AJ-L was the first to try an attack, and made three or four passes without releasing his mine. It was very difficult to get down to the right height after the dive, and then turn. Then Gibson told Maudslay to try, and he found it just as hard, so Shannon had another go. Two more dummy runs followed until, at last, he got the angle and speed right and dropped his mine. It bounced twice, hit the dam wall and exploded sending up a huge waterspout. At the later debriefing his effort is reported as ‘no result was seen’ but Shannon in fact felt that he had made a small breach.

Maudslay had another attempt but then something went wrong. His mine was released too late, hit the parapet and exploded. Although his aircraft was beyond the dam by the time this occurred, it may have been damaged, since his later progress home was slower than would be expected. Some reports say that something was seen hanging down below the aircraft, perhaps caused by hitting trees on the run in.

Gibson saw that AJ-Z had fired a red Very light signal after passing over the dam wall and called Maudslay on the radio: ‘Henry – Henry. Z-Zebra – Z-Zebra. Are you OK?’ Nothing was heard, so he repeated the call. This time Maudslay’s voice could be heard, although the signal was faint: ‘I think so. Stand by …’ This signal – confirmed by members of Shannon’s and Knight’s crews – was the last voice contact anyone made with AJ-Z.

In fact they would stay airborne for a further fifty minutes. At 0157, some twenty minutes after they had dropped their mine, wireless operator Alden Cottam sent a ‘Goner 28B’ message back to base, which indicates that they were making progress. At about 0230, they had reached the Rhine. The turning point on the return route was supposed to be at the town of Rees, but Maudslay headed 20 miles north of this towards Emmerich, which was defended by several Heimat light flak anti-aircraft batteries, largely manned by non-military personnel. Some of the outbound force had in fact passed over the town a few hours earlier so the batteries were on alert for the opportunity to fire on any returning crews. When AJ-Z was heard approaching Emmerich it came within range of the batteries on the south and east edges. They fired on the aircraft, and although it turned to the right to try and avoid the flak, either an engine or a fuel tank was hit, as there was a burst of flame. The aircraft lost height and crashed in a field at 0236 close to the hamlet of Osterholt, between the German town of Klein Netterden and the Dutch town of ’s Heerenberg. The following morning, German officials recovered seven bodies from the wreckage. Two were identified as Alden Cottam and Jack Marriott, but the rest were recorded as unidentified. All seven were buried in the Northern Military Cemetery at Düsseldorf, and were reburied after the war in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Reichswald Forest.

Members of the Maudslay and Marriott families are expected to attend the unveiling of the memorial, which will take place at 1430 on Friday 17 May. Other families and distinguished guests will be confirmed nearer the time. Members of the public are welcome to attend. The location is shown in the map below. Refreshments will be served afterwards in the MU-Cafe, also shown on the map.

Marcel Hahn can be reached by email here and also on the event’s Facebook page.