Visit to Tocomwal New South Wales 11/13 June 2003

At 1400 ( 2PM ) on Wednesday the 11th. of June 2003 I caught the bus from Melbourne's Spencer Street station to Tocomwal, about 175 kilometers by road as the crow flies, but my bus was going via Shepparton and a host of small country towns that cluster each side of the Victorian/New South Wales border close to the River Murray.

It was 1835 ( 6.30 PM ) before we rolled to a stop at Tocumwal alongside a large model of a Murray Cod ( fish ) and my old ship mate, and very good friend Kevin O'Neill was there to greet me. We had served together in HMAS Adelaide, an old Australian cruiser mounting single 6 inch guns, having been built in Australia around 1922. We had sunk the German ship Ramses in the Indian Ocean in 1942, see my Blockade Runner on Ahoy. Mac's Web Log for that story.

We had not seen each other for some 20 years, but have kept in touch over that time, Kevin for many years farmed some 2 square miles of irrigated country at Jerilderie, growing rice, wheat and canola etc, but had sold the farm 2 years ago and moved into Tocomwal, a country town of about 2,000 people nestled close to the Murray River.

Combined Probus Club of Tocomwal.
I was answering his invitation to address his Probus Club tomorrow, on the subject of my experiences in WW2, and our visit to Washington DC in September 2001 for the presentation of the USS Canberra Bell by the US President to my Prime Minister.

Probus Club Meeting. On Thursday the 12th. of June I talked to some 50 or so members of the Tocomwal Probus Club, which is a mixed one with both female and male members, and was very generously received. We later had lunch with several members at the local Pub, built in 1861.

Tocumwal Historic Aerodrome Museum.
I went off with Kevin to visit a small Museum at the Tocomwal aerodrome, and have a conducted tour by its Director Bob Brown, whose wife Gina, a member of the Probus Club had very efficiently set up all the details for my visit including an interview with a journalist from the local paper.

From scratch, Bob and a few ardent helpers have created a photographic display in part of one of the huge hangars build back in 1942, when McIntyre Field, was quickly constructed from acquired farm land, they carved out an airfield, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere for the US Army Airforce to operate Liberator Bombers.

At that time, Tocomwal only had a population of some 500 souls, but the Airfield added another 5,000 service people to really make a tiny country hamlet come to life with a real thump and start to jump, jump, jump! The US only stayed for six months, moving north to Townsville, 2,000 miles closer to the then Japanese enemy.

The Royal Australian Air Force then took over the Airfield, for training pilots. The fascinating story of McIntyre Field has been recorded by Bob Brown in a small 14 page document, which I have his approval to reproduce for a wider audience on my Web Site.

Bob was not aware how this massive air field gained its name, on my return home, I promised I would do some research on the Internet to try and unlock that secret.

The naming of McIntyre Field in 1942 at Tocomwal.
McIntyre Field was set up at Tocumwal by the US Air Force in the 1940's as a main air base in preparation for the expected Japanese invasion of Northern Australia. With the tides of war changing and the Japanese advance being slowly stopped, Tocomwal was abandoned by the USAF and they moved to Queensland. The base was handed over to the RAAF, and No.7 Operational Training Unit operated B - 24 Liberators there in WW2.

The US Airforce in Australia named this new facility Tocumwal McIntyre Field after Captain Patrick W. Mc Intyre USAAC who died in an aircrash at Archerfield, Queensland on June 5th. 1942.

Sportavia Soaring Centre.
At Tocomwal this International Gliding Centre operates as one of the largest gliding clubs world wide, one of the original huge hangars is used to store both gliders and air tugs. I was informed that the gliding centre operates in the main over the September/March period, with many visitors from Europe and particularly from South Africa.

My ambition to glide.
I have long nursed an unfilled ambition to go gliding, I have flown in a microlite aircraft out of Zambia, at less than a 1,000 feet over the mighty Victoria Falls, and watched elephants whilst they swam in the Zambesi River. I have been ballooning, I have flown off and landed on an Aircraft Carrier in a helicopter, and even been in the back seat of a Navy Firefly aircraft to be squirted off the catapult, to reland on the deck and be stopped by the arrestor wires. But Glide, no! I have now been promised that if I return to Tocomwal in the gliding season, I will be taken up to cover that last flight I have yet to achieve.

I returned to Melbourne by the 0715 ( 7.15 AM ) bus out of Tocumwal on Friday the 13th, arriving at Spencer Street at 1115 ( 11.15 AM ) to be collected by Denise. It had been a very happy and satisfying visit to see Kevin.

See Bob Brown's account of building and operating McIntyre Field in WW2.


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