The following is taken from an interview with Doug about his experiences during his time with 31 Squadron:
“Before war I was a farmer and office worker at Alvie Cheese and Butter Factory. Aged 17 and a half I tried to enlist but was told by a recruiting officer to go home and grow up. I enlisted at 18 and was with 31 Squadron at Coomalie Creek from September 43 to December 44. I also spent time at Broome and other places in the Northern Territory.
I was wireless/radio mechanic, fixing things up if something went wrong with the radios. I worked mainly on English transmitters. A lot of the work was with valves going out and needing to be replaced. I also worked at the Radio Shack where navigators and Pilots came to get updated. Most work was done early in the morning because of the heat. Heavy rain also caused problems.
From Left: Ralph Gillon, Doug Richens, and Max Aitken in front of a Beaufighter at Coomalie Creek November 44.
I can remember servicing planes at midnight in Broome when Darcy Wentworth came by with a bottle of scotch, which was greatly appreciated by all. Also in Broome Max Aitkin and I got dressed up and went to pub for a posh meal. We were the only ones there and wondered why, until we were told it was the officers mess! So we went to a Chinese Restaurant and had bacon, eggs and steak – best meal in a long time.
Play the Broome memories sound file:
We would eat whatever we could get. At one time we were short of meat so the cooks at Coomalie went out to shoot buffalo. I don’t know how many bullets it had in it as they all took a shot at it. They took the best meat, and as there were no refrigerators, they hung the meat and we had good meals for a few days. I still have the tip of the buffalo horn that I bought home as a souvenir.
I remember when rockets were fitted to the Beaufighters and tested on the local range. They quickly realized when testing that they needed to pull away quickly to avoid back blast. 31 Sqdn had casualties from time to time. We buried our own down at Adelaide river. I have been back there several times.
“There was an open theatre just south of Coomalie Creek. We could see movie pictures twice a week. They also had a market there. You could buy jewellery, and there was also a big money two-up school. Nearby was an Army market garden where we could get a good supply of food, mainly tomatoes and vegetables. The cook house would leave left overs out, and we would go in and have them for late night supper.
We all took turns at guard duty. Part of duty was to clean toilets with wood, and a bucket or two of kero. The hessian surrounds often were burnt or blackened. Somehow this seemed to have happened quite often at the officers toilet.
Sometimes the Officers entertained Nurses from Batchelor. We would cover up urinals so as not to offend the ladies. Showers were always hot, especially for those first in. There was a tank at top of the hill and the hot water ran downhill to the showers.
Someone had to go out to the radio direction finder transmitter that had to be turned on at night. I was on duty one night and couldn’t see a thing, when kangaroo with bell on it went past – nobody else heard it, but I didn’t dream it!
One of my jobs was servicing the radios on other aircraft, especially 1 PRU Lightning aircraft, because landing bumped the valves out.
Early morning a plane’s radio wouldn’t work and I was asked fix it.”
Play the sound file to hear what happened:
“One day a plane crashed into overland telegraph line and only one on the plane survived.The pilot and navigator died and a passenger standing in the well survived. How he did it I will never know! At Coomalie, half way down the airstrip, there was a crossflow of air between two hills that created a crosswind. It caused some accidents as planes were taking off and landing.
I remember 1943 Christmas day. No work that day and the officers served us meals. There was Scottish regiment camp near us at one time, and of a night we would hear bagpipes on the hill.”
31 Sqdn Christmas Card (Doug Richens Collection)
Doug took up full time farming after the war. He is forever grateful to his mother who gave him a Commonwealth bank account for 800 pound that helped him set up after the war. He lived in Warrion near Colac.
Ed. note: Doug was one of the ‘characters’ of 31 Sqdn and had a great sense of humour. He liked a joke, and liked to join in activities. He and his family liked to attend the Melbourne Anzac Day marches and luncheons.
More from the Doug Richens Collection: