Kittyhawks at the airstrip14 May 2019
Long-time Bundaberg RSL Sub Branch member only missed two ANZAC Day commemorations.
Michelle Price remembers the life and service of her father, Cecil Price, a long-time member of Bundaberg RSL Sub Branch.
Country boy Cecil Price spent his childhood in South Kolan, north of Bundaberg. In March 1939, aged 19, he joined the Militia (Army Reserves). Two years later, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) 47th Australian Infantry Battalion, and in 1942 joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).
In April 1943, RAAF 72 Wing was formed at Garbutt, Townsville, where Cecil was a crew member of 44 Operational Base Unit. He boarded a Royal Australian Naval ship headed for Merauke, Dutch New Guinea, which had already sustained 19 Japanese air attacks.
At Horn Island, Cecil was transferred by Sunderland (British flying boat patrol bomber) to Merauke, arriving on 25 April 1943. At the RAAF base, 72 Wing was commanded by Group Captain Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton.
In early June 1943, a Japanese spy was captured at Merauke Wharf and a few weeks later there was Japanese activity 120 miles up the river.
Cecil helped construct the RAAF airstrip, where they used Marston steel matting in preparation for the arrival of No. 86 Squadron Kittyhawks. These Marston steel plank weighed 66 pounds each and were 10 feet long by 15 inches wide, linked together by hooks, held in the slots by a steel clip.
On 30 June 1943, the arrival of Kittyhawks, Boomerangs, Ansons and Beauforts made the Merauke Base feel more secure. On 5 July 1943, RAAF 72 Wing consisted of 746 men.
Merauke was a hell hole of endless swamps
To the Aussies, Merauke was known as a “hell hole”. It was miles and miles of endless swamps; a village above the mud flats with palms and coconut trees that was ridden with mosquitoes, prone to malaria outbreaks, and had no drinkable water.
It was extremely hot, with 100 per cent humidity most of the time. The coastline was dangerous and infested with crocodiles. Those living in the village were Javanese and Ambonese, while local natives were the Kai Kai Tribe (headhunters).
Eventually, Cecil returned to Townsville RAAF Base and then to Sandgate headquarters, where he remained until his discharge.
After the war he only missed two ANZAC Days
After WWII, he joined Bundaberg Aero Club, and on Sundays flew over the South Kolan district with Stewie Whittred delivering newspapers to local farmers. In 1946, he helped form the Bundaberg branch of the RAAF Association, which folded in 1951.
From 1948 to 1951, Cecil operated trams on the Ipswich line of the Brisbane tramways.
Over the years, he spoke fondly of his mates and the Kittyhawks on the airstrip and was dedicated to remembering those who didn’t return home. He attended almost every ANZAC Day commemoration, only ever missing two.
In 1954, he got married and had two daughters, remaining in Bundaberg for the rest of his life. He worked for Bundaberg City Council for 24 years, before retiring at 62.
a serviceman until the end
In 2009, Cecil was presented with a Long Service Award in recognition of 50 years’ cumulative service as a member of Bundaberg RSL.
During his final days, he reminisced about his time with the RAAF in Merauke. On his last day, he asked his family by his bedside, “Can you see the Kittyhawks at the airstrip?”
He remembered his service all the days of his life. Cecil passed away on 14 August 2011, aged 92.